On Tuesday, Donald Trump gave his address to a joint session of Congress. Hopefully it will also be his last. While not technically a State of the Union Address it has been a tradition for Presidents to address Congress on prime time television to lay out their agenda to Congress and the public.
Presidents George Washington and John Adams both issued speeches to Congress, but the practice was ended by Thomas Jefferson who felt that the address was too similar to the British monarch’s address to the newly elected parliament. The practice was brought back by Woodrow Wilson in 1913 and was solidified by Franklin Roosevelt as an annual tradition, with few exceptions. The last time a President did not give a speech to Congress was in 1981.
These sorts of speeches need to end. A republic does not need Fidel Castro-like speeches. Trump’s speech was 60 minutes long, included 84 applause lines (one roughly every 43 seconds), and 53 standing ovations (one roughly 84 seconds). The standing ovation for the widow of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in Yemen, was more than appropriate. However, the sight of Congress jumping up out of their seats after every other sentence and clapping continuously like the Politburo applauding Stalin is still unbecoming of a republic.
Members of Congress who stake out their seats hours in advance like people in front of an electronics store before Black Friday or at a concert as if the President is some music icon should be beneath the dignity of legislators in a republic. The monarchical nature of the State of the Union and the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is why so many look at Washington with disgust. The politicians give themselves a collective pat on the back, while everybody else wonders why they congratulate themselves.
The only time a President should be giving an addresses to Congress is when asking Congress to authorize war. A “Day of Infamy” or post 9/11 speech in attempt to rally the nation is not only an acceptable course of action, but a preferable one. Talking about tax plans can be done from the Oval Office without the never-ending standing ovations.
Article II Section 3 of the Constitution states “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Presidents should go back to the tradition that existed from Jefferson to Taft and submit the report in writing.