Commentary

Here’s the real state of the union

March 2, 2022 9:22 am

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during his State of the Union address on March 1, 2022. Photo via Getty Images/pool

Listening to President Biden Tuesday night, I wasn’t so much waiting to see if he’d make news as much as I was hoping he’d say something — anything — that wasn’t aimed at helping the Democrats win the November’s midterm elections. Without that win, the president’s agenda could be stopped in its tracks.

It’s not that Biden is a bad or particularly dishonest president. Unlike the last guy who occupied the White House, Biden really does seem to want to do good by the American people and he generally tells it like it is.

But anyone who’s been in politics as long as Biden has probably can’t help but always be peeking over their political shoulder. One misstep, especially if you’re the president, can rock the stock market, trigger international conflicts or even wars, or leave your constituents wondering if they made a big mistake by electing you to office. 

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In the end, Biden basically said what most Americans probably thought he would say. He mostly downplayed the bad, talked up the good, and didn’t go out of his way to offend anyone — except a certain megalomaniacal dictator in Russia — and, of course, he wrapped up by insisting the “state of the union is strong.” 

Biden’s State of the Union address

That’s what they all say.

The truth is that the state of our union, and, for that matter, the state of the world, is on pretty shaky ground these days.

Here at home, the country is barreling toward 1 million Americans dead from COVID-19. It’s almost impossible to grasp the loss of that many fellow human beings to a tiny virus. But it’s really about to happen. 

One million souls, gone. That’s twice the population of Tucson, about twice the number of U.S. troops killed in World War I and II combined, and almost 1,500 times the number of people who’ve been killed by gun violence in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. 

How is it that we’re not all walking around perpetually shell-shocked? Remember how it felt on 9-11 when we learned nearly 3,000 Americans had been killed by radical terrorists in a single day?

How’s the economy?

Well, considering the fact that 25 million people had to leave the U.S. labor force when the pandemic hit in 2020, our economy is actually doing remarkably well. Just not quite as well as the president’s speech would suggest.

Even though Congress and the White House have managed to pump a few trillion taxpayer dollars into the economy over the past 24 months, making possible this rapid recovery, we shouldn’t forget that millions of people who were laid off or had to quit their jobs since the start of the pandemic are still not back to work. 

As of June 2021, about 8 million people who were employed before the pandemic had not yet rejoined the labor force. Economists with the Federal Reserve now estimate just under half of those folks, or 3.6 million people, including a disproportionate number of women, will still be without a job in June 2022.

Women workers were especially hard hit by the pandemic, often having to quit their jobs to care for children, other family members and themselves.

In his speech to Congress, Biden bragged (rightly so) that thanks to a bipartisan-supported infrastructure plan, hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent on the next decade to help repair and build roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure across the U.S.

What Biden didn’t say much of anything about was how progressive and moderate Democrats in the House and Senate were betrayed by not only Republicans, but a couple of their fellow Democrats.

Suffice it to say that any hope of building up our country’s “human infrastructure,” all the public programs that help the most vulnerable in our society — children, single moms, working-class families, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the poor — all ended up in the proverbial legislative trash bin. 

Biden did what he could, but in the end, congressional Democrats were duped into believing that if they voted to spend money fixing roads and bridges that they would get money in turn for things like childcare, pre-school, paid family medical leave and cheaper prescription drugs. 

Fat chance. The Republicans in the U.S. Senate, helped along by Senate “Democrats” Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, managed to screw Biden and Democrats in Congress by killing what would have been the president’s historic Build Back Better bill.

On immigration, which was barely mentioned, thousands of asylum seekers are still living in squalid encampments in Mexico, forced to wait for a court date that might never come, as millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today — some have lived and worked here for more than 20 years — are no closer to a shot at U.S. citizenship than when they came here.

As for inflation, it’s real, it’s hitting the poor and working class the hardest, it was triggered by a pandemic that no one saw coming and it will subside once the wave of COVID-19 deaths wanes. In other words, if the people who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated would just get vaccinated, inflation wouldn’t be kicking our ass and even more of us would be back to work.

Finally, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is hinting he’s willing to destroy the state of our union and just about everything else we have by nuking anyone who stands in his way as he moves to slaughter potentially tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians as part of the largest military invasion in Europe since the end of World War II.

Why? Because he can. And because he’s a despot and wanton killing is what despots do. (Former President Trump, by the way, thinks Putin is a “genius” for invading and crushing a fledgling democracy. Imagine what Trump would have in store for us if he gets reelected in 2024.)

And although Biden didn’t bring this up last night, expect Congress and the White House to approve so-called temporary protective status (TPS) for some significant portion of the millions of refugees fleeing the unprovoked Russian attack on Ukraine.

Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion should be given TPS, but so, too, should Black and Brown refugees from Haiti, Guatemala, Syria, Sudan and a slew of other violence-racked regions of the world.

All of this is to say that there’s a lot Biden didn’t mention in his first state of the union address, partly because he didn’t want to make us feel bad, but mostly because he’s hoping Democrats in Congress will get to stay in office and keep his agenda on track.

That way, next year, when the president says, “the state of the union is strong,” we just might buy it.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of a major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught creative and non-fiction writing, ethnic studies, theater, literature and Latino politics at ASU. The founder and producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co., James is the author of more than 30 plays, including the upcoming “The Two Souls of Cesar Chavez.”

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