Joe Biden asked the millions of Americans who did not vote for him to size him up fairly and if they still disagree, to do so peacefully.
Hearing those words today, I thought of the many New Jerseyans I’ve seen at Donald Trump rallies (some post-election), the people in my Morris County neighborhood still flying Trump re-election flags in January and even those penning mindless Facebook posts eagerly anticipating “martial law” as a way for the now former president to stay in office.
Biden wished for an end to the “uncivil war” and the conflict between “red” and “blue.”
As he put it, “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire.”
Few serious people would quibble with his sincerity, but the question is, how many Americans on both extremes are willing to see some of their neighbors as not enemies, but just those with a different political opinion?
Biden touched on some of this when he mentioned in his inaugural address the need to react to facts and not lies.
Unfortunately, in a media world as divided as the people themselves, the line between the two often is blurred. It’s not a good sign that many on the right have migrated from Fox News to outlets that don’t even pretend to be “fair and balanced” and that nutty conspiracy outfits like Q-Anon seem to be growing.
One could not ignore that just two weeks ago, a mob violently invaded and ransacked the Capitol, convinced that their guy really won.
“Democracy has prevailed,” President Biden said moments after taking the oath. He said that insurrection and any others in the years ahead will never succeed – “not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
Yes, the mere fact that Biden took the oath outside the very same Capitol showed that democracy, or at least the 2020 election, did prevail.
But in getting back to unity, it’s sobering to read polls suggesting that far too many Republicans still do not believe Biden legitimately won the election. Trump. of course, continued his divisiveness to the very end, bragging before leaving town that he got 75 million votes. It reminded you of a football coach enthused his team scored 40 points, but oblivious to the fact the opponent scored 47.
Polls are fickle things and Republican acknowledgement of Biden’s win may grow over time.
“Without unity, there is no peace,” the new president said. He may have meant that literally, because he specifically mentioned the need to combat “domestic terrorism” and “white supremacy,” both of which were on display two weeks ago in D.C.
In a poignant moment, he asked for a moment of silence in honor of the 400,000 Americans killed by COVID and expressed hope combatting the virus will not continue to be a political issue. That’s going to be tough. For some, a sensible recommendation like wearing a mask is a grievous assault on individual liberty.
With Biden and Kamala Harris now in office, Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress. That could prompt a cynic to muse that unity is not all that important – just push through what you want to do. One problem with that thinking is that the Dems’ margins in the House and Senate are about as tiny as can be. All will not agree.
Another problem is that no president is going to use an inaugural address to tell the world, “it’s my way or the highway.”
But beyond simple political achievement, there is a very basic need to maintain as Biden said today, “civility” as part of American “civilization.”
It is the right thing to do, even if it sounds a bit corny, and may be seen, as the new president acknowledged, as a “foolish fantasy.”
Yet, all new presidents deserve to hope that the affection Americans have for their nation will be touched by the “better angels of our nature.”