In a few minutes, Joe Biden will give his first State of the Union address. It’s his best opportunity between now and November’s midterm elections to shape the narrative — describing the key choices ahead and explaining where he’s leading America. But there’s far more at stake than mere politics.
Biden needs to frame not only what he’s accomplished and wants to accomplish but also what America stands for at this precarious point in our nation’s history. That should be the choice between democracy and authoritarianism. Biden should emphasize that America’s role in the world is to lead democracies against aggressors like Putin. And then he should connect this to voting rights here in America and the dangers posed by the ongoing assault on democracy spawned by Donald Trump.
Biden should hold senate Republicans accountable for thwarting every attempt to protect the right to vote — rejecting the comprehensive For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (which would have restored those parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013), and most recently, the Freedom to Vote Act — which was expressly designed to attract at least ten Republicans in order to overcome a filibuster, but did not. Biden should unequivocally state that this intransigence is undermining what generations of Americans have fought and died for — the defining legacy lying at the heart of the nation: our democracy.
Biden should also make clear that record levels of concentrated wealth inside America also poses a danger to democracy, as big money engulfs politics. (It wouldn’t hurt to use the quote attributed to the great Justice Louis Brandeis — “America has a choice: We can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or we can have a democracy, but we cannot have both.”) He could also use this opportunity to show the connection between inflation and increasing levels of corporate concentration and market power — requiring stepped-up antitrust enforcement.
At this point in the nation’s history when several existential challenges are converging — Putin’s war and the fearful prospect of nuclear armageddon, COVID, climate change, the attacks Trump has provoked on democracy at home, along with racism and xenophobia — what Biden says tonight could be profoundly important.
His address begins in about fifteen minutes. Please watch or listen, and let us know whether in your view he has risen to the occasion.