Biden’s Misplaced Optimism: 2023 State of the Union Address
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Feb 2023
Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service
18 Feb 2023 – I was especially struck by some words following the habitual long litany of presidential achievements, which was for much different reasons also selected by Democratic Party fund raising machine that is never idle. Here is their version of the passage, conveyed the next morning as a private message from the President himself to me:
“I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of America, Richard. I mean it. We’re a nation with a strong soul, a strong backbone, and a strong people. We just have to remember this and remember who we are. There is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.”
I listened to these words, presumably inserted for their inspirational impact on a gullible citizenry, with stunned disbelief. I long wondered how such inauthentic sentiments could have slipped by the entourage of previously reliable self-censoring staffers who apparently fine tune every prepared word that emanates from the White House. I was further perplexed and disturbed despite understanding better the mercenary intentions underlying this supposedly uplifting coda when I came to realize that this follow up was one more appeal in an endless succession of daily pleas from Democratic leaders for money to support the Democratic Party, including the listing of proposed pledge amounts that we sheep might contribute.
These most offending words drawn from a long presidential address still came as a surprise, overriding in effect many genuine domestic achievements of the Biden presidency. Maybe the funding prominence is a prelude to the 2024 campaign for a second term, and should be interpreted as nothing other than a rallying cry that deliberately suppresses the grim realities facing America offering in their stead more ‘bread and circuses,’ in effect, a promise that Nero will keep fiddling.
If I had been a person of color, an indigenous survivor, or just poor, I might have wondered whether this inappropriately optimistic message could be more purposely rephrased: “I’ve never been more pessimistic about the future of America. We’re a nation tainted by a weak soul, a racist, patrioteering backbone, and seemingly forever love affairs with guns, war, and militarism. We could do far better for ourselves and others around the world, if we try finally to acknowledge the sins of the past and failures of the present. In the spirit of long overdue and solemn remembrance, I call upon all citizens to take steps to soften these national memories of who we were by transferring some future expenditures from future annual military budgets to a reparations trust fund for the benefit of past and present victims of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and official forms of racism directed at native Americans and African Americans. If we as a nation want to be serious about overcoming this tainted past of our country we must also become more positively engaged in the wider planetary struggles for justice and species survival. It would be an embrace of futility and folly to pretend that we can currently meet these challenges by acting collectively when we cannot even cooperate at home on behalf of national public wellbeing, much less internationally, for the global common good. If I were to indulge in the luxury of speaking honestly to the leaders of country, I would have to admit that we seem currently able to act together only when it comes to waging war or preparing for war with real or imagined adversaries.”
In other words, not only was this latest SOUA out of touch with the experience of most Americans, but it seemed somewhat oddly incomprehensible to preach national unity while soliciting funds claimed to be needed to ensure that Democrats stay in control of the government. Certainly not the Republican opposition nor indeed the party whose achievements Biden praises have the slightest intention of resting the future of America on “our capacity” to act together. Biden, or at least the party officialdom clearly understands the depth of polarization, reinforcing their pitch for funds with these standard partisan words: “And we need to elect more Democrats to get more done.” I find it significant that only these words are bolded in the funding appeal I received from party headquarter, apparently highlighting their sense that the core idea of the presidential address was that only by donating money to the good guys can virtue prevail given the intensity of national antagonisms being that are being expressed in the clash of ideas about how to shape the future.
It is hard to predict from the standpoint of the present whether Biden’s future biographers will pause to take note of such a gross contradiction, and if so, explain this tension in approach as habitual hypocrisy or mercenary opportunism, or some combination. Reckoning with the past is almost as uncertain as predicting the future. What does seem clear is that only corrupt apologists would suggest that Biden’s words of extreme optimism were expressions of genuine beliefs, given their detachment from the vivid daily reminders of various forms of wrongdoing that dominates the country’s past and present behavior.
One cynical possibility is to point to the occasion as one in which the national leader by tradition and habit only dwells on the positive, with no concern about whether it depicts reality or not. Yet the times are too dangerous to be content with such an lame excuse for false witnessing, for which is what I indict Biden and the party leads.
By wrapping this appeal for contributions in an unbridled sense of optimism about the future of the nation and its people is more puzzling because no accompanying effort, however flimsy, is made to give reasons for such reckless disregard of the array of national and global menaces that daily and obviously darkly cloud the country’s future as never before. It suggests a provocative question-Can we truly distinguish Biden’s outlook from Donald Trump’s primetime slogan so often held in liberal contempt—‘Make America Great Again’? Maybe this unlikely convergence of outlooks reflects a perverse and unconscious inner belief that indeed we are coming together. To gain an upper hand in the face of my taunt, Biden might respond to the similarly phrased Trumpist claim by an insistence that America is already great, and so there is no need to make it great, especially if that involves following Trump’s regressive path to greatness. But this would be to dwell even more obviously in a delusional comfort zone.
Biden should be ashamed of such expressions of optimism about our national future when hardly a day has passed without a mass shooting at a school or public social setting such as a dance hall or public cultural event; over 200 mass shootings in the first two months of 2023. In addition, recent reports suggest that suicide rates in America are again on the rise among veterans, persons of color, that teen misery has never been higher, and that the large number of citizens who struggle to earn enough to provide health, food, and housing for their families makes a mockery of Biden’s boast about economic recovery during his tenure. For more detailed documentation of such bleak generalizations visit these websites <gunviolencearchive.org><cdc.gov>
Biden is misleading the public when bloody manifestations of gun violence and acute depression are disproportionately much higher in America than in comparably industrialized societies. And what is in some ways worse than the tragedies themselves is the societal inertia that has followed, that so little of what could be done is even proposed and debated, much less undertaken. Such whitewashing of national wrongdoing should induce remorse rather than evasive denial. In no other country in the world, not currently afflicted by severe internal strife or large-scale combat do parents worry that they might never again see their children alive if they fail to return home from school at the expected time. And yet not even a whisper is heard about repealing or at least recast the Constitutional right to bear arms, as set forth in Article II, and interpreted very permissively.
Should our leaders keep hiding from the citizenry the bad stuff about poverty, racism, gun culture, encroachments on academic freedom, and global militarism (higher annual military expenditures than the next nine countries, highest international sales and profits of corporate merchants of death, hundreds of overseas bases, rejuvenation of military alliances, predatory behavior with respect to natural resources)? As citizens should we not be entitled to hear about some ways forward that will involve struggles against these regressive features of the policy landscape? If these ugly truths begin to be acknowledged by those who manage governance, then the foundation might begin to exist enabling positive action, and give rise to hopes that it is at least possible to be cautiously positive about the future of the country.
It may seem naïve to seek American leadership at this shrill time that exhibits humility, transmits truthful messages to citizens, and leaves audiences with a sense of overall urgent concern. It is certainly an appropriate moment for grandiose expressions of national pride and the downplaying of threats to the future quality of life in the country and throughout the planet. The national situation is far too deeply challenged for us to be content with presidential bromides. What is most needed are policies and practices that embody compassion, and are dedicated with the fullness of being to responding to the imperatives of human security at all levels of social interaction and natural habitat from the local to the planetary, even the cosmic.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.
Tags: Anglo America, Biden, US Military, USA
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Feb 2023.
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