Since 1790, every government has religiously presented an annual report, which has been extended to the entire population since the 20th century. While some people question the usefulness of the State of the Union, considering it a formal and empty gesture, like a thermometer to measure the priorities, concerns and attitudes of the leaders in power remain symbolically and politically important.
Although I write these lines without knowing the specific content of the speech given by President Barack Obama last night, the first indications released by the White House in advance of the State of the Union, like the adoption of several controversial decisions since the midterm elections of 2014 — when the Republicans increased their majority in the House of Representatives and won control of the Senate — are that difficult and interesting times are anticipated in Washington.
Between November and December of last year, and despite the defeat suffered by the Democrats at the polls, Obama acted to halt the deportation of up to 5 million illegal immigrants, signed a climate agreement with China that commits both countries to restrict their greenhouse gas emissions, and normalized relations with Cuba. These three decisions, all historic, had all faced rejection by the opposition. In early 2015, opening the 114th Congress — with the most Republican seats since 1947 — the leaders of the majority warned that they were going to repeal Obamacare (the flagship governmental health program), block the budget for border surveillance with the goal of disrupting the presidential decision on "illegal" immigrants, and approve the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama has refused to support because of environmental damage.
As if the previous sources of antagonism were not enough, the highlight of the State of the Union — tax reform and other social measures which will benefit the middle class — has been branded populist and similar to Robin Hood by the Republicans. The controversy will come with the proposal to increase taxes on dividends (and others) for high-income couples and to provide two years of free college education (in community college).
Despite signs of recovery in the U.S. economy, which have led to a significant upturn in Obama’s popularity ratings, the middle class has yet to experience the benefits. Racial tensions, which are alive as a result of police brutality against unarmed African-Americans and Hispanics, only serve to highlight the state of disunity that the country finds itself in. The commitment of the president during the short time that remains, in addition to sorting out some aspects of foreign policy, seems to be to advance those social issues that the economic crisis sought to delay. Whether or not he succeeds in doing this, he is making the move that puts the Republicans in the difficult position of having to explain to the population why the policies proposed in the State of the Union speech are not a good idea.