In terms of simultaneous crises, the stakes of tonight’s State of the Union Address aren’t just the highest that Alan Lowenthal has seen in his decade in Congress—they’re the highest he’s ever seen, period.
“These are among the toughest conditions I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Rep. Lowenthal said of tonight’s State of the Union Address at 6 p.m., which will be his last as Long Beach’s representative in Congress and will once again take place in a Capitol ringed with security fencing. “Right now the nation is in a major anxiety attack.”
There’s the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly a million Americans since early 2020, rising inflation, supply chain troubles and, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, new threats of a destabilized Europe and global nuclear annihilation.
It’s no wonder that 58% of Americans believe that “the nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse,” according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Jan. 12.
Tonight, President Joe Biden is expected to talk about his achievements, like the $1.2 billion infrastructure bill that passed last year, as well as his efforts to strengthen the NATO and European efforts to support Ukraine and deal with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation, climate change and other parts of his legislative agenda.
Lowenthal, who is retiring in less than year, has witnessed a decade’s worth of State of the Union addresses, from Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden.
Lowenthal’s first State of the Union, Obama’s in 2013, was almost upbeat, Lowenthal recalled. He talked about raising the minimum wage and passing universal pre-school—issues that seem almost quaint today.
A year or two later, Lowenthal was heartened to hear Obama use terms like lesbian, gay and transgender in his State of the Union, reflecting the president’s acceptance of the country’s diversity, Lowenthal recalled.
The year 2017 marked a “great change,” Lowenthal said. Trump’s first major speech before Congress was a “bit restrained,” Lowenthal said, which surprised him. “But from then on, it became a battle,” he said.
The 2019 State of the Union was memorable for both its delay caused by a government shutdown and all the women on the Democratic side wearing white to honor the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement, Lowenthal said.
As for the 2020 State of the Union, Lowenthal said he only remembered what Trump didn’t talk about—namely, climate change and what became Trump’s impeachment for extorting security assistance from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
As for tonight, Lowenthal said that he thinks Biden will say that the fundamentals of the American economy are sound, and will try to be more upbeat. “People are very frightened,” Lowenthal said.
He also expects Biden to talk about the need for more progress on combating climate change. “Climate change, besides Mr. Putin throwing a wrench in everything, is the most important issue.”
As for what Lowenthal’s successor will face during the 2023 State of the Union, Lowenthal hoped it would involve fewer crises.
“I’m hoping my successor has a little bit of breathing room and won’t have to deal with all these issues,” Lowenthal said. “I wouldn’t wish this on my successor.”
The State of the Union Address will take place tonight at 6 p.m. Pacific time.