On Tuesday, March 6th, I had the unique opportunity and privilege of attending the 2018 Ohio State of the State Address given by Governor John R. Kasich.
This State of the State was Kasich’s eighth and final speech during his two terms as Governor of Ohio. The State of the State Address is given once a year before both houses of the state legislature. It is half ceremonious affair and half speech reporting to the elected officials present (and the public, since it is often televised) on the progress of the current administration throughout the past year as well as a few personal remarks by the Governor.
Governor Kasich is not necessarily known as the best speech giver. He tends to occasionally veer off topic, get lost in his words, and get so passionate about his dialogue that he forgets his main point. This State of the State saw some of those trends, which I will choose not to focus on. What I will focus on are the certain aspects of his speech that rebuked other elected officials and policy actions, namely the Trump administration.
Kasich has been very vocal on his aversion to President Trump; therefore, I was slightly surprised when he did not bring the president up by name in his speech. However, Kasich did provide critiques of actions that Trump’s administration had taken. He stated his disapproval of the way Trump had handled the power crisis in Puerto Rico. He stated his opposition to the way the White House has chosen to take on gun control and violence in relation to the Parkland shooting and the shootings of two policemen in his hometown of Westerville, Ohio. He was dismayed at the employment cuts within the department of Housing and Urban Development. He made subtle jabs at Trump’s contempt and disrespect towards the media. He denounced the current age of political divisiveness, and referenced the President’s “self-serving” nature.
These topics of dialogue were not completely unexpected, and they were not necessarily dramatic, important main points within the State of the State Address. Yet what is important to note, that I and others may take for granted, is that these remarks are made possible by the democratic state of our nation.
Democracy allows for this kind of discourse in two ways. Firstly, America has very clear, delineated sectors in which local, state, and federal governments operate and are recognized. The State of the State exists and is given by the Governor rather than the President because governmental policies occur within the state that are somewhat independent from actions of the federal government. The states have their own departments of agriculture, commerce, labor and education. They are restricted in some ways by the federal government through the national laws that they pass, but are also given liberties to design policy that best suits the individual state rather than the entire nation. Democracy allows state powers to exist and not be overtaken by an authoritarian federal force. Governor Kasich is in no way a figurehead of the Trump administration, and can direct various affair outside of the administration’s direct influence.
In her article “We’re about to see states’ rights used defensively against Trump,” Heather Gerken provides further explanation for why state governments, especially within the last few years, have disapproved and even actively resisted federal policies. She outlines three ways in which state and local governments can be used as tools to influence policies at the national level. Governor Kasich speaking out against President Trump and his administration (not only in his State of the State speech, but in other instances as well) is just one example of this resistance.
Governor Kasich stating his approval of federal policies is slightly different from Gerken’s concept of “uncooperative federalism,” where policies are literally stopped or stalled due to intervention by state or local government actors. Though Kasich is not proposing deliberate action on the subjects that he mentioned, his words convey his grievances to the administration. The administration or Congressional legislature may take this as a warning that Kasich will at least not cooperate with policies for which he has voiced strong disapproval.
The second reason why this speech is made possible due to the democratic nature of America is the notion of free speech. I find myself taking this right for granted at times, and admittedly, I did not even consider the ramifications of Governor Kasich’s words otherwise until writing this post. In some countries, publicly admitting your disapproval for federal policies or the actions of the President would be cause for arrest or even execution- regardless of whether you stated the President’s name.
Voicing your opinion on and opposition to policies is one form of nonviolent protest and the “politics of dissent” movement as described by Erica Chenoweth in her article “People are in the streets protesting Donald Trump. But when does protest actually work?” Chenoweth argues that this nonviolent act of defiance is more effective at opposing leadership policies than violent revolt.
Maybe Kasich is catching on to something. Maybe he’s trying to make a subtle statement and leave his last audience for the State of the State with some things to think about. Or maybe he was just on another one of his tangents. Regardless, it is important to recognize that his discrete reproaches of Trump’s policies and demeanor are made possible by the democratic state of the country.
Photo Credit to WDTN.com, courtesy of Associated Press.