My “State of the Union”
Today I’m thinking of President Trump’s upcoming State of the Union address and I realize I’m more interested in your version of it and mine. What does it look like to you? To me, our impressions of the State of the Union are just as or maybe more important than a Head of State's. Here are some of my impressions including a couple of ideas for how we might create a more perfect Union.
What is the State of the Union? I’d say the Union is struggling. Union explicitly suggests unity, togetherness, and cohesion. Likewise, the United States of America, offers Unity as a basic feature of this country. Apparently, we are quite divided and our leaders are not necessarily doing much to bring people together and may actively be dividing us. These divisions create strife between people for reasons of political view, economic levels, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and more. And they may be used to manipulate people. Throughout history and especially in hard economic times, human differences have been used to blame certain groups for larger problems. We’re seeing a global resurgence in racist, nationalistic and fascistic trends and our too common biases are being used again against our better interests, arguably to mask other larger agendas and problems.
The State of the Union influences how we feel. I personally feel less secure and more anxious. For me, this seems partly based on climate change that apparently has contributed to the worst fires we’ve had in the history of California. Unprecedented and extreme weather has impacted many areas of the world with super hurricanes, floods, fires and drought. Climate change may be the largest challenge we’ve ever faced yet without a unified effort to recognize or adequately address it. Part of my feeling, and perhaps yours, is anxiety, including a sense that grave matters such as nuclear threat can be treated in offhand and even provocative ways. And “terrorism” and the unending “war on terror” may be something that the US has contributed significantly to if we consider how, e.g., initiating, erroneously, the Iraq war created a huge opening and motivation for the rise of the Islamic State. Sexual harassment and abuse and other forms of male dominance undermine safety, trust and a sense that all are created equal with equal rights and protections. Mass shootings happen so regularly that nearly every week there is a shooting and our lawmakers do nothing credible to make this less likely while many receive gun lobby money and further erode our sense of trust and unity even as most Americans support some kind of gun control. There are also the steps taken by our elected officials to undermine the Affordable Care Act which is depriving and will continue to deprive more millions of Americans from health care. The latest “tax reform” will mostly benefit the wealthiest Americans over the next 10 years and these politically and economically motivated acts further divide us while it’s clear that widening the economic gap creates social unrest, not a “trickle down” benefit. Economic and social equity are the surest measures to ensure social harmony and stability; we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Religiously biased and racist policies and speech that address our country’s immigrants and immigration policies, as well as proposed “border walls” further the divisions we experience, amplify our sense of difference and create a target to blame.
Fortunately, Union is not the exclusive domain of the powerful. We can all contribute to or diminish the sense of Union. Grassroots efforts have been a key feature of people exercising their power and will since civilizations began. We can learn from history and question our authorities as well as our own biases, sexism, racism and classism. In the face of the most severe challenges we can choose to come together, confront those who would divide or deceive us and work for a deeper Union.
To do so we might all need to do some of the work of taking responsibility for our divisions, those that arise in our minds, emotions, relationships, families, teams, organizations and communities. We can look at how we deal with differences, tensions and conflicts. Some of us in certain situations in given moments need to put up more of a fight and be more active. Others of us in particular situations may need to try to more deeply understand the other’s point of view. Folk wisdom suggests that we walk a mile in the other’s shoes before we judge them. This simple wisdom is nevertheless a challenging practice to enact when we are in the thick of conflict, separation or misunderstanding. Nevertheless, as a discipline, it has stood the test of time; we may just need to practice it more often and more deeply.
Lastly, we need more of us to step up and be the leader, the elder, in any situation who can hold us all across our differences. Who can bring us together? Who can create a better Union? You and I can. We can do it together. Thank you!