OPINION: The State of the Union address doesn’t matter

Piper Hansen

One week ago today, President Donald Trump addressed the American people about the state of our nation. He discussed recent changes in policy and issues he hopes to address in the next two years of his term including the economy, immigration, employed women, abortion and foreign policy.

This year, nearly 47 million people watched and interacted with Trump’s speech according to a Nielsen report. Since 1913, American presidents have taken to heart the speech’s constitutional basis defined by section three of Article II which says that the executive “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

The evolution of the speech, which originally included budget requests and bill proposals, has transitioned to televised ceremonial propaganda used to rally support for the president’s agenda.

More specifically, the president used this year’s address to assure his supporters that he is still the man they voted for while simultaneously attempting to reach out to Democrats on ways they can work together to achieve meaningful nonpartisan legislation.

Despite Trump’s attempt at compelling rhetoric of unity, 24-hour news coverage, the speech’s lack of real affect on policy and established public opinion hinders any future State of the Union address from being influential.

Access to information

Various news organizations and social media platforms like Twitter notify their viewers and users of newsworthy events as they happen, rendering the president’s State of the Union address to be redundant.

Because of the constant flow of information since the creation of the internet, most people know about and understand dominant controversial issues such as abortion, immigration and foreign policy and have already developed a firm stance, in turn making it so the speech provides no new information to members of Congress or to Trump’s constituents.

Trump’s ability to lie without reprimand is something that United States citizens are all too familiar with, but with the internet and other fast-paced digital media, reporters around the nation can fact-check the president’s statements in real time and report the facts directly to the people.

In addition to a constant flow of media, political polarization and established public opinion work with the increase of information to prohibit any real significance of the speech. Public opinion of cleavage issues typically go along party lines as does approval and disapproval ratings of Trump’s tenure thus far.

Anything that Trump said in his speech about unity does not apply to the people because we are currently a nation of divided people who optimistically seek to operate in everyone’s best interests.

Presidents of the 21st Century have used the address as a way to legitimize their decision-making processes, however, a person in power should never demand respect, they should work for and earn that from the American people.

The lack of real impact

The PBS NewsHour reported that on average, presidents made 33 policy proposals during the State of the Union from the year 1965 to 2013. The findings explain how “[d]uring that period, Congress passed 41.6 percent of the requests made” in the year they were given.

With low rates of real policy action from State of the Union proposals, approval ratings are similarly untouched. According to a Gallup study of approval ratings before and after the address, “the average absolute change […] has been 2.5 percentage points.” The conclusions describe larger shifts in approval to have their origination from outside factors like foreign elections.

Given today’s changing climate of information and the significant lack of actual change brought upon by the address, it seems that the speeches would quickly fade into an old tradition.

2019 State of the Union” by The White House on Flickr is licensed under Public Domain. No changes were made to the original image. Use of the image does not indicate photographer endorsement of the article.