For more than two decades now I have annually attempted to write a personal version of a State of the Union address. It has never been an endeavor to write what the sitting president, Democrat or Republican, would, could or should say to the nation — simply my version of a message.
Here we are again. President Joe Biden will be delivering the State of the Union Tuesday evening in a difficult political environment. Challenges at home and abroad are real and really hard. The American people face significant challenges and extraordinary opportunities.
I will restate, for those whose confirmation bias, hyper-partisanship or instant certainty will cause them to miss this — I am not suggesting that President Biden would, could or should deliver this — it is the State of the Union from the perspective of one guy with an opinion and a microphone.
One guy with an opinion
Mr. Speaker, members of Congress and my fellow Americans, I thank you for joining me tonight as I carry out my duty as outlined in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which reads, “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 will not be delivering tonight a speech filled with applause lines and political talking points. Nor will I be laying out a laundry list of new spending bills or programs for Congress to consider.
I remind you, my fellow Americans, that Founders of this great nation designed this address to be focused on the state of the union, NOT the state of the government.
Tonight, I wish to return to the essence of this duty to share with Congress and the American people the state of our union and to recommend to you all a few principles for your consideration which I feel are necessary and expedient for our future.
From the beginning of our history, America has contained the promise of brighter days. Morning in America is not just a catchy phrase — it is the essence of promise for all who come to our country.
For much of our history we have been seen by the world as a shining city on a hill. The Lady in our Harbor, lifts her light to the people of the world with the invitation:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We are not a perfect nation. We have not always lived up to the light-filled principles we profess to believe. We have at times wandered in the shadows of prejudice and persecution. We have traveled in the starless midnight hours of systemic racism and injustice.
We have become consumed in the blackhole of consumerism, moral relativism and narcissism to the point that we no longer feel the responsibility to share our light with a neighbor in need. We seem to be stuck in the abyss of social media dominated division along with 24/7 political news driven by the darkness of hate and contempt toward our fellow citizens.
Dr. Martin Luther King captured what I think is essential and expedient for America in his speech “Love Your Enemy”. Dr. King said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
I have stated many times that we find ourselves in the midst of some pretty dark and discouraging days here at home and difficult times abroad where evil men with evils designs are trying to snuff out the light of liberty. Truly these are the moments that try the souls of good women and good men everywhere.
Days of worry
Many in our nation are worried about where we are as a society and our seemingly fragile, fragmented and fracturing connections to each other as fellow travelers. Many are weary from the long night of the pandemic and the devastating division in our communities, the financial distress, and the tragic deaths of despair that have followed. Too many, far too many, in this country are wondering if our shared future in America can be as bright as our past or if we are doomed to darkness and decline.
Many years ago I heard a story that may hold part of the answer for America. A Jewish rabbi sat enjoying the sunrise with two of his friends. The rabbi asked one of the men, “How do you know when the night is over and a new day has begun?”
One friend replied, “When you can look into the east and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.”
The second man was asked the same question by the rabbi and replied, “When you can look into the distance and distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, then you know the darkness of the night is past and a new morning has come.”
The two friends then asked the rabbi how he could tell when the night was over and the day had begun. The rabbi thought for a long time and then said, “When you can look into the east and see the face of a woman and you can say, ‘She is my sister.’ And when you can look into the east and see the face of a man and can say, ‘He is my brother.’ Then you know the light of a new day has come.”
The night of weariness ends and the new day for our country begins with kindness and with treating each other, especially the stranger and the struggling, like brothers and sisters.
On the dark night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy stepped onto the back of a truck to address an already weary crowd. He acknowledged the devastating darkness of the night, then invited his listeners to join him in creating a new dawn.
He said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.”
Show love and compassion
Showing love, wisdom and compassion seems like a great place for members of Congress to begin their legislative work and for citizens to start strengthen their communities.
One world religious leader, George Albert Smith, who was the eighth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, understood that true leadership and influence begin with the light of kindness and compassion. Of President Smith it was said that “he lacked the prowess of an athlete, that he was too homely to win popular favor, and that his weak eyes prevented him from becoming a scholar, but he could excel in human kindness. So, he made love and kindness his specialty.”
I am calling on Congress and every citizen to make kindness our specialty as a nation. I know this is a unique request, but it is an invitation that the American people already understand and know how to live. No nation is more compassionate or ready to assist in the face of natural disaster or human suffering. I am asking that we make kindness the ultimate American superpower.
Some may scoff at sisterly and brotherly kindness being the focus of a State of the Union address. I am not talking about glasses that are half-full, half-empty or rose-colored. This isn’t a Pollyanna-esque call to a kumbaya-style national group hug. No — I am inviting you to do something much more important.
We have much to do to move the country forward. Many difficult conversations will be required, authentic leadership will be needed, and the engagement of every citizen will be essential. I am reminded that complexity is dangerous and simplicity is powerful — especially in Washington D.C. We can start, however by recognizing that we are all travelers here on planet earth — simple — and treat each other better — super simple.
I am calling on Congress to simply return to regular order where transparency and light and can lead the way to good legislation. I am asking that you NOT send me bills that are passed in the cover of night. Do not send me laws with thousands of pages that have never been read in the light of day. Do not put on my desk legislation to sign that has been decided behind the darkness of closed doors and in the shadows of back-rooms.
Congress must lead with the light of transparency for all to see. I call on Congress to do their work to fund the Government TODAY — not in the 11th hour darkness of a potential shutdown or debt default. Put bills, with singular focus, on the floor of the House and Senate to be debated in the light, in front of the American people. Regaining the trust of the American people is paramount to the future our nation. Trust is built in the light of transparency and truth.
Congress must begin to address the needs of the nation. We must continue to root out racism and prejudice, protect religious liberty, fight inflation, elevate education, create energy independence while being careful stewards of the environment, carry out justice, establish accountability for results in government programs, preserve human rights, stand strong against the enemies of freedom, balance rule of law and compassion in immigration and create opportunity and upward mobility for all — just to name just a few of the vital issues we need to tackle.
The solutions to each challenge we face in America must begin with crucial conversations in the light of day and continue with rigorous debate, driven by kindness and respect. Bridging our differences in the light of transparency will make a difference.
Light and kindness won’t solve everything but they are required to solve anything. What I am saying tonight is that if we do not put light and kindness first in our nation we will not be able to the drive out the darkness in way that will last. It is easy to get weighed down by the darkness of our broken politics, but I have never been more confident about the brightness of America’s future — because of my belief in the kindness and goodness of our people. By rejecting the darkness and leaning into the light my confidence in the state of our union remains unfailing and unflinching.
I conclude where I began — The night of weariness ends in this nation and the new day for our country begins with kindness and with treating each other, especially the stranger and the struggling, like brothers and sisters.
I am inviting every American, and all of our allies around the world, to join me in a journey out of the darkness and into the light of a new day — a day that begins tonight — as we start to see each other as sisters and brothers and fellow travelers. Together, we can, we must and, I am convinced, we will — drive out the darkness. The light of liberty and the flame of freedom will help guide us into a new day in The United States of America.
May God continue to bless all of you and each of you as we walk together in the light of kindness, freedom and truth.
Boyd Matheson is the host of KSL News Radio’s Inside Sources, appearing each day from 1 to 3 p.m. MST.