A Response to the State of the Union

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-Howard Zinn


On Tuesday night I watched President Trump’s State of the Union address. While I didn’t cringe at everything the President said during his address, I found a large portion of it quite unsettling. I thought I would address a few of Trump’s comments that I found quite troubling. Keep in mind this is not just what I find troubling about President Trump but where I see fundamental problems in American society as well.

In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.”

In 1782, Congress officially established the phrase E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one – as the official motto for America. But, in 1956, Congress passed a new act which made the phrase “In God We Trust” the new official motto. Through PBS’s American Experience, an episode was done called “God in America.” The show addresses how this phrase, “In God We Trust,” had become America’s national motto in 1956. At the heart of the issue was the overwhelming support in Washington for a rebellion against the godless, communist, Soviet Union during the Cold War, and an alliance between the powerful church leader, Reverend Billy Graham and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to combine the message of God, with the message of patriotism. As historian Frank Lambert explains, “the motto reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.”

As Americans, we should be ever weary of our nation’s tendency to intermingle faith and nationalism. Not only does this give way to a watered down version of what faith is, but it also lays the foundation for the violence, hatred, and oppression of the idealistic crusades that have been the embodiment of American history. Native Americans, African Americans, communism, abortion, drugs, Islam, homosexuals, undocumented immigrants, and many others.

The American nation is not a chosen nation. Our motto may be “In God We Trust,” but when I see that, I see a god of power, military, security, wealth, and law and order. I don’t see the God that prays forgiveness for those putting him on a cross. Or a God that says “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I see a giant military beast, ready to use any tactics of violence and oppression to make sure everyone is behaving the way it thinks they should. If that is the god we are supposed to trust in, count me out.

Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

This was a great thing that this young boy did. So many have sacrificed so much for our country, and they deserve the honor and respect that Preston chose to give them. But Trump had to make this boy’s kind deeds into an attack on Black NFL players who protested during the national anthem.

I hope a day will come when white people can find it within themselves to understand that a white individual’s understanding of American history (and thus, the flag), is a lot different than a Black individual’s understanding of American history. Everyone knows that we had slavery and that was a bad thing. But, of course, we’re past that, right? Well, no, we are not. As white people, we have to live with the mistakes that our ancestors chose to make. And the mistake wasn’t just slavery. It was slavery followed by decades of hateful oppression, violence, and injustice. And as descendants of this troubling history, we have to deal with the consequences of our complicated past. Today, black individuals find themselves in higher poverty, higher incarceration, and much less likely to find work than the average white individual. But to deal with this troubling issue, is not to spit back in the faces of those whom have experienced these consequences. To me, it is troubling that we have a president that refuses to understand anything beyond the white, nationalistic vision of American history.

We are defending our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.

I found this so interesting, yet telling that the defending of our Second Amendment is lumped into the same category as protecting our religious liberty. Here, Trump, who is clearly speaking to his conservative evangelical base, is essentially saying, “We are allowing you to keep your assault rifles, and protecting and enforcing the fundamentals of Christian ethics in America!”

To me, this is sickening. First, the hidden claim that somehow Christianity in America is under some sort of attack. First of all, not one of America’s presidents in all of history have been an atheist, and one could make a strong case for every American president being a Christian. The American people will not elect a president who does not carry the title “Christian.” At least for now. Also an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population identifies as Christian. According to a Pew Research Center study, 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/). Oh, and the U.S. motto is “In God We Trust.” In other words, Christianity is not under any sort of attack like many Christians like to make it sound. While it likes to make itself sound like a persecuted minority, it is quite clearly the majority. Unfortunately, a majority that, throughout history, has continually found itself being the persecutor, rather than the persecuted.

We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

Most conservative politicians have now at least accepted that climate change is happening. They just claim that it is caused by natural occurrences instead of human pollution, CO2 emissions, and high releases of methane. But Donald Trump refuses to accept that climate change is happening at all. Moreover, he is willing to take an active part in polluting and destroying the natural world, and taking over lands of native peoples for the sake of the power and wealth of big American cooperations.

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

Here’s the crusade against the non-American (unchosen) children that did not choose to be born here.

Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.
For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.
As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
To me, this is the most troubling of all. That as a nation we have gotten to the point where our attempt at peace is not to rid ourselves of the materials that actively and continually delay the peace, but to make more weapons, so that everyone will be afraid of us. Our solution to peace is to become the almighty power, the worldly beast.
It is at times like this that we would do well to listen to the words of a man that walked the earth 2,000 years ago, when he told us, “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” and “if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”
The economy is doing very well. More people have jobs. For this, I am grateful. But the state of our Union will never be something that we can be proud of until we finally choose the poor over the wealthy. Peace, over violence. Humility and understanding, rather than power and nationalism. And love, over security.

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