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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

The sorry State of the Union


We don’t need the monarchical address

At least when President Mark C. Reed needs to address this university’s community, he has the courtesy to just leave it at an email. Presidents of this great nation, on the other hand, do not have the same restraint.

This year, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi disinvited President Donald Trump from giving the State of the Union address.

Madame Speaker framed this as a postponement due to the shutdown. She is completely within her right to postpone, or just cancel, the State of the Union address as a speech altogether.

Why she is actually doing it though is different than the shutdown and security reasons. Is this just another counterpunch in the neverending partisan bickering? Of course it is, and for that we are all winners.

The State of the Union has not always been a speech. All the constitution requires is that the president “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Thomas Jefferson decided the whole thing was too monarchical, and that a letter would suffice.

The idea of The State of the Union as a formal address in front of Congress reared its ugly head when Woodrow Wilson was president.

Prior to Wilson, only one another president, John Adams in 1800, had done The State of the Union address in front of Congress. And much like Adams, Wilson was a believer in a strong presidency. Wilson was especially a believer in a strong President Woodrow Wilson.

The State of the Union as an address before all three branches of government was more or less normalized into our current iteration under President Franklin Roosevelt.

Almost every year since the president, flanked by the vice president and the speaker of the house, has told us in one way or another they are doing a great job and America is lucky to have them.

This happens in the congressional chamber, but it’s the president’s show. Members of Congress play the part of the cheerleaders when they like what they hear and put on their best frowny faces when the president says something they do not like.

Democrats and Republicans usually cheer in separate blocks, which requires no tact or bravery. The occasional apostate who claps out of turn when his or her party elders do not is always highlighted and analyzed by the press. If a member of Congress wants attention, just get up and clap at a weird time; you might make the paper.

Most of the time, though, those who want to be most closely associated with the president will stake out an aisle seat several hours. It is funny to see some balding 66-year-old lawyer from Indiana waiting dutifully in line like they are a preteen ready to have a meet and greet with Taylor Swift.

Some members of Congress look so excited to be touched by the God-king we call a president as they walk towards the podium. They may never wash their hand again. Back home in their district, their constituents will see them on television for maybe five seconds and then check the Sixers game. Seems like it was worth it.

As foolish as this all seems, it is also a little insidious, and indicative of larger trends. The executive branch has gotten bigger, and that is at the expense of our legislative branch.

Rather than jealously guarding their power, our legislators are more increasingly talking heads, doing their spots on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. This helps in their perennial running for reelection while failing to carry out their elected duties like passing a budget or actually asserting their war powers.

This chamber of pundits is weak because they want to be. The problems go deeper than the State of the Union address, but not letting the president cast a long shadow over the people’s house chamber would be a good start.

We are citizens, not subjects. The power of the presidency has increased way beyond its original intention, and that is not just a bad thing when a guy you don’t like sits at the Resolute desk. To take the presidency down a notch, it is prudent to ditch all of this imperial claptrap.

We are a people without a king, and, while it is unrealistic to ask the president to drive around in a Prius and fly coach, we might want to lower the volume of Hail to the Chief. Our current president owns a penthouse covered in gold. Humility is not something he is going to find on his own.

One thing that is still running during this government shutdown is the United States Postal Service. So, to our current resident and to all the wannabe presidents that fill up our federal legislature, please just send a letter.

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