Barring some significant turn of events, it seems virtually certain that Vice President Biden will become President Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. Fair enough. That’s what happens in a free society—sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Either way, you keep trying to draw others to your cause.
I did hear an interesting statistic while watching cable news coverage (the first time in years) on election night: For Biden voters, the single biggest issue was unifying the country. And in the days since the major news outlets have called the election for Biden, he has repeated that mantra.
As an election catch-phrase, it obviously proved effective, especially when your opponent was Donald Trump. But as a governing strategy, its usefulness in 2020 is much more in question. Some form of unity is inherent in how elections work in America: If you lose, you accept that, make changes and work within the system until it is time to again go to the voters. The system itself requires acceptance and forces us to engage in at least token unity.
I’m talking about unity in the aggregate. There’s no real way to know this, but anecdotally, Biden voters were just as much against Trump as they were for Biden (and hey, they got two presidents for one vote!). That’s the Newton Effect: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Trump is a polarizing figure. And, much like Obama, he galvanized the opposition. Though, there’s a marked difference between dressing up as an 18th century militiaman and taking over city blocks and declaring them autonomous zones.
Speaking of cities, I drove through downtown Indianapolis today. Those businesses boarded up? That wasn’t for all the protesters and rioters because Biden won.
Then, of course, there’s the hypocrisy of those calling for unity. Outgoing Indiana Univeresity President Michael McRobbie sent out an IU system-wide email today, wherein he praised Biden’s win and critiqued Trump for the rise in coronavirus cases—as if it isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, including in countries that went into literal lockdown for months. Contrast that with McRobbie’s message four years ago, where he offered support for those traumatized by Trump’s election, and some IU professors canceled classes to aid grieving students.
It’s telling that those most loudly calling for unity are the ones who spent four years doing everything they could to undermine Trump.
But the most concerning aspect is more fundamental. Unity around what? About what? Court-packing, the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, even more stimulus? The idea that America is inherently bad? Perhaps it’s just because I started paying attention to politics in 2008, but it’s hard to point to a time in the intervening dozen years when there has been any unity—which makes it even more troubling that the right and left in America seem further apart now than ever.
I suspect that the left’s calls for unity will, in the coming weeks and months, be much like the left’s calls for tolerance—agree with us, or you will be branded.
America did not become great because it tried to be more like Europe or because Americans relied on the federal government to run their lives.
This reveals a foundational question that Americans will likely confront and will soon come into clearer focus. What does it mean to be an American? More to the point, what do Americans want it to mean to be an American?•
Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is executive director of the Indiana Young Republicans and president of the IU McKinney Federalist Society. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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