JMC Postdoctoral Fellow Connor Ewing co-authored an article in the Washington Post surveying the evolution of the State of the Union address and the institutional function it served during the initial stages of American democracy.
What happened to the State of the Union address? Originally, it helped the president and Congress deliberate.
On Tuesday night, President Trump delivers his State of the Union address, as have scores of presidents before him. But the performance probably won’t do what it was originally designed for: framing a productive debate between two branches of government about the nation’s direction.
The State of the Union is in a state of decay, and has been since well before the age of Trump.
The Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” This directive is the ground from which our modern practice, bedecked with mass media pomp and circumstance, has grown. Televised viewership of the address has averaged around 40 million over the past decade. Theoretically, this gives the president a chance to lay out his vision for the country, to the country.
But is that what the address really does in practice?
Connor Ewing is the 2016-2018 JMC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and a Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. Spanning the fields of Public Law and American Politics, his research focuses on American constitutional theory, American political thought, and American political and constitutional development. His doctoral research examined the relationship between the structure of the federal system and development of American constitutionalism. In 2017, his dissertation was nominated for the Edward S. Corwin Award for Best Dissertation in Public Law. He published an article in the Tulsa Law Review titled, “Structure and Relationship in American Federalism: Foundations, Consequences, and ‘Basic Principles Revisited.” He also has forthcoming work in the International Journal of Constitutional Law. Connor received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, A.M. from the University of Chicago, and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.
Charles Zug is a graduate student in political philsophy at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include demagoguery in the American presidency, American political thought, and Western political philosophy. His article, “Could Political Science Become Diagnostic? Restoring a Forgotten Method,” was published in Perspectives on Political Science.
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