The 2023 State of the Union Address was given by the 46th President of the United States of America (Potus), Joe Biden Jr. on Thursday, February 7, 2023 at 9.00 p.m. EST, in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives to the 11th United States Congress. It has been noted that the formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the US Constitution. The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article 11, Section 3, Clause 1). The purpose of the address, therefore, may be summarised as such: the State of the Union address is a message from the President to Congress, usually given once a year in January or February. In the message, the President talks about important issues facing Americans and offers his ideas on solving the nation’s problems, including suggestions for new laws and policies (Wikipedia).
Always a picture of calm wisdom and graciousness, President Joe Biden sauntered onto the lectern for his delivery of the address. He started by paying homage to the immediate past House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the incumbent as well as other principal members of the House and the longest-serving senator, Mitch McConnell. Thereafter, he went straight into the meat of his presentation. He said that in two years, his administration has been able to create 12 million new jobs and defeated the Covid-19 pandemic. “Two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. And today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” he said.
He remarked further: “We’re writing the next chapter in the great American story – a story of progress and resilience”. He told the Congress, and the watching world that if there was a single word that described USA today, that word was possibilities.
Biden had gone on to commend the law makers for the Bipartisan passing of a once-in-a-generation Infrastructure Law, “the most significant law ever”, a law which guarantees the building of bridges “connecting our nation and our people”. As part of his report-card, he told the Congress and, by extension, the world in general, that he has signed over 300 bipartisan pieces of legislation since becoming President from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to the Electoral Count Reform Act, the Respect for Marriage Act that protects the right to marry the person you love. On the basis of this impressive performance so far in his first term in office, President Biden appealed to Congress to come together and “work together and find consensus”. He specifically solicited cooperation from the Republicans, who traditionally relish every chance to scuttle Democrats’ initiatives, however brilliant and momentous. The President in not many words pointed this out and reminded them that this was no time to filibuster or throw spanners in the works. Thus Biden spoke about the urgency of reforming the soul of the nation, of rebuilding the backbone of America, America’s middle class in particular and uniting the country. “The middle-class has been hollowed out…,” Biden lamented; with factory jobs lost to foreign nations. And this loss alone has led to “our loss of self-worth, the loss of our pride,” he noted as well. He went on to remind the Congress about his aim for running for office. “I ran for President to fundamentally change things […] to raise the standard of living for people”, especially Black and Hispanic workers. Speaking of which, he was pleased to report that over 800,000 manufacturing jobs were created on his watch. This remains, according to historical statistics, the fastest growth in 40 years. And to maintain the momentum of this America’s renaissance, Biden emphasised the need to keep America jobs at home as well as rein in inflation caused in the main by the Covid-19 pandemic and Putin’s war on Ukraine. He said that Putin’s bellicosity and his pan-Slavic psychosis have disrupted the supply chain across the globe. Part of the solution to this global problem is to tackle food inflation and stimulate small-and-medium enterprises. These start-ups, he believed, were “an act of hope”, to beat back the encroaching march of despair and despondency. For instance, semiconductors and small computer chips were invented in America and 40 percent of the world’s chips came from the US, but not anymore. These chips are needed to build cars and refrigerators. Unsurprisingly, President Joe Biden had passed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act to remedy this anomalous situation and rev up industrial America. But the raison dé tre of governance a la Biden remains the ceaseless creation of jobs for the citizens. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS seems to be the collective cry of the nation.
By the same token, Biden reported that American companies announced more than $300 billion in investments in American manufacturing over the next few years. This “quantitative leasing”, as it were, would help create 10,000 jobs, 7,000 construction jobs and 3,000 jobs in factories. This envisaged job market would produce “fields of dreams” as the USA rebounds as the strongest economy in the world. This was what necessitated the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to be enacted and passed. Hence, this single piece of legislation is the largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. The law would empower the government to fix bridges or construct new ones, refurbish or build new roads and rail lines. Government would also replace poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million houses in America; that go into over 400,000 schools and child-care centres. When this harmful practice is tackled decisively, folks could drink clean water instead of having permanent damage to their brain. Thus, apart from the provision of credit facilities for start-ups and the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act, the President of the United States also addressed the serious issue of prescription drugs, particularly for seniors. He said that one in ten Americans has diabetes. To help arrest this troubling statistic: “We capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors on Medicare”. On the Affordable Care Act, Biden reassured Americans that efforts were being made to enrol more people. He also addressed the Climate Crisis, reminding the listening politicians, his immediate audience on The Capitol Hill that climate emergencies do not recognise blue and red states. Nature, red in tooth and claw, does not pick and choose its victims when the mood takes it. It destroys and devastates everybody and everything in its path. On the vexed and divisive question of taxation, President Biden reasoned that his administration would want to make the wealthiest and biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share. He added that: “The tax system is not fair,” and, therefore, requested the Congress to pass the Billionaire Minimum Tax Law. Before Biden concluded his historic address, he managed to say a few choice words about his immediate predecessor, Donald J. Trump. He said that nearly 25 percent of the entire national debt that took over 200 years to accumulate was added by just one administration alone – the last one. Congress lifted the debt ceiling three times for Trump! However, before he walked away from the lectern, Biden equally addressed such important social issues as Social Security and Medicare, Child Tax Credit, Immigration, Equality and Gun Violence; among others. “Equal protection under the law is a covenant,” Biden remarked in the light of the growing incidence of police brutality and gun violence, especially against peoples of colour and the murder of Tyre Nicholas by five policemen. The murder of Tyre in Memphis has brought to the fore the banning of chokeholds, the restriction of no-knocks warrants and other key elements of the George Floyd Act. Tyre’s murder has demonstrated that more needed to be done to rein in the Beast in humans.
Thirteen colonies had come together to form the United States in 1776 with the US Declaration of Independence. The original framers of the US Constitution had embossed the three inalienable rights of citizens, namely: right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ironically, the framers of this Grundnorm were all slave-owners themselves and, therefore, did not regard the Black and Brown person as a human being; but as mere slave, a beast of burden. It was the 14th Amendment passed by the Senate on June 8, 1866 and ratified two years later on July 9, 1868 that granted citizenship to all persons “born or naturalised in the US, including formerly enslaved people and provided all citizens with equal protection under the laws”.
In the intervening years from 1868 to date, generation after generation of African–American freedom-fighters, civil-rights activists and politicians have struggled to mainstream the presence and humanity of the black person in the USA. We remember the likes of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama. The long road to freedom has been trod, trod and trod (to echo G.M. Hopkins) by these avatars of the Black community. Today, Vice President Kamara Harris is in the White House doing her bit to help give people of colour, the subalterns in the “City on a Hill” a fair deal. In his 1962 memoir titled, America, Their America, J.P. Clark explores from first-hand experience the various forms and shapes systemic racism takes in Uncle Sam’s country. He X-rays the varied manifestations of xenophobia and inequality in schools, industry, housing, job market, the professions, the armed forces, et cetera, et cetera. Today, in 2023, not much has changed, to be honest.
Sinclair Lewis in his 1935 dystopian political novel, It Can’t Happen Here, forecasts the advent of Trumpism and today Trumpism is writ large in America. Trump’s atavistic wrecking job at the helm has seen the USA slide into Third Worldism. Who can forget his “fire and fury” rant against North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un? He had called him “The Little Rocket Man”! Such dismissive put-downs were/are typical features of Trumpian demagoguery, past and present. Thank goodness, he never pressed the nuclear button. Yet he continues to cry: give me, this day, my wall! Separatism, far-right nationalism and racism remain front and centre of Trumpism, a political ideology which the GOP has, disappointingly, embraced. US’ decline on the world stage is a fact, but it would seem Biden is doing his level best to re-engineer a comeback, a rebound. Yet, Putin’s Russia, China, Iran and other anti-western nations are a stumbling block on the road to recovery. America’s contribution to NATO remains fervent as ever; so weep not, child. America is no damp squib yet, and, perhaps will never be. But how do Biden and his Democratic Party emasculate Trump? Will Biden run again? Does a Biden-Trump rematch await the world?
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, a dramatist, poet, fiction writer, speaker, rights activist and public intellectual, is a Professor of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria.