President Trump will fulfill his constitutional duty Tuesday night to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” Before he does, let's review, without the night's pomp, circumstance, and political rhetoric, the actual state of the union.
The nation is strong if you look at our national economic indicators. The unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2000 and lower than 97 percent of the time since 1970.
The stock market is constantly hitting record highs. In the five years from January 2012 through Election Day 2016, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 45 percent. It’s risen that much in just the 15 months since.
The economy has grown for 15 straight quarters, and we’ve just enjoyed three quarters in a row growing at an annual rate of more than 2.5 percent, the first time that has happened in 13 years.
Nor is the good news measured only in dollars and cents. Teen pregnancy is falling. Divorce rates last year hit a 40-year low. Abortion rates are falling. Crime rates, despite a short-term uptick since 2015, are still near all-time lows.
On aggregate, then, America is strong and getting stronger.
But any aggregate can hide problems, and America’s overall strength shouldn’t blind us to areas of rot and erosion.
Since stories of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassing and assaulting women rattled the public psyche, we have seen repeatedly how corrupt, abusive, and licentious powerful people in entertainment, media, and government are.
Amid constant talk of a “reckoning” with sex-and-power misconduct, the cultural elites haven’t really reckoned with it at all, merely crassly obscured it. The Grammy Awards on Sunday night held itself up as a celebration and empowerment of women, but there were moments of utter contradiction, and we’re not talking simply about the sexualized objectification of some women on stage.
The highest drama of the evening featured Hillary Clinton reading from the anti-Trump bestseller Fire and Fury. Clinton had been exposed only 48 hours earlier for her campaign’s protection of an accused sexual harasser who, when transferred to another job, allegedly harassed again. This should not surprise anyone, for Clinton protected her husband from the consequences of his affair with an intern and against credible charges of sexual assault and rape, vilifying his accusers in doing so. But if Hillary Clinton's behavior should surprise no one, surely it should be surprising, as it is certainly telling, that she was chosen to represent the Grammys on a night it wanted to show how woke it is to sexual harassment and abuse. Oh, and the book from which she read is a fact-challenged bestseller that hints without evidence that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley slept her way into Trump’s favor.
Our apparent diversion into the gutter of Sunday night's show is to note our nation's ugly culture. Culture infects politics and the state of our union. It polarizes America, and that polarization is demolishing standards and norms among Trump’s critics and defenders, in media and in the courts.
It’s hard not to look around and say national politics is making us worse people. Among other maladies, it is dragging us towards abstract ideological identities and away from real-world local and humane identities. It is becoming harder to love one’s neighbor if one’s neighbor has the “wrong” politics.
Sure enough, many of our communities are eroding. Civic activity is declining, and social isolation is rising. This alienation is muted in the world of elites, but it is a glaring truth every day in much of America. Absent strong communities, strong families don’t stand a chance, no matter how high the stock market goes.
Trump and Congress can probably not do much to fix this. But the sunny big picture should not prompt us to ignore the ambient corruption of the way we live now.