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The Real State of Our Union: Rights on the Line

UUSC urges the White House to put human rights above politics.

By Josh Leach on March 8, 2024

On the evening of March 7, 2024, President Biden delivered the State of the Union address—a constitutionally-mandated annual speech outlining the condition of the republic and the shared challenges and opportunities we face.

As President Biden acknowledged, this year’s State of the Union comes at a time of great danger to the U.S. republic. Far-right extremists vie openly to remake the country’s institutions and establish authoritarian rule, both in the United States and abroad. The climate crisis continues to worsen, with communities around the country already feeling the effects of rising temperatures, heightening the risk of extreme weather and displacement. Wars and forced migration are triggering human misery around the globe. 

What the address did not acknowledge, however, is that these threats to human rights from outside Biden’s administration are mirrored by threats from within. This White House has helped sponsor a war in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of people—nearly a third of them children—and destroyed most of the enclave. Biden has meanwhile asked for new legislative powers that would abrogate the right to seek asylum at the U.S. border. And he has greenlit fossil fuel projects that would further harm the planet. 

Biden spoke to some of these concerns, but he did not fully allay them. 

To be sure, Biden rightly spoke with empathy of the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. He called on Hamas to release the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza, and on Israel to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians. He accurately described the atrocities that have killed thousands of innocent people on both sides of this conflict, acknowledging that “this war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined.” He also announced new steps to deliver aid to Palestinian civilians facing starvation and death. 

Yet, crucially, he failed to address the role that U.S. funding for Israel’s war effort plays in enabling this humanitarian catastrophe in the first place. 

Likewise, Biden doubled down on his demands for new legal authority to suspend asylum—bowing to the wishes of the far right. Despite the president’s claims that he will not “demonize” immigrants, moreover, he echoed rhetoric during his speech from the far right—during an exchange from the floor with Marjorie Taylor Greene—falsely linking undocumented immigration and violent crime. Adopting the framing and terminology of the extreme right, in order to join them in scapegoating asylum-seekers, is a move in the wrong direction. 

Undoubtedly, President Biden faces real political challenges navigating these crises in an election year. We do not envy him the task. But history has proven time and again that sacrificing human rights for political gain is a losing strategy in the end. The administration must be steadfast in upholding the right to asylum, the health of the planet, and the sanctity of civilian life. They must end their complicity with human rights violations at the border and in conflicts around the globe. 

Despite the alarm bells ringing about the state of our politics, the majority of the U.S. public still supports human rights and favors a more just, inclusive, and sustainable future. The White House must uphold these values, even in the face of opposition. Anything less would be a victory for the very forces of political extremism which, as Biden rightly warned tonight, increasingly threaten the survival of our republic.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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