BY GREGORY MEEKS
Practically every American knows inspiring presidential refrains—such as FDR’s “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” and JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It’s hard to compare this motivating prose to that of our current president, who called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries.” To be clear though, I am not so concerned with the fact that he used a curse word; what I am concerned about are the bigoted beliefs that underpin his harmful rhetoric.
The State of the Union is meant to be a symbolic and monumental moment. Historically, it has offered the president an opportunity to speak unfettered to the American people and to leaders of the other branches of government, who respond shortly afterward. However, this moment and this president are different—he has denigrated the office he holds and he has undermined American values. I chose not to normalize his behavior and I skipped his State of the Union. I could not offer my attendance, a sign of respect, to a president who does not respect me or for the diverse communities I represent.
Aside from my concern that this president lacks a moral compass—a concern that was shared by an overwhelming number of Republicans in the 2016 campaign—he is also an unreliable negotiating partner. Through executive action, Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and promised to make good faith efforts to reach a deal, only to torpedo a bipartisan compromise. Trump and Republicans didn’t only dangle the lives of nearly a million DREAMers, he also held hostage children’s healthcare. This unfortunate episode showed that the president is more of a deal-breaker than a dealmaker, and once again that he cannot be trusted to uphold America’s highest values and promote its global strategic interests.
The president’s failure to work with Democrats on areas of possible compromise have led us to be skeptical. A sabotaging of America’s healthcare system and the passage of a tax bill that prioritizes the wealthy have shown the middle-class Americans that they have reason to be doubtful. Internationally, the president’s volatile handling of North Korea, his ill-advised withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement and his feeble implementation of Russia sanctions have resulted in our allies abroad asking, “Can we count on America?” As a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have sought to reassure them that they can.
Notwithstanding all of my profound issues with the president, my biggest issues are his fundamental lack of respect for the office of the president and his failure to uphold democratic principles. I remain deeply concerned about the president’s bigoted views and his emboldening of white supremacists across our nation who seek to oppress minorities in our country.
Instead of sitting idly in the House chamber as the president delivered his remarks, I chose to monitor his speech from my office with my staff. Although I was not immediately in front of him, I will continue to call out his racist rhetoric and oppose his backwards policies. Congress’ constitutional role in checking the president is more important than ever before. As a coequal branch of government, we must safeguard our cherished institutions, protect the freedom of the press, and push for progress for all Americans. When and where the president fails to do these things, Congress must not falter.
Gregory Meeks is the congressman for Queens’5th District.