For some time now, the President’s State of the Union address has become a succession of half-applauses and half-standing ovations reflecting party lines and cultural differences. The annual speech to Congress highlights division, not union. The only thing that unites the members of the august assembly is their resolve to be divided.
When President Biden addresses Congress this year, everyone can be certain that it will reflect a divided nation. It will be crafted to cause the greatest irritation to the opposition. Indeed, the president has done little else since promising to unify the country at his inauguration.
Division is the state of the Union. No nook or cranny, no gas stove, pronoun or semi-automatic pistol, is exempt from being weaponized. All these polarizing points of friction are part of daily life.
A Liberal Model Now Exhausted
The State of the Union Address was not always like this. Congress used to function according to a nineteenth-century liberal model that sidestepped messy moral issues causing discord. According to this secular vision, Congress existed to legislate from a value-neutral platform to further national prosperity and personal self-interest. The laws were the mechanical means by which the people were governed, and society thrived. The Constitution was considered the set of ground rules, not stone tablets based upon natural law.
Thus, the State of the Union address was presented in economic terms and voter benefits. It resembled a stockholders’ report of accomplishments, risks and threats. The differences between parties were less pronounced than today. Unity was possible.
A Broken System
However, that past unity is now broken. The situation has changed because the culture changed, and the system has not adapted. The nation faces grave moral problems that cannot be solved by merely promoting material prosperity and self-interest. Liberalism’s value-neutral decisions do not function in a society that discards objective standards of right and wrong. The present system flounders because communities in crisis no longer have the social infrastructure to prevent decay and chaos.
Promiscuous lifestyles and hypersexualized habits require the return of a moral law to order society and orient it toward the common good. Such fundamental questions have festered too long under the surface and are now the cause of chaos and division. Some Americans are starting to perceive that for social harmony to exist, moral principles that conform to human nature and not the whims and passions of sectors of the populace must exist.
The Sources of Disharmony
Thus, the result of this broken system is chaos at all levels. On the one hand, the absence of objective morals is one cause of America’s disunity since it undermines social order.
On the other, the defense of moral law is another source of discord. Those who stand firm for an objective moral order trigger the vitriolic reaction of those who proclaim every American a law unto oneself. Many of these protesters violently resent any restrictions on how they live—even when it adversely affects society. They constantly try to push their agendas to ever greater depths.
Thus, culture war issues like abortion, marriage, family, religion, identity and private property bring to the fore matters beyond the scope of the liberal framework of secular governing structures. The result is the generalized disunity that threatens the nation.
Inside the Legal Fiction of a Fading Liberal Order
This violent clash is inevitably reflected in divided State of the Union addresses. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that the speech must be delivered inside a broken liberal framework bereft of any moral compass.
Each side operates inside the legal fiction of a fading liberal order that will not address the root causes of the crisis. No one dares raise the moral question lest something fragile break.
Many do not realize that everything is already broken. Unless Americans dare to discuss these matters, the State of the Union will always be disunity and division. America’s future will be bleak.