Posted by Nadia Aziz on January 14, 2016 in Blog

OBAMA_SOTU.jpgOn Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his eighth and final State of the Union (SOTU) address.

Outlining his speech with four “big questions” for America to address, he discussed the progress his Administration has made, and where he would like to see America in 10 years and beyond. The speech broke from tradition, appealing directly to the American people and focusing more on the future of our nation and less on future policies of the administration. Below are some of our takeaways from last night’s speech and the Republican response by Governor Nikki Haley.  


President Obama used the opportunity to condemn bigotry and hateful rhetoric, with a not-so-subtle attack on Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, the President said “we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong.” He went further, saying “When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong….it betrays who we are as a country.”  The President also added that there will be times when voices urge us to “scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.” He said that America cannot “afford to go down that path.” His appeal to Americans’ better selves and outright rejection of bigotry was leadership we’ve been looking for in the past few months as the American Muslim and Arab American communities have faced a climate of hate and fear prompted by some looking to lead our country.

The President wasn’t the only one to denounce bigotry last night. The Republican response to the SOTU, given by Governor Nikki Haley was also critical of the hateful rhetoric being espoused by some of the Republican presidential candidates, and a clear attempt by the GOP establishment to distance themselves from that kind of speech. Governor Haley said, “it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.” 


One issue that the President did not directly address was refugee resettlement in the United States. With a passing nod, the President mentioned conflicts across the world that lead to an increase in refugees. As we mentioned in our earlier post, Dr. Hamo, scientist and Syrian refugee, was a guest of the President at the SOTU and sat in the box with the First Lady (Check out the latest HONY post on Dr. Hamo here). While the President’s decision to seat Dr. Hamo so prominently helped to show the country that there is nothing to fear from Syrian Refugees, acknowledging our country’s long history of opening our arms to those in need and speaking out against the fearful backlash to Syrian refugees in his speech would have further provided a contrast to the anti-refugee sentiment.

Governor Haley used the opportunity to discuss her position on refugee resettlement in the United States. After recounting her own upbringing as a child of Indian immigrants, she highlighted that “immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America.” She soon added that she does not believe the U.S. should “flat out open our borders.” She continued, “we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.” With another veiled attack on presidential candidates, Gov. Haley said the immigration system must be fixed and it doesn’t just include putting a halt to illegal immigration, but also letting in “properly vetted” legal immigrants – “regardless of their race or religion.”


As he neared the end of his speech, the President posed the question: “how we can make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?” His conclusion was one that has defined our nation since its founding. In order to for our politics to reflect our values all citizens must take part in - and be empowered to take part in - the democratic process. 

Highlighting that “we the people” calls on all citizens to take part in democracy, he reminded the nation that “our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.” 

Whether you agreed with the President or not during last night’s State of the Union, his message was clear – you cannot effect change unless you participate. From presidential candidates to members of Congress to everyday citizens, we all must engage so that our democracy functions as it should. “We the people” have a responsibility. So, as we say, #YallaVote 

Visit our #YallaVote portal and make sure you are registered to vote in your state’s primary by the registration deadline!

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