Assessing the true state of the union | The Triangle

Assessing the true state of the union

Photograph courtesy of Shealah Craighead at

The way we measure the state of the union is not appropriate for the union’s realities. President Donald Trump’s recent address made this glaringly clear.

Dominated by discussions of tax cuts, stock market rises, the United States’ entrance into the energy exportation market and the creation of new jobs, President Trump’s State of the Union Address gave the impression of a prosperous, thriving nation. But, a high gross domestic product does not translate to a society of thriving people. From a humanist perspective, the union is far from flourishing.

Although often equated with overarching success, economic measurements of a country plagued by wealth disparity reflect little with regards to a population’s lived experience, threats to livelihood and future. While an elite portion of the U.S. population has access to cash-only healthcare and the health it affords, the majority of the U.S. population struggles to find doctors who accept privatized insurance, and to get privatized insurance to cover essential healthcare procedures. Such a struggle is not reflected in the economic measures of the state of the union.

By 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will have cut 80 percent of foreign health worker jobs due to budget limitations. However, job openings in the U.S. auto industry will increase. This means the health risk from a potential pandemic will rise exorbitantly, although U.S. GDP will also likely rise. Such an opportunity cost is not reflected in economic measures of the state of the union.

In the U.S., extremist right-wing racism has cultivated fear and infrastructural structured racism has limited access to care. Both are forms of violence which deeply affect the lived American experience. This is not reflected in economic measures of the state of the union.

In the U.S., being human is not enough to grant one access to the resources needed to survive, let alone those needed to thrive. An economic approach to national success strips this blatant breach of human rights from the national narrative, quelling dialogue and thus, limiting the potential for address.

Whereas currently our success is measured by GDP and other economic means, we need to measure our success in terms of standard of living, happiness and potential to thrive. If economic growth comes alongside human rights violations, we are not succeeding as a country.

In evaluating success, we must question: is this a move which is most conducive to human or economic thriving? It seems as though the two are not equatable despite our propensity to make this false equivalence. Human thriving must take precedence.