State of the Union 2019: Chaos and a glimmer of hope

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Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The American constitution provides for a report to Congress by the U.S. president. Beginning with George Washington in 1790, all presidents have sent a message, or spoken before a combined session of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

As Donald Trump takes the podium for his State of the Union address 2019, the United States of America is in political chaos. The president is under official investigation, partisan divisions over immigration shut down government for weeks and public policy failures abound.

When Trump speaks, three dozen freshly elected Democrats will be seated in Congress; their presence amounts to a glimmer of hope.

Among the first time elected, the youngest, 29-year-old democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands out for her ability to articulate another vision of America. Ocasio-Cortez is one of 90 women taking seats in the 234-member Democratic majority.

Vocal support from the new caucus members for a “green new deal” has captured the imagination of progressive Americans, if not yet the support of veteran Congressional Democrats.

Appalling social conditions for many Americans are the reality in the U.S., the wealthiest nation in the world. The following social indicators will not feature in the State of the Union Address.

U.S. life expectancy has fallen since 2015 to 78.6 at the end of 2017, the first three-year decline in four decades.

According to David Bishai of John Hopkins University, opioids are a main reason: “every U.S. state is seeing epidemics of drug overdoses, suicide and alcohol-related deaths despite better access to health insurance.”

Maternal mortality is rising in the U.S. while falling in other countries. American women who are pregnant face a greater likelihood of dying than their mothers, or pregnant Saudi Arabian or Chinese women.

Since the 1980s, children have been dying more often in the U.S. than in the other 19 wealthiest Western countries.

With 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 20 per cent of the world prison population.

A new generation of American feminist economists is shaking up economic thinking with their insistence that “social reproduction” and not just market transactions constitute economic life.

Facing gender barriers, sexual harassment and long-time discrimination within the economics profession, women and feminist thinkers are slowly gaining recognition through high-quality economic analysis and research.

Since 1988 the Economic Policy Institute has published The State of Working America, a report about the lives of the American people that tells many important stories. For example, it has a chart showing a significant gap in the growth rates of median family income, and industry productivity, which emerged in the 1990s.

Workers produced more, but pay increases did not follow.

Denying American workers the benefits of their labour, created conditions for the populist revolt that propelled Trump to the presidency.

This same contradiction between efforts made and rewards distributed fuelled Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination.

When Sanders told the American people "the economy is rigged," he spoke a truth that many could recognize, and few would try to refute.

Ocasio-Cortez and her young colleagues have certainly noted that his campaign was undermined by the Democratic National Committee (as attested by internal documents released by WikiLeaks).

U.S. foreign policy continues to terrify friends and foes alike. News that the U.S. administration has withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Weapons treaty with Russia because it wants to build new weapons to face down China, was particularly unwelcome in a world that has no need for more U.S. military spending.

 With U.S. military spending already equal to the next eight big spending countries, in 2018 the U.S. added $80 billion to its military budget, more than what every other country except China will spend on the military in a year.

In 2001, the “Bush Doctrine” announced that the U.S. had the right to strike any country, anywhere, without forewarning if the U.S. president decided a country harboured a terrorist threat.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Iraq (again), bombed Libya and armed Saudi Arabia for a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. John Bolton, a National Security adviser to Trump, has given every indication of his willingness to see the U.S. bomb Iran.

The U.S. continues to engineer regime change in Latin America. The sanctions campaign against the socialist government of Venezuela -- including freezing government banks accounts -- is leading to public starvation, and population exodus, largely because the U.S. is determined to restore control over the world’s largest oil reserves to U.S. companies.

Thomas Jefferson, thought to have been the most intelligent of U.S. presidents once said: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just …."

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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