The State of Our Union

By Mateo Portelli, Director of Publications, with contribution from Alexandra Madaras and Chloe Wiley

Madam Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States, my Fellow Americans:

I speak to you today as a soon-to-be-voter, as a young woman, a young man, as a child-of-immigrants, an immigrant to this Land, as a student; as an American. I speak to you from the podium shared by my predecessors since President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Indeed, before we called this the State of the Union, coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President’s Annual Address to the Congress had not occured in this sanctified chamber since President John Adams’ address in 1800. His successor from Virginia had thought that such an address was too similar to a monarchical Speech from the Throne, and discontinued the practice until over a century ago. With no disrespect to the drafter of our national Declaration of Independence, tonight I wish to disagree with President Thomas Jefferson. Let us look at this address not as a ruler speaking to subjects, demanding what I find alone to be expedient for the Congress’ passage. No. Instead, allow us to view this as a servant elected by the People of the United States addressing their Representatives in Congress. Tonight let us have a conversation, albeit one-sided, about the State of our Union:

Our Nation stands at a crossroad. No doubt, you all have seen this in your states and your districts. There stands to be a question for every citizen, every household, every community, and yes, every Congressperson, to consider: What happened? Our Union has been plagued with polarization of the worst order. It’s not even about the issues facing our country today. Simply saying the words abortion, immigration, or gun control breeds emotional and contentious reactions. People have disowned their neighbors and colleagues over political identifications or opinions. Discussion is a term scoffed at — but not by the American People. The scoffing comes most painfully from this very Chamber.

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President: You have been endowed by your colleagues and by the American People with awesome responsibility. You are the heads of our national legislature — the voice of the American People. And despite all the rhetoric we’ve heard that we must give power “back to the People,” what have we seen? Last year we saw two shutdowns of the functions of government, the second and most recent lasting for over a month affecting over half a million Americans who serve their country. Last year this month, we saw the deadliest shooting on a high school campus in United States history taking place in Parkland, Florida. Two years ago in October we saw the deadliest mass shooting in United States history taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have seen tragic natural disasters affecting tens of thousands of American families nationwide. None of this is to even mention the devastation that had occurred across the globe. Indeed, for all that we preach of Prosperity and Liberty in our Republic, we have faced adversity.

But let us not lament while ignoring the fantastic progress that was made last year as well. In February, SpaceX tested its maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In March we saw a dialogue open between the United States and North Korea which came to fruition in June. We saw in over 900 cities internationally demonstrations against firearm violence and the beginning of a dialogue on the issue of sensible gun control with gravity neverbeforeseen. We saw the United States take nine gold, eight silver, and six bronze awards at the 2018 Winter Olympics. We saw the United States take 13 gold, 15 silver, and eight bronze awards at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. We saw extraordinary growth in our domestic economy and an all time low in unemployment. We saw the most diverse Congress elected to office in our Republic’s History. None of this is to even mention the strides that occurred elsewhere throughout our nation and across the globe.

But here’s the thing: All such accomplishments were made while 70% of the American People disapprove of what this Congress and what this Government do. With our most recent election demonstrating the largest voter turnout by America’s youth in history, we see that there is a clear message being broadcasted to this government: For decades past, the American People have watched politicians and Congresspeople become their own representatives, yielding to the wealthy and the discreetly powerful that support them and then writing their positions in the dead of night. That ends with this generation. The People call upon the Congress to once again be the voices of their constituents. As is your job. The People call for a renewal of your oath of office. As is your duty. The People call for a push for meaningful and positive change and progress, not political and ideological regression and stagnation, to push for compassion, not restriction. Men and women of the Congress, let it be a reminder that the American People are your special interests. Let it be a reminder that you, as I do, bear a solemn duty to our oaths to respect and uphold the Constitution of the United States. The State of the Union is only as strong as its officers are. Thus, the strength and longevity of the State of the Union rests upon both the will of the American People and their elected representatives’ integrity to their jobs: To serve.

Representatives and Senators of the Congress, let that then be our purpose. Your seats have enshrined within their wood and cloth centuries of somber duty never before realized in the history of humanity. These walls have heard stories and debate too consecrated for apathetic ears alone. This podium has spoken words too true to be ignored by patriotic hearts. With the Constitution as our guide and our constituents as our foundation, let us make service our purpose once again. That’s worth repeating: Let us make service our purpose once again. Such an endeavor has been and must forever be the steadfast aim of every duly elected body that may inhabit this hallowed chamber. Let us be proud to have such a burden. Let us be proud of be a Union of sovereign and co-equal States. Let us to be proud to be a Republic of Law and Order with Justice as our aim. Let us be proud to be a Nation not of two parties, but of one People — the American People. Let us be worthy to serve them. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.