It’s time to change State of the Union

There’s really no love lost between U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump, especially as the federal government shutdown approaches a full month. However, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read that Pelosi was recommending Trump delay his State of the Union address due to the continuing shutdown.

It’s a sure sign Pelosi doesn’t like Trump when she doesn’t even want him to come over to her house.

Pelosi’s argument is that, with much of the federal staff furloughed or working without pay, there might not be enough security to keep the president, the vice president, all the cabinet members (at least the ones still in their jobs), 535 elected officials with the legislative branch, and anyone else who is part of the menagerie.

I can understand her concern, considering the last time a State of the Union was targeted, we wound up with Kiefer Sutherland as president. Oh, wait. That was just a television show.

In reality, though, we already know the State of the Union. It sucks. Having the president stand before an arena of bureaucrats live on national television isn’t going to tell us anything different.

The State of the Union was born out of the requirement in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution where a president must keep Congress apprised of how the country is faring and recommend measures they should address. However, there is no magic formula in the Constitution that addresses how a president alerts Congress as to whether or not the sky is falling.

George Washington gave the first such report in 1790. It wasn’t called the State of the Union then, as that was a phrase coined by Franklin Roosevelt and became the official name of the president’s report in 1947.

Delivering the address in person didn’t become popular until Woodrow Wilson revived it in 1913, and that’s when it became the blueprint for a president’s agenda with Congress. Prior to that, presidents sent written copies to the House and Senate to be read aloud by the clerks of each chamber.

With our government in such disarray, this might be a good time to change tradition as far as the State of the Union. Let’s face it, even when we like the guy in the office, how many of us have been able to sit through the entire address? Between the applause every 30 seconds from colleagues in the president’s party and the use of human guests as props for the leader’s agenda, it has truly turned into much ado about nothing. Also, having the opposing party giving a rebuttal makes an already lengthy event even longer.

What’s the alternative, then? Written copies of the State of the Union, as it was done before? It would certainly be cheaper, especially in this age of digital transmission. You wouldn’t have to kill a bunch of trees to get the word out. There would be no need for extra security.

While there’s no requirement that the American public be apprised of the State of the Union, there are plenty of ways to get the word out to the people. An address over the Internet, making the written State of the Union available over the Internet, a television address from the Oval Office — in other words, we don’t have to keep doing it the same way.

In this age of media oversaturation, we know how things are in our country. When the Founding Fathers created our Constitution, there was no radio, no television, no internet. As society evolved and technology made progress, we developed innovative ways to communicate. Now we have 24-hour news cycles, presidents with Twitter accounts and an ever-expanding array of news websites. Having a president address Congress in January or February each year is almost quaint.

We should not ignore the fact that our political system is very fractured. Our leaders are constantly bashing each other, and folks in their particular political parties are now willing to be spoon-fed whatever their representatives spout and ignore those who are with the “other” party. Democrats are not going to place any value on what Trump has to say, just like Republicans paid no heed to what Barack Obama had to say in his State of the Union addresses.

Once full of substance, now it’s just showboating and repeating the same old tired messages. Just like a good mystery novel, we need some twists in the State of the Union to keep our attention. What’s Trump going to address? The wall, the necessity of repealing the Affordable Care Act, demanding we get our fair share in dealing with foreign countries. No mystery there.

Given today’s climate, it’s time to change the State of the Union. Dress it up differently, set up residency in another theater or just put it out of its misery with a bullet between the eyes. I don’t care which option the federal government goes with, but the current State of the Union system does not provide anything new to what we already see in America.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor of the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.