President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address, recently televised to the American public as established under Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution— the annual presentation of measures for Congress to consider—came during a time of division, strife, and crisis, placing many concerned with “the time and what must be done,” into a valley of decision beyond the rhetoric of partisan politics and the ideological struggle between liberals and conservatives.

“We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we entered it,” President Biden said from the Speaker of the House dais before the joint session of Congress, members of the judicial branch, and his cabinet officials. “That is what we are doing again. Two years ago, our economy was reeling,” he said. “As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12 million new jobs, more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.”

Referring to recovery from the economic impact of the COVID 19 lockdowns, the civil unrest that came at the end of the tumultuous presidency of Donald J. Trump, and what the president called threats to democracy not seen in the country since the Civil War, Mr. Biden said his administration proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong two years into his own presidency and said he defined the country with one word: “Possibilities.”

“Yes, we disagreed plenty,” the president continued. “And yes, there were times when Democrats had to go it alone. But time and again, Democrats and Republicans came together. Came together to defend a stronger and safer Europe,” he said. “Came together to pass a once-in-a-generation infrastructure law, building bridges to connect our nation and people,” while proclaiming a myriad of other projects, programs, and social agendas.

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address, Tuesday, February 7, 2023, on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The African American Mayors Association (AAMA), lauded President Biden’s speech, and said they shared his optimism about America’s future and “wholeheartedly believe that the state of our union is made stronger by his leadership.” Their news release added: “President Biden took office with the promise to rebuild the backbone of the country and unite and restore the soul of the nation.

These goals remain equally important today. As the only organization dedicated to representing more than 500 Black mayors across the United States, including the four largest cities in the country, AAMA knows that President Biden’s got our back and we’ve got his,” the AAMA statement read in part.

“Tonight, President Biden spoke directly to the American people by outlining his administration’s historic progress over the past two years. From tackling unprecedented crises, rebuilding the economy, and delivering results for working families, the President’s leadership has helped steer our nation in the right direction. We are grateful for the strong support President Biden and his administration has shown to mayors across the country and look forward to a continued partnership where we can focus on the core values of getting people back to work, ensuring our communities are safe, and improving the standard of living in people’s everyday lives,” said AAMA President and Little Rock Mayor, Frank Scott, Jr.

Albeit upbeat, optimistic, and strong, President Biden’s address offered more symbol than substance, according to some critics who believe the partisan divide on Capitol Hill will prevent any progressive agenda from moving forward. Whether Mr. Biden seeks to run for a second term or not, any Democrat seeking office in 2024 will most likely run a more centrist campaign to woo independents and moderate Republicans to keep the presidency under Democrat control. 

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address, Tuesday, February 7, 2023, on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

According to political scientist Dr. Wilmer Leon, host of the nationally syndicated talk show “Inside the Issues” on Sirius XM Satellite radio channel 126, told The Final Call that Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address pushed the right buttons to elicit support from his base, but was light on tangibles, particularly for his Black supporters who called for reparations, police reform, and other issues such as student debt relief.

“His tagline (was) ‘finish the job,’” Dr. Leon said after President Biden’s speech. “Well, Joe, finish the job on Medicare, finish the job on Medicaid, finish the job on free college, finish the job on the $800 billion you were supposed to send to HBCUs. He made a lot of calls for things, did not offer legislation for them, and again, he knew the buttons to push, but when it comes to him following through on the things that he advocates for, he doesn’t get them done,” he said.

“He made mention of the labor issue, and last September on Labor Day, he said he wanted to be known as the greatest pro-labor president ever. And what did he do with the railway workers strike?” Dr. Leon asked. “He sided on the side of the railway companies, sacrificing the workers. There was a lot of fluffy rhetoric and as a political scientist I did not see substantive policy initiatives proposed. I heard a lot of populist rhetoric that did not have legislation tied to it.”

Regarding Mr. Biden’s position on America’s opioid crisis, Dr. Leon said the harshness with which urban addicts were handled by the criminal justice system, during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, as opposed to the compassion with which suburban and rural fentanyl addicts are handled by the healthcare system today, the mass incarceration of Black people, for nonviolent drug offenses, is directly linked to the 1994 Crime Bill co-sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“There’s been a huge issue in the Maryland (and) Northern Virginia area with kids having to be resuscitated from fentanyl overdoses and these cases have been taking place in high schools in fairly affluent areas and they haven’t shown the identity of the children. But I would assume, based upon the locations of the schools, that the majority of the kids have been White kids,” Dr. Leon said.

“Now we have the opioid crisis impacting middle and upper middle class America and it’s made its way into the homes of White Americans, young kids who, in many cases, are taking these pills from the medicine cabinets of their parents,” adding that today opioid addiction has a White face to be handled gently while crack addiction still has a Black face to be handled harshly.

On the issue of police reform, President Biden acknowledged the parents of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died in a hospital three days after enduring a savage beating by five Black police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 7. Expressing compassion over their son’s death during a questionable traffic stop, the president referenced his executive order regulating the behavior of federal law enforcement personnel but did not leverage his bully pulpit to restart negotiations over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act stalled in the Senate since 2021.

“I don’t see any real traction coming out of it now, because Republicans tend to be more pro-police and pro-blue than the Democrats, but the one line Joe Biden gave that I thought was interesting and powerful was when he said: “When a police officer pins on this badge in the morning, he deserves the right to come home in the evening,’” Dr. Leon continued. “And then he said: ‘so do the people in the community,’” adding that as minor as it was, it constituted a powerful statement from a sitting president. But at the end of the day, it remains unlikely to bring substantive change to police behavior in Black neighborhoods.

As Merciless as Ancient Nineveh?

Quoting from the Bible to reinforce his point, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, recited from Nahum 3:1-2 in the Old Testament on page 116 of his 1973 book, “The Fall of America,” which reads in part: “Woe to the bloody city! It is full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not; The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and the prancing horses and the jumping of chariots.”

“Though the whips and the clubs of their enemy are heard night and day upon the heads and backs of the prey (so-called Negroes), they still do not desire to depart from America,” the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote. “Ancient Nineveh, according to her history, was full of chariots that made much noise and the prancing horses carrying the chariots in full speed that the prophets described them as ‘jumping chariots,’” he said. “So, it is in America today: her cities are filled with automobiles and the noise of them is heard every hour of the day, rattling past our doors. She is full of blood from murdered people,” he wrote of America’s hubris and violence prone culture.

Southwest Regional Student Minister Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 45 in Houston, Texas, told The Final Call that President Biden’s State of the Union address also should be examined through a spiritual lens in accordance with divine prophecy, as written in both the Bible and Holy Qur’an.

“Black people must organize themselves and have what I describe as an unapologetically Black agenda, then they should coalesce with recent immigrants, veterans, women, the Hispanic community, and even poor Whites to form, in fact or by association, what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan described as a Justice Party,” Student Min. Muhammad explained.

“We should convene town hall meetings across this country to flush out the public policies that would be fair and just toward our people and to those who have been marginalized in this society,” Student Min. Muhammad said.

 “Given the make-up of the House of Representatives and the slim margin that Mr. Biden’s party has in the Senate, and the upcoming elections in 2024, I really don’t think the opposition party is going to allow him to accomplish anything, even in a bipartisan manner,” he added. “Our destiny is not totally tied to whether they give us justice or not, our destiny is tied to our submission and obedience to Allah (God), His Christ and the Messiah. We should not fall for liberal lies, conservative cons, or moderate myths. Let us rely on Allah and make Allah sufficient for us in all our affairs and let us build a future for our children.”