State of the Union Address 2016

On January 12th 2016, President Obama gave the last State of the Union address of his presidency. This speech was one of his shorter ones, but in it, he was able to elaborate on four main points: opportunity and security in the new economy, the usage of new technologies to solve pressing problems, maintaining national security without becoming overly involved in every unstable nation, and making the United States’ politics reflect the best parts of the nation rather than its worst.

The White House made sure to invite many diverse groups of people to the address. One person in particular who stood out was Dr. Hamo, a scientist and Syrian refugee formerly featured on Humans of New York’s Syrian-American series. After hearing Hamo’s touching story about how seven members of his family were killed by missile attack on his family’s compound and how he hoped to seek a new life in America with his remaining son and daughter, the President personally invited him to the event. This was the President’s way of acknowledging the struggles and atrocities that many refugees are put through on a daily basis. Another way of acknowledging tough issues was by keeping one chair empty next to the First Lady to symbolize the thousands killed every year by gun violence.

The President opened the speech by affirming that while the American economy is currently growing and new jobs are being created, profound changes have caused wealth to be concentrated in the top percentages of American society and people are finding it harder to overcome poverty. He promised to target these problems by focusing on making education more readily available and affordable, promoting STEM fields, and lowering the rates of student loans. Small businesses and the Affordable Care Act were also promoted. While trying to find common ground with Republicans through support of tax cuts for childless low-income workers, President Obama also asserted that it was not these people or the programs that helped them that caused the economic recession. “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,” he said.

Secondly, he referenced the space program of the 1950s and 60s to focus on American ingenuity, saying that if we put the amount of effort and resources that we put into going to the moon into medical research, amazing new discoveries could be made. He announced a new plan to do just that with the hope of curing cancer, to be spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden. He also targeted the country’s response to climate change by addressing the growing use and affordability of solar and wind energy, while praising how the business of clean energy could create jobs and a platform that both Democrats and Republicans could agree on. In the future, he intends to focus on the complete transition of technologies away from fossil fuels.

Next, Obama focused on foreign policy, and finding a balance between being overly involved in foreign affairs and being complete isolationists. He firmly asserted that the USA is the most powerful country in the world, citing our immense military strength and spending that is greater than the next eight countries on the list combined. He urged Americans to understand that terrorist groups do not pose a threat to this country on a national level, but that domestic threats are still a possible danger. In terms of stabilizing the Middle East, he intends to continue supporting rebel groups and create global solutions to these problems. The notion of America being involved in every single state that needs rebuilding was condemned, and cooperative agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Asia were praised.

Finally, the President ended the address by urging Republicans and Democrats to work together to get things done rather than consider each other enemies and stall progress. He berated the ability of states to manipulate district boundaries to favor one party and championed equal access to voting. He ended the speech by condemning the xenophobia and hatefulness that has been so prevalent in American politics and called for a return to the American ideal of equal opportunity no matter where one is from.

Hopefully Congress is willing to listen to these pleas for cooperation and will finally be able to make some progress on the important issues.