Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Photographs
It was a well-known scene.
The president of the US strode down the aisle of the U.S. Home of Representatives to ship the State of the Union deal with, the one constitutionally mandated occasion of presidential speech. Normally, it serves to put out the White Home’s coverage agenda for the approaching 12 months, together with perceived accomplishments.
However because the nation tuned in for the prime time deal with on March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden needed to do greater than merely define key home priorities akin to stress-free COVID-19 restrictions for a pandemic-weary public, addressing the best inflation price since 1980, touting his nomination of the primary Black girl to the nation’s highest court docket and mobilizing the Democratic get together forward of the 2022 midterm elections.
On high of this, Biden additionally had to answer a world disaster he didn’t select, and one that would come to outline his presidency: Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
With horrifying pictures from Kyiv and Kharkiv circulating on social media and a rising demise toll of Ukrainian residents, Biden sought to articulate how the state of the union was linked to the present state of the world – and democracy’s skill to outlive in that world.
As a scholar of Chilly Battle presidential rhetoric, I do know Biden’s alternative of phrases echo themes of previous chief executives who spoke to Individuals amid rigidity in Jap Europe.
On this, his first State of the Union deal with, Biden spoke of nationwide unity at a time of deep political polarization. He reminded his viewers that they shared “an obligation to 1 one other, to America, to the American folks, to the Structure … [and] an unwavering resolve that freedom will at all times conquer tyranny.”
By stressing a shared dedication to seeing freedom conquer tyranny, Biden tapped into a typical chorus of U.S. international coverage rhetoric.
This theme was particularly prevalent through the Chilly Battle. President Harry S. Truman argued that the nation had an obligation and accountability “to help free peoples who’re resisting tried subjugation by armed minorities or by outdoors pressures.” Later, Ronald Reagan held up the US as “a beacon … [and] a magnet for all who will need to have freedom.”
Biden additionally celebrated the braveness and conviction of the Ukrainian folks.
Simply as John F. Kennedy declared in 1963 that “all free males” might establish as residents of West Berlin, a metropolis surrounded by a tyrannical authorities, Biden praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “each Ukrainian” for “their fearlessness, their braveness, their willpower, [that] actually evokes the world.”
Certainly, the visible and embodied symbols of Ukrainian resistance crammed the Home Gallery, with some members of Congress wearing yellow and blue – a deliberate nod to the vivid colours of the Ukrainian flag. Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, was seated subsequent to first girl Jill Biden within the balcony.
Evelyn Hockstein-Pool/Getty Photographs
These references underscored what Biden described as Putin’s try and “shake the very foundations of the free world” and perception that he might “make it bend to his menacing methods.” However the Russian president had badly miscalculated, Biden stated. “He thought he might roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. As an alternative, he met a wall of power he by no means anticipated or imagined.”
By specializing in Putin’s unprovoked assault on democracy, Biden shifted the main focus from partisan infighting and political division to a unifying theme round which his total viewers might rally: a renewed dedication to defending the “free world.” Certainly, the greater than hour-long speech was mild on criticism of Republicans, with no point out of Donald Trump nor the tried rebellion on the U.S. Capitol simply over a 12 months in the past. Slightly, similar to through the peak of the Chilly Battle, Biden selected to emphasize the values which have traditionally united Individuals.
To shut, Biden declared that the “state of the union is robust – since you, the American folks, are sturdy.”
This was America’s “second of accountability,” its “second to fulfill and overcome the challenges of our time … as one folks.”
Though presidents nearly at all times touch upon the power or well being of the nation, this specific articulation additionally bore a placing similarity to a different president, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy who simply days earlier declared that “every of us is the president … as a result of we’re all chargeable for our state.”
For each Biden and Zelenskyy, the power of the nation – and the survival of democracy – was outlined by particular person residents, not an remoted chief determined for energy and decided to raise their very own picture.
[Too busy to read another daily email? Get one of The Conversation’s curated weekly newsletters.]
Allison M. Prasch doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.