Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams will make history tonight when she gives the Democratic response to Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. She will become the first black woman to ever give a party’s formal response to the president’s address. Of course, this is nothing new for Abrams. In 2018, she became the first black woman to ever be nominated for governor by a major political party. And in 2011, when she became the minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, she was the first woman to do so.
In other words, Abrams is used to blazing new trails and is a rising star in Democratic politics. We can expect nothing less from her than confidence, clarity, and competence in tonight’s speech.
It’s too bad the same cannot be said for the president. And it’s a sure bet that Abrams will outshine him in every way.
It is pretty significant that Democrats tapped Abrams to give the rebuttal this year. From special elections in 2017 to the 2018 midterms, it is quite clear that the party’s viability in the future requires it to embrace a diverse coalition of candidates and voters across gender and race. Democrats must also remember that black women are the foundation of the party, its most reliable voting bloc, and have been key in electoral victories for the past several years. Selecting Abrams acknowledges the party’s diversity and sends a message that Democrats are the anthesis of the Republican Party, which remains almost exclusively white and largely male.
On another note, this is also Black History Month. And much of our celebration of black history and culture have been marred by the refusal of Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after racist photos were found in his medical school yearbook. Democrats would do well to distance themselves from Northam right now (and a great majority of them have). Abrams’ speech won’t fix this problem (only Northam can do that), and it won’t cure this country’s inability to deal with our ugly history of white supremacy and its impact on the present. But it’s a nice reminder that, among the ugliness and pain, there is also progress. And it may slightly serve to momentarily center the voices and leadership of black women, who deserve to be heard from and celebrated now more than ever.
In terms of policy, it’s easy to imagine that Abrams will mention the need for Medicare for all, since it was a central part of her platform as a gubernatorial candidate. We can also look for her to possibly mention voting rights (an issue near to her heart and one that Democrats need to get serious about for 2020 and beyond), poverty reduction, and job creation. And since Trump will likely use his time to build the case for a border wall, it’s a sure bet that Abrams will talk about how this country should be welcoming everyone and building bridges, not barriers. According to USA Today, Abrams has said her plan is “to deliver a vision for prosperity and equality, where everyone in our nation has a voice and where each of those voices is heard.”
This kind of vision is long overdue, and millions of us are ready and waiting for a leader who will deliver the prosperity and equality we deserve.
The State of the Union will air on most major networks at 9 PM ET. It will be followed by the Democratic response, delivered by Abrams. The Spanish-language response, delivered by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, will follow the official response.