Biden's State of the Union and The Forgotten American
President Biden’s State of the Union was as much an attempt to persuade the American people that his policies are working as it was an appeal for a second presidential term in 2024. There was an alacrity and politician’s push that seemed like the language of someone gearing up and looking ahead, not two years, but six.
While a portion of the media cycle will focus on the occasional reprisals from Republicans and the mild provocations of Republicans by the President and Democrats, the substance of his address must remain front and center.
Opioids, education, healthcare, employment, Covid, gun deaths, and suicides were important subjects of the President’s address to the nation. Like so many State of the Unions, the President employed storytelling to symbolically connect lived experiences to a much larger social crisis or social success story. It was Doug’s daughter Courtney who died of a fentanyl overdose. It was the little girl Ava who was diagnosed with cancer but was now in remission and sleeping at the White House as her parents (guests of the President and immigrants who met in New York) sat in the Capitol Building watching the President speak. It was the imagery of an “empty chair at the dining room table [that served as a] constant reminder that [some imaginary] she used to sit there” before Covid took her life.
Remembering Tyre Nichols was necessary. And doing so to the nation with his mother and father present was a way of showing a grieving family that our nation is in mourning with them. What happened to Tyre Nichols is criminal.
What worried me was Biden’s assertion that “what happened in Memphis to Tyre happens too often” at the hands of police. What happens too often, statistically, is the number of homicide deaths of blacks, not at the hands of law-enforcement, but at the hands of other blacks. The same is true of whites, whose homicides are mostly at the hands of other whites. 2018 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations shows that 89% of black homicides were at the hands of blacks and that 81% of white homicides were at the hands of whites. These realities are too often ignored and should trouble all of us, as males make up 81% of homicide deaths according to the CDC and the majority of offenders according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Absent from the President’s speech, both symbolically and literally, were the realities surrounding opioids, education, healthcare, Covid, gun deaths, suicides, and the continued neglect of America’s sons in the State of the Union.
Males disproportionately represent the number of Covid (62%), opioid (71%), suicide (80%), and homicide (81%) deaths by significant margins.
And when it comes to education, America’s boys and men have been falling behind for decades. The President used one of Jill Biden’s phrases to address the need to improve education or go the way of falling nations: “any nation that out-educates us is going to out-compete us.” If that is true, then the President should be looking to America’s sons and the nation’s outcomes. By any measure, the American male has been steadily falling behind in college readiness and at all levels of the educational system, from associates, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees. Much of this has to do with the male reading-gap and fatherlessness issues too often left out of the State of the Unions. The nation needs a call to action that includes boys and men with the full support of the President, Congress, Senate, and state representatives.
America’s boys and men cannot even get a hearing from our nation’s leaders. In Washington State, a bill that would address the outcomes of boys and men is languishing in committee, not because the bill is not necessary or that many, Democrats and Republicans, would not support it. It’s happening because one person has the authority to determine whether the bill is heard and whether representatives get the opportunity to discuss and respond, to go on the record. This decision echoes those of a White House that has not granted an Office of Men’s Health or a Policy Council on Boys and Men. How can the American people invest in “community intervention programs” the President presses on the nation when it is unwilling to even acknowledge the problems males face with meaningful policies during the nation’s most important address?
The most compassionate words I’ve heard in the last decade to our nation’s sons come from Richard Reeves, Senior Fellow at the Brooking’s Institute: “We see you. We got you.” Those words are meant to do more than let our nation’s boys know we care. They are advice to our national and state leaders. See them. Hear them. Speak for them. Help them.
Approximately 27 minutes into his speech, President Biden mentioned that he is “a President for all Americans.” Those words ring a bit hollow when one sees the outcomes of males across all races whose American experience has been forced to the margins of policy, word, and deed. The State of the Union is more than an address; it’s a promise to do something. And we need to do something for America’s sons because our nation needs them.
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Homicide and Suicide Death Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Mortality 1999-2020 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2021. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2020, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
Opioid Deaths Data: KFF analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2020 on CDC WONDER Online Database. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2020, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10.html on April 19, 2022.
COVID Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2023, February 08. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker
So many countries are having similarly gendered problems when it comes to education. If another country can address that problem before America does, and get their male population as educated as their female population, then they’re going to economically outcompete America in a knowledge economy.
When it comes to police violence and Tyre Nichols, Biden wants to racialize an issue that’s far more gendered than it is racialized. On a per capita basis, Black Americans are 2.5x more likely to be killed by the police. Men are 24x more likely to be killed by the police. Unfortunately, identity politics makes that issue so challenging to accurately talk about. I wrote a few articles digging into the statistics on the topic and the way that identity politics has distorted the way we see it: https://taboo.substack.com/p/police-violence
I have no idea why the democratic party refuses to acknowledge the issues face by males as a group that you have outlined so well here. The democratic party platform mentions women and girls multiple times, but never mentions boys and men. You put it very well that Biden's words ring hollow that he is for all Americans when he clearly neglects the needs of boys and men. He -- like many powerful men who go out of their way to support women and girls, but not other men and boys -- suffers from what I call "White Knight Syndrome."