Here's a radical suggestion for the State of the Union address: Report on the state of the union, and skip the theatrics

Headshot image of Dan Calabrese
Published by: Dan Calabrese on Tuesday January 30th, 2018

There's almost no value to this event, despite the massive attention it receives. But it could be both amazing and game-changing.

I'm sure President Trump's State of the Union address is already written, barring some last-minute revisions. I don't expect him to read this column and re-write the whole thing - although if he wanted me to I could crank out a replacement in no time. I'm that fast and that good.

But it's not my job to make it happen. It's my job to tell you what I think should happen, and if ever there was a president who had the cajones to actually try what I'm about to suggest, it's Donald Trump.

First let's lay out what the State of the Union address has sadly devolved into. It's basically an hourlong political speech in which the president makes the case that his policies are making things better, and to whatever extent things are still not good enough, what we need are more of his policies. Along the way, just about everyone in the chamber brings "special guests" whose presence is designed to make some sort of political statement. Some of this is unobjectionable, like inviting honored members of the military or their families. But much of it is schmaltzy nonsense, like when Democrats invite sexual assault victims with the implied message that Donald Trump is in league with their oppressors.

The State of the Union has become little more than one of the spoils of winning the presidency. You get the entire nation's attention all to yourself for this one hour in prime time, and you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. So presidents use it tout themselves, their agendas and their achievements.

Now let's see what the Constitution says about this. Article II, Section 3 says in part that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." I suppose you could argue that the traditional State of the Union address fulfills this purpose, but you also have to say it does so in a politicized manner with a heavy dose of theater at the expense useful information.

Here's where Trump could get pretty radical if he wanted to:

The United States of America is nearly $20 trillion in debt, and is on the hook for nearly $100 trillion in unfunded entitlement obligations to people currently living. Our economy is not big enough, and cannot grow fast enough to pay back this debt while also meeting these obligations. We might be able to do the former. We'll never do the latter.

If this is not addressed, the United States will eventually experience a fiscal collapse. It will probably involve certain state seceding from the union (I would expect Texas to be the first) because they recognize they are fiscally better off going it on their own rather than accepting their share of the nation's debt and entitlement obligations if they stay in the union.

There are solutions available to these problems, and some of what was done in 2017 moved us in the direction of these solutions. The economy must grow faster, which the tax cut, dereguation and the unleashing of domestic energy resources will all help to bring about. We also have to spend far less money at the federal level, and the only way to do that is to radically reform entitlement programs. We have made open-ended promises to far too many people - to finance both their retirement and their never-ending health care needs, all while baking in disincentives for many people to enter the workforce and produce.

We need to completely reconstitute the scope and extent of these promises. Where we have guaranteed more than we can deliver, we have to let people know that from now on we're going to guarantee less and offer them different ways to go and get what they need.

In other words, the president should lay out for the American people what the most crucial challenges are that fact the union, and threaten its survival, and be clear to both Congress and the public about what neesd to be done to address these challenges.

No president ever uses the State of the Union this way, because it would be panned as a massive downer. It would be considered an act of political malpractice, as you had one shot at the nation's undivided attention to make yourself look good and instead you used it to get everyone depressed. If the president endeavored to draft such a speech, every political advisor in the West Wing would go into Def Con 5 in a desperate attempt to stop him from delivering it.

Don't worry! The Draft Oprah people aren't taking no for an answer

And if the president were ever to deliver such a speech, his political opponents would claim his assessment of the nation's issues are wrong, and that we don't need to do the difficult things he had prescribed.

He should do it anyway. It's called leadership. Right now this country is heading down a very dangerous path, and most of the public isn't aware of it because neither politicians nor the media talk about it. There is no appetite among the public to do what's necessary to solve these problems because the seriousness of these issues has not been thrust in our faces to the point where we can't hum to ourselves and pretend they don't exist.

The speech would not have to be a downer. The president could lay out the path to solutions and explain that as we implement these solutions, we will see more prosperity. He could paint a picture of a federal budget that doesn't have to carve out hundreds of billions every year to pay interest on the debt, and doesn't have to deal with more than half of all federal spending spiraling out of control. He could paint a picture of people who can get the things they need without having to seek the blessing of federal bureaucrats on whom they depend for beneficience.

Right now America is a nation in which about half the people are essentially dependent on a public sector that's being crushed by the weight of the obligation, but won't admit it. The other half are having to work increasingly harder all the time to pay for all this, and has less and less incentive to do so because they keep less and less of what they earn, so they don't enjoy the spoils of their efforts. Yet they have to listen every day to politicians calling them greedy for not wanting to pay even more in taxes than they already do.

That is the state of the union. It can be changed. It can be solved. But first we need leadership from a president who lays it out clearly and honestly to the American people, and shows the way forward. It would be a pretty radical step for an American president to actually do this. Donald Trump seems more open than most presidents to radical departures from tradition.

Maybe he'll pleasantly surprise me tonight. He ought to.

Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!