The U.S. Capitol building at sunset in Washington, D.C. (Igor / Adobe Stock)
Local writer of the column 'Notes From Home'

“Did you see the State of the Union address last night?” I asked a friend last Friday, a lifelong Republican. “No,” he said. I asked another friend, a converted Democrat raised Republican. “No,” he said, slightly more embarrassed than my other friend. 

I have skipped many State of the Union addresses in the past, but this one seemed important to me though I didn’t exactly know why. In my mind, so much hangs on who becomes president this November that it’s frightening. I often feel like shoving my head in the sand, and I’m not alone. 

The recent Supreme Court decision acquitting Biden of the charges Republicans had raised against him contained a virus: fear that he is getting too old to lead. I had hope (which felt almost ridiculous) that Joe would answer that challenge in this speech, so I gave myself the time to sit down and listen. 

Let me tell you that ridiculous hope never has been so beautifully rewarded. It was a turning point. Biden grabbed that doubt-fueled spear in mid-air and hurled it back where it came from. In keeping with the national purpose of the speech, he refrained from naming his political opponent, instead describing the sources of conflict in Congress. In doing so, he demonstrated real leadership, the kind that invites people to come together and join in.

In an editorial for Huffington Post on March 8, Jonathan Cohn explained what made Biden’s speech so good. “Americans appreciate what Biden has accomplished,” he said, “when they hear about them,” but many “simply aren’t aware of what he’s done.” Biden detailed his accomplishments point by point, as well as what he intends for the future, while the power in his voice and the egalitarian nature of his personality took care of the rest. “The feisty energy was impossible to miss,” Cohn wrote. Biden even declared his Irish roots, a likely source of that energy.

I thought about my own ignorance of what Joe Biden has done as president. Looking back, I realized that the moment Donald Trump was actually out of office, I relaxed my overwrought vigil and took a break from the news. The previous four years had been such a long, anxiety-filled haul.

Then it came to me what the difference is between Biden and Trump. Trump is an addiction, the political equivalent of a raging alcoholic. He’s one of those high-maintenance people who makes you feel important until you wake up to the fact that it’s not you who matters, just the fact that you’re watching and responding. You could be Bozo the Clown, it doesn’t matter—just don’t take your attention anywhere else. The threats that come when you decide to look away and move on are real, but if you’re going to get that monkey off your back, you’ve got to take the risk.

Biden is an opportunity. He’s inviting us to reclaim our citizenship, to participate not just in the elections, but in the political process of determining who we are and how we’re going to move forward. Not all of us want that opportunity. Some of us just want things to be taken care of. The problem is that no one else can know what you need like you do. So if we’re not going to participate directly, we must elect people who are able to represent our interests and our needs.

Friday morning after the State of the Union speech, I found myself turning to folksinger Pete Seeger, who spent his entire adult life encouraging us to be citizens. At 93, he wrote a song with Lorre Wyatt for his last album, “A More Perfect Union.” (You can listen on YouTube; see also www.npr.org/2012/10/27 interview “At 93, Pete Seeger Keeps The Fire Burning Low.”) Here are the words:

“To form a more perfect union / read the words writ long ago / Words we learned when we were young / words that continue to grow. / All our differences we can transcend / we’re family, neighbors, workers, friends / As we joined before, we can join again / in union, union.”

If you have doubt about our ability to become a better country, to uphold what makes America truly great, stop watching Donald Trump. Watch Joe instead.

Trudy Wischemann is a former Republican/reformed Democrat who requires hope. You can send her your responses to the SOTU c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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