The Constitution suggests that the President inform Congress about the state of the Union from time to time. Under normal circumstances, the purpose of the speech should be to unify the country. However, in the present climate of polarization, it has served to accentuate divisions. Indeed, the one thing we do not expect from the 2019 State of the Union speech is unity.
Despite the great disagreements, the address can still play an important role for the nation. It can bring to light fundamental problems that affect our future. Thus, the President should highlight four points in his State of the Union address.
Raising the Tone of our National Debate
The first thing that should be in the State of the Union address is a recognition of the state of our disunity and to change the tone of the debate accordingly. Americans have radically divergent views on many issues. This is the tragic result of a universal and grave moral crisis. We need to admit that we are divided and face the painful reality of our division. We should not seek a utopian unity-at-all-costs strategy that compromises on principle.
In times of disunity, the only way to avoid demagoguery is to raise the level of the discourse. Thus, the President should use the February 5 address to set the tone for our national debate. That tone should be much more elevated and genteel than what we have seen. The speech should not be personal and acrimonious. We need to rise above the pettiness and political correctness that have so dominated the national debate. The speech should not resort to cheap tricks, grandstanding and posturing. It should not be an applause-fest of talking points meant to sharpen partisan differences.
We need a principled speech that refers to the legitimate norms of the moral law, historical precedent and time-honored traditions. It should be courteous yet firm, cautious yet bold, much-encompassing yet prudent. The address should have something of the tone of George Washington and nothing of the frenetic intemperance of our sound-byte-driven world.
Provide for the Nation’s Defense
The next thing that should be in the State of the Union address is specific and urgent. It is of such importance that it must be addressed despite the controversy that it will provoke in the congressional chamber.
This is the sad state of our national defense. The President should take advantage of this important occasion to bring this to the attention of our national legislators and the American people. Few people realize just how unprepared we have become. The country needs to know. If there is one thing that legislators on both sides of the aisle can agree, it is that we must support our troops and give them what they need to defend the nation.
The single most important thing we must do for our armed services is to eliminate the so-called sequester for defense spending imposed on the nation in 2011. The Budget Control Act (BCA) automatically triggered spending cuts on the military that have devastated its ability to accomplish its mission. Recent budget increases have only stopped the bleeding, but they have not given our soldiers the means they need to defend the country. If no measures are taken, the sequester will re-trigger automatically in September. It needs to be revoked in law.
The President needs to affirm that times have changed drastically since the law went into effect in 2013. We need a defense budget that will meet the threats we face today.
The President should present the facts of a brave but emaciated military that lacks the means to respond to an ever more dangerous world. He should share the sorry statistics attesting to our unpreparedness. This Budget Control Act was a purely political decision designed to promote entitlement reform at the expense of national security. It has failed miserably, on all counts. It has done more harm to our military than all hostile forces arrayed against it combined. Our troops deserve better. This very specific and urgent repeal of the BCA should be an important part of the State of the Union message.
Enough of Intrusive Government
The third thing that should be in the address is a ringing denunciation of socialist, crippling regulations that still pervade much of our society. The President must warn the nation of many socialist proposals of the left that threaten our freedom. Our problems are not solved by socialism, its massive regulations, one-size-fits-all government programs and high tax schemes.
Instead, the president should appeal to the historic ingenuity of the American people, our love for ordered liberty and our practical common sense. We can get things done if leaders at all levels of society would step up to the plate and find original and genuine solutions that eschew intrusive government. The President’s speech can be a rallying cry to those who long to be free from the suffocation of socialist oppression.
Addressing Moral Issues
Finally, the President should address the non-negotiable moral issues of life, the traditional family and Christian morals. Indeed, it was a moral code based on the Ten Commandments that made America great. His address should boldly challenge the politically correct culture that denies there is good and evil, right and wrong. He must protest against those efforts to persecute those who practice Christian morals, especially in the public square.
This same moral perspective must inform his discourse on border security. He must present common-sense proposals based on justice and Christian charity. He must denounce the destabilizing open-border plans that threaten American security, order and the rule of law.
It is common for American Presidents to end their addresses invoking God’s name and asking His blessing. America has always been a nation that trusted in God. The President should recognize in his speech that if America is to prosper, we must first get it right with God. If America abandons God, we can expect to pay consequences.
Such would be the ideal State of the Union speech in these times of great division.