President Obama’s final State of the Union address was in part a summation of goals that I believe most Americans would find laudable. Who would disagree with initiatives to raise the general standard of living, eliminate threats to our national security, and broaden the scope of American ingenuity and innovation? When faced with almost universally accepted goals, the key political divide is rooted in a disagreement over how the country should work to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, despite the president’s assertion that there are "areas in which Americans broadly agree," current political attitudes foster stoic responses from those on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

President Obama’s final State of the Union address was in part a summation of goals that I believe most Americans would find laudable. Who would disagree with initiatives to raise the general standard of living, eliminate threats to our national security, and broaden the scope of American ingenuity and innovation? When faced with almost universally accepted goals, the key political divide is rooted in a disagreement over how the country should work to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, despite the president’s assertion that there are "areas in which Americans broadly agree," current political attitudes foster stoic responses from those on opposite sides of the political spectrum.


Truly polarizing issues certainly do exist in politics today, but shouldn’t our policymakers reach compromise on less controversial issues? The American political system is in need of more cooperation and less squabbling over detailed implementation of beliefs. Our system is designed to encourage debate and discussion, but not to the point of stalemate. Seemingly in response to the political climate leading up to and surrounding the 2016 election, the president’s address contained a charge to "make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst." The fact that a discussion of increasingly volatile partisanship appears in the president’s speech shows how divided our politics have become. It’s no secret that recent changes have created some of the most polarized political views this country has ever seen. The result is a frustrating gulf between political parties that threatens to swallow up moderate Americans and stifle outlets for moderate viewpoints. One look at the presidential candidates currently receiving the most press coverage seems to confirm this trend of polarization.


Continuing with his perspective of optimism, however, the president suggested that reaching compromise on universal issues is an achievable aim and produces favorable results. In his address, the president cited the recent reform of No Child Left Behind as an example. The law’s replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed in mid-December and will reduce regulation of K-12 education at the federal level. Evidently, the most surprising aspect of this development was the substantial backing the law received from Republicans and Democrats alike. Given the speed at which this new law passed through Congress, it’s no surprise why the president heralded this particular endeavor.


The president suggested that his discussion of political polarization was perhaps the most important part of his address, and that assessment is certainly true. Regardless of how we and our political representatives may feel about various political issues, this country requires a greater degree of cooperation. If the American people become better at working together, a greater number of our citizens might be motivated to participate in politics.


Mike Sinclair recently graduated from Austin College with a degree in English and is pursuing a career in technical writing. Email him at jm.sinclair@sbcglobal.net