Tuesday night was President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 13, 2016
Appropriate for the moment, his speech was retrospective, examining the work he was able to accomplish, and some of his shortcomings, over the past eight years.
Here are a few of the speech’s highlights:
The people to blame for the financial crisis are Wall Street and the 1 percent.
In the beginning of his speech, Mr. Obama focused on issues of economic opportunity. Not just ensuring that they were available, but that they were accessible to all. He made note of the ways the private sector has been thriving, but that this no less meant that they must be held accountable, and that we must stop attacking people as if they are to blame for their own poverty. Additionally, xenophobic attacks on immigrants remains unfounded.
“Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.”
America must lead by example and vitriolic fear mongering and Islamophobia will not suffice.
Many of us are still trying to figure out, or, at the very least, find it unnerving that Donald Trump remains the Republican frontrunner by a hefty margin. As much as this has to do with his lack of political experience, reservation around his candidacy is inextricably linked to his rampant call to “make America great” by means of targeting immigrants, Muslims, and turning a blind eye to violence, for instance against a Black Lives Matter protestor, at his rallies. Too often, making a America great again plays out as a kind of dog whistle politics to make America white again—not that it ever has been, even if the power dynamics have been highly skewed.
“That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’ When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. IT diminishes
America didn’t stop Ebola. Quite frankly, we barely did anything.
One of the points that Mr. Obama aimed to make was for us to take up the task of not feeling the need to nation-build and/or rebuild other countries. Though the rhetoric may not fit our foreign policy moves in the name of democracy, even under the Obama administration, it does give light to the the possibility of less imperialist imaginings. As evidence, he talked about the ways we “partnered” with the local groups when situations arose abroad, including the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
“That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.”
West Africans in the countries that were affected in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are the ones who were on the ground with limited resources fighting the outbreak. They were and remained on the front lines, and is one of the reasons why doctors like Dr. Jerry Brown, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, and Dr. Phillip Ireland shared the title of Time’s 2014 Person of the Year. Additionally, Cuba was the country who, without hesitance, sent doctors to help instead of military like the United States. Furthermore, the delayed responses to treatment and cures showed the racialized and xenophobic underpinnings of how the U.S. was willing to tolerate who could and could not die from the virus.
If America is to lead by example, we must learn how to stand down. We need to ensure we do not give our country credit where it is not due, casting a shadow on the work of those who shined brightly in the face of a global crisis when we were too afraid and, more insidiously, ambivalent to do anything.
No mention of police brutality.
To conclude his address, the president called on us to uphold the difficult by necessary brand of American democracy that, at least in theory, includes people’s differences instead of using that against them. As a device, he then began bringing up people who are often posed against each other, including the protestors and “good” cops.
“They’re out there, those voices. They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing…The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”
This a false dichotomy, and fails to address the rampant evidence of police brutality and excessive force wielded not only against protestors but particularly black people on a daily basis across the country and the ways our sites of justice turn a blind eye at the local and national level. In terms of the current Black Lives Matter movement, people are not protesting good cops. They are protesting the bad ones, and the broader fact that the bad ones are not exceptional. Case in point includes the officers involved in the deaths of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray. If police are to keep us safe, police need to be held accountable to the egregious ways they abuse the law rather than being celebrated for merely enforcing it, even if done so at their own will and whim.
The full transcript can be found here.
Photo credit: Twitter