Demonic Optimism: Biden’s State of the Union Address

18 Feb

I was especially struck by some words following the habitual long litany of presidential achievements, which was for much different reasons also selected by Democratic Party fund raising machine that is never idle. Here is their version of the passage, conveyed the next morning as a private message from the President himself to me:

I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of America, Richard. I mean it. We’re a nation with a strong soul, a strong backbone, and a strong people. We just have to remember this and remember who we are. There is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.”

I listened to these words, presumably inserted for their inspirational impact on a gullible citizenry, with stunned disbelief. I long wondered how such inauthentic sentiments could have slipped by the entourage of previously reliable self-censoring staffers who apparently fine tune every prepared word that emanates from the White House. I was further perplexed and disturbed despite understanding better the mercenary intentions underlying this supposedly uplifting coda when I came to realize that this follow up was one more appeal in an endless succession of daily pleas from Democratic leaders for money to support the Democratic Party, including the listing of proposed pledge amounts that we sheep might contribute.  

These most offending words drawn from a long presidential address still came as a surprise, overriding in effect many genuine domestic achievements of the Biden presidency.  Maybe the funding prominence is a prelude to the 2024 campaign for a second term, and should be interpreted as nothing other than a rallying cry that deliberately suppresses the grim realities facing America offering in their stead more ‘bread and circuses,’ in effect,  a promise that Nero will keep fiddling.    

If I had been a person of color, an indigenous survivor, or just poor, I might have wondered whether this inappropriately optimistic message could be more purposely rephrased: “I’ve never been more pessimistic about the future of America. We’re a nation tainted by a weak soul, a racist, patrioteering backbone, and seemingly forever love affairs with guns, war, and militarism. We could do far better for ourselves and others around the world, if we try finally to acknowledge the sins of the past and failures of the present.  In the spirit of long overdue and solemn remembrance, I call upon all citizens to take steps to soften these national memories of who we were by transferring some future expenditures from future annual military budgets to a reparations trust fund for the benefit of past and present victims of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and official forms of racism directed at native Americans and African AmericansIf we as a nation want to be serious about overcoming this tainted past of our country we must also become more positively engaged in the wider planetary struggles for justice and species survival. It would be an embrace of futility and folly to pretend that we can currently meet these challenges by acting collectively when we cannot even cooperate at home on behalf of national public wellbeing, much less internationally, for the global common good. If I were to indulge in the luxury of speaking honestly to the leaders of country, I would have to admit that we seem currently able to act together only when it comes to waging war or preparing for war with real or imagined adversaries.

In other words, not only was this latest SOUA out of touch with the experience of most Americans, but it seemed somewhat oddly incomprehensible to preach national unity while soliciting funds claimed to be needed to ensure that Democrats stay in control of the government. Certainly not the Republican opposition nor indeed the party whose achievements Biden praises have the slightest intention of resting the future of America on “our capacity” to act together. Biden, or at least the party officialdom clearly understands the depth of polarization, reinforcing their pitch for funds with these standard partisan words: “And we need to elect more Democrats to get more done.” I find it significant that only these words are bolded in the funding appeal I received from party headquarter, apparently highlighting their sense that the core idea of the presidential address was that only by donating money to the good guys can virtue prevail given the intensity of national antagonisms being that are being expressed in the clash of ideas about how to shape the future. It is hard to predict from the standpoint of the present whether Biden’s future biographers will pause to take note of such a gross contradiction, and if so, explain this tension in approach as habitual hypocrisy or mercenary opportunism, or some combination. Reckoning with the past is almost as uncertain as predicting the future. What does seem clear is that only corrupt apologists would suggest that Biden’s words of extreme optimism were expressions of genuine beliefs, given their detachment from the vivid daily reminders of various forms of wrongdoing that dominates the country’s past and present behavior. 

One cynical possibility is to point to the occasion as one in which the national leader by tradition and habit only dwells on the positive, with no concern about whether it depicts reality or not. Yet the times are too dangerous to be content with such an lame excuse for false witnessing, for which is what I indict Biden and the party leads.

By wrapping this appeal for contributions in an unbridled sense of optimism about the future of the nation and its people is more puzzling because no accompanying effort, however flimsy, is made to give reasons for such reckless disregard of the array of national and global menaces that daily and obviously darkly cloud the country’s future as never before. It suggests a provocative question-Can we truly distinguish Biden’s outlook from Donald Trump’s primetime slogan so often held in liberal contempt—‘Make America Great Again’? Maybe this unlikely convergence of outlooks reflects a perverse and unconscious inner belief that indeed we are coming together. To gain an upper hand in the face of my taunt, Biden might respond to the similarly phrased Trumpist claim by an insistence that America is already great, and so there is no need to make it great, especially if that involves following Trump’s regressive path to greatness. But this would be to dwell even more obviously in a delusional comfort zone.

Biden should be ashamed of such expressions of optimism about our national future when hardly a day has passed without a mass shooting at a school or public social setting such as a dance hall or public cultural event; over 200 mass shootings in the first two months of 2023. In addition, recent reports suggest that suicide rates in America are again on the rise among veterans, persons of color, that teen misery has never been higher, and that the large number of citizens who struggle to earn enough to provide health, food, and housing for their families makes a mockery of Biden’s boast about economic recovery during his tenure. For more detailed documentation of such bleak generalizations visit these websites <><>

Biden is misleading the public when bloody manifestations of gun violence and acute depression are disproportionately much higher in America than in comparably industrialized societies. And what is in some ways worse than the tragedies themselves is the societal inertia that has followed, that so little of what could be done is even proposed and debated, much less undertaken. Such whitewashing of national wrongdoing should induce remorse rather than evasive denial. In no other country in the world, not currently afflicted by severe internal strife or large-scale combat do parents worry that they might never again see their children alive if they fail to return home from school at the expected time. And yet not even a whisper is heard about repealing or at least recast the Constitutional right to bear arms, as set forth in Article II, and interpreted very permissively.

Should our leaders keep hiding from the citizenry the bad stuff about poverty, racism, gun culture, encroachments on academic freedom, and global militarism (higher annual military expenditures than the next nine countries, highest international sales and profits of corporate merchants of death, hundreds of overseas bases, rejuvenation of military alliances, predatory behavior with respect to natural resources)? As citizens should we not be entitled to hear about some ways forward that will involve struggles against these regressive features of the policy landscape? If these ugly truths begin to be acknowledged by those who manage governance, then the foundation might begin to exist enabling positive action, and give rise to hopes that it is at least possible to be cautiously positive about the future of the country. It may seem naïve to seek American leadership at this shrill time that exhibits humility, transmits truthful messages to citizens, and leaves audiences with a sense of overall urgent concern. It is certainly an appropriate moment for grandiose expressions of national pride and the downplaying of threats to the future quality of life in the country and throughout the planet. The national situation is far too deeply challenged for us to be content with presidential bromides. What is most needed are policies and practices that embody compassion, and are dedicated with the fullness of being to responding to the imperatives of human security as all levels of social interaction and natural habitat from the local to the planetary, even the cosmic.

7 Responses to “Demonic Optimism: Biden’s State of the Union Address”

  1. Irene Gendzier February 18, 2023 at 7:21 pm #

    Richard, Thank you for this article which I hope will inspire soul searching and action. I recently gave a talk entitled, Does Knowing Matter, which focused on what the US knew about events in Palestine in 1948, their origin and long term consequences.[ this is what I wrote to you about earlier] It was very well received and raised questions about what was to be done- always the most difficult question. But being able to raise some of these issues at least gave me a sense of contributing to a necessaryand apparently welcome discussion. We’ll see where it leads. Meanwhile I’m still scribbling and hoping to come up with a final drat of my ms on the same subject soon.

    Looking forward to seeing you sometime soon, irene with much affection


  2. Jan Nederveen Pieterse February 18, 2023 at 7:52 pm #

    The US is a reflectivity desert devoid of grown-up conversation about nearly anything. A practical approach I practice is to avoid any American cultural products, though some music is okay. In a culture of violence normalized deaths of despair are a reasonable response. Airlines cut on software and tens of thousands passengers are stranded. Boeing skips safety tests and airplanes crash. And so forth. An outlier so be it. But contaminating the world is not a good idea.

  3. expose the hypocrite February 20, 2023 at 5:41 am #

    For those people who think Kenneth Roth is different from other zionists in the Jewish mafia tribe. That’s why he was accepted by Harvard, a empire building center runs by CIA. No one pays any ttention to these criminals and their informant training where is called ‘university’ in the west. Shame on you agent.
    Kenneth Roth
    Feb 18
    If the Chinese government provides military assistance for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it will be aiding and abetting his war crimes. That’s an internationally prosecutable crime. Ask former Liberian Pres. Charles Taylor, now serving a 50-year sentence.
    Oh, shut up zionist hypocrite!

    asad abukhalil
    Feb 18
    Yet, all US military aid to Israel does not in any way aid and abet Israeli war crimes. Odd formula, I guess.
    PS Whatever happened to your thing with Harvard? People of developing countries are still riveted.

  4. Beau Oolayforos February 22, 2023 at 12:19 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Many thanks once again, this time for the much-needed cold water. But we mustn’t blame Biden personally, except for being a sycophant. HE didn’t write that speech – he was mouthing the words that were given to him by speechwriters, handlers; just the way he went along with Wolfowitz, Cheney, & Co. in 2003.

    It’s hard to agree with any thing Trump ever said, but I still can’t quarrel with the “Sleepy Joe” epithet. And as we sit in mortal peril of sleepwalking into a nuclear war, what more bitter irony than such a “Leader” ?


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