People For the American Way

The Sorry State of Our Union

News and Analysis
The Sorry State of Our Union

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address will give him one more opportunity to deliver his favorite bogus claims about how everything in the U.S. under his leadership is bigger than ever, better than ever, stronger than ever. In reality, Trump and his policies are making life harder for millions of people, undermining American ideals, and weakening our ability as a nation to come together around solutions to urgent problems facing the country and the world. The real state of the union is far more troubled than Trump will admit, or that the stock market or unemployment numbers suggest.

For example, we learned just last week that the number of family farmers who filed for bankruptcy last year jumped 20 percent, in spite of billions of taxpayer dollars spent trying to minimize the harm caused by Trump’s trade policies.

Rising housing costs are making life harder for millions of Americans, especially those who work at or near the minimum wage. The Republican tax cuts which Trump promised would give workers a big financial boost actually did almost nothing for most workers and families, delivering most of their benefits to corporations and the richest of rich Americans. Companies didn’t reinvest their windfall in workers, but in stock buybacks and shareholder dividends. More than 90 giant corporations like Amazon, Chevron, and Netflix paid no federal income taxes last year. For all Republicans’ talk for decades about fiscal responsibility, the trillion-dollar-deficit caused by the tax cuts is about double what it was during President Obama’s final years.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is urging courts to abolish the Affordable Care Act, eliminating the protections it has extended to people with preexisting conditions and doing away with the access to health care it has made possible for millions of Americans.

Of course, there’s much more to a society’s health than economics. Trump is wreaking havoc on our Constitution, on our highest ideals, and even the basic value of treating one other with decency and respect.

In response to America’s growing ethnic and religious diversity, Trump and his administration have repeatedly vilified and mistreated immigrants. The administration’s anti-immigration policies are run by White House aide Stephen Miller, who has promoted rhetoric and policies grounded in an ugly nativist populism that reflect the goals of white nationalists. His administration embraces and elevates those who claim America was founded by and for Christians and who portray Trump’s political opponents as agents of Satan.

Trump’s election reflected America’s increasing polarization, and his presidency has intensified it. And this is more than just how it feels and seems. It’s real. A Brookings Institution scholar concluded last year that there is “substantial evidence that Trump has encouraged racism and benefited politically from it.”

The consequences, to American ideals and to individuals, are devastating. Violent hate crimes against individuals hit a 16-year high in 2018, according to the FBI, a rise that has included an unprecedented spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes in American cities. The White House decries the violence, but gives credibility to vicious anti-Semites by promoting their conspiracy theories and offering them media credentials to cover Trump’s travels.

There are other ways that Trump has sickened the soul of America by promoting needlessly cruel policies, which his fans support with heart-hardening loyalty. The Muslim ban, the separation of children and families at the border, the deportation of law-abiding immigrants who have contributed to their communities for years, the near-complete shutdown on settling refugees from war and brutal oppression, are all policies whose impact is inhumane.

They have resulted in children literally being stolen from their parents by the U.S. government. They have meant children seeing their parents yanked from their lives and sent into danger. They have meant victims of religious and ethnic persecution awaiting refuge in the U.S. having the door instead slammed in their faces. They have immigrants and children of immigrants wondering whether they really have a place in this nation of immigrants.

All this destructive behavior is magnified by Trump’s aggressive assault our democratic institutions and constitutional checks and balances. Of course, the Republican Party was already at this well before Trump came along. But his administration has taken these assaults further, encouraging the GOP’s ongoing attacks on voting rights—particularly voters of color and young voters—and reversing hard-won legal protections for LGBTQ Americans.

And Trump’s judges—hand-selected by right-wing groups, rubber-stamped by Senate Republicans, and installed on the federal bench for life—are already making life in America less safe, less fair, and less equitable for people without money and power.

Trump will address the nation from the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, but he has shown contempt for the oversight role that the Constitution gives to the legislative branch. And out of some combination of partisan loyalty, fear of Trump’s bullying, or simply a desire to secure right-wing political gains at all costs, congressional Republicans have acquiesced to the Trump team’s assertions of unaccountable executive power. And that may be the strongest evidence of all that the state of the union is not healthy.

But that’s where we, the people, come in. Consider that we would never have had an investigation of Trump’s corruption, much less his impeachment, without the organizing that enabled Democrats to take a majority in the House in 2018.

We, the people, must decide that we’ve had enough—enough of the bigotry, the cruelty, the cynicism and the corruption. When we reach that point and act on it, we can encourage and energize others, and we can defeat Trump and put the country on a better and more sustainable path before next year’s State of the Union address.

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