Special to the Tribune 
by Dr. Phyllis Qualls

NASHVILLE, TN — President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, as well as the nation and others throughout the world, on Tuesday. He was energized and hopeful, and delivered his message with confidence.

His 72-minute address covered significant areas that impact our lives, including his appeal for Democrats and Republicans to work together on the debt ceiling. Calling for unity in a sharply divided Congress, the President made a passionate appeal to Republicans to raise the $34.1 trillion debt ceiling and spoke about a raise for teachers.

The President talked about U.S. job growth, his infrastructure program, drug price cuts for seniors, and the rise in domestic manufacturing. He did not hold back with his fight with Republicans about higher taxes on billionaires and immigration reform. He mentioned the war in Ukraine, oil dependency, and America’s strategic competition with China during the address, and continued with a chorus of “Let’s finish the job.”

This was the first time since 2019 that the President and congressional leaders were permitted to bring guests to the event, which is generally attended by every member of the House and Senate. Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices were in attendance, along with the President’s cabinet and the diplomatic corps.

Also in attendance were the parents (Rodney and RowVaughn Wells) of Tyre Nichols of Memphis, the 29-year-old Black man who was killed by five Black Memphis police officers. President Biden highlighted the fact that public safety demands public trust. He pointed out how parents of Black and Brown children have to give their children “The Talk,” telling them that when they are stopped by police they should keep their hands on the steering wheel, not make quick gestures, etc.  He said he did not have to do that with his own children but, for survival, many minorities must.

Civility continues to erode in this country and the highly regarded and guarded State of the Union address is not an exception for this behavior. President Biden was met with boos and jeers when he stated that 25% of the outstanding U.S. national debt was added under former President Donald Trump’s tenure. In fact, several times during his address, Republican voices rang loudly with boos — so much so, that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy directed them to be respectful. They were not. President Biden went off script and said, “Check the facts!”

Once, during a State of the Union address by President Barack Obama, a Republican shouted, “You lie!” And of course the insurrection of January 6, 2021, revealed how far some will go to disrespect others for their own selfish perspectives. If we are going to break down racial, economic, and gender barriers in our society and set a positive model for others, then we are going to have to start with basic respect, first for ourselves, then for others. That is the core of our existence if we are to move forward together as a strong nation of people who care. Let’s finish the job.