In the strictest possible sense, the state of the Union, is peachy. It’s not like we have states threatening to join up with Canada or Mexico or anything. We’re in the middle of a presidential election cycle where if the incumbent is turned out of office we’ll most likely see yet another peaceful transition of executive authority. Considering world demographics, even the least among us is doing better than the large majority of everyone else on the planet. We survived our capital city being sacked. We survived a brutal civil war and then fought in the war to end all wars before getting pulled into the war after that. In between these wars, we survived finical panics and Great Depressions, pestilence, and famine. Despite it all, we’re still here and managed to cure contagious diseases, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with nothing more than electrons. Keep in mind, we did all those things in our free time when we weren’t occupied dealing with the big stuff. That’s my big picture thinking about the state of the Union, anyway.
If you distill the state of the Union down to the question of whether you’re better off now than you were four years ago, the response probably isn’t as positive. There are plenty of people who can’t find work, can’t buy or sell a house, and at best have spent the last four or five years treading water at best and being pulled under at worst. It’s not an easy time for America and it’s not an easy time to be American. It’s easy to be an optimist when Wall Street only goes higher and unemployment runs at 3%. It’s a hell of a lot harder to be an optimist when you can’t find a job or you’re going to bed hungry at night.
So, you ask, what’s really the state of the Union? Well, it’s probably somewhere between the two extremes. That’s where reality tends to live. It’s neither as strong nor as weak as the pundits and politicos make it out to be. The United States, warts and all, is still the shining example of how to be a republic. Local, State, and Federal governments fight one another. Political parties fight with everyone. Even the separate branches of the same government are locked in Byzantine conflict. Somehow we muddle through without veering too far left or too far right. Dysfunctional as it is, the process is still a wonder to behold. With financial crisis spreading through Europe, our lifeblood oil flowing from the Middle East, and the supply chain for our consumer goods that stretches all over Asia, we Americans are once again learning that we have to engage with the world – the whole world. The future, and a far stronger Union, lie in the direction of cooperation, consensus, and international competition. It’s a hard lesson, but one well worth learning.