Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 20, 2021
Presuming we get through the day without major incident, we’re going to hear a lot of “Unity” talk today.
As we’ve been told by political color commentators, most of that will be from incoming President Joe Biden, but it also is being bandied about in the defensive tone of opposition Republicans still hoping to avoid conviction of the outgoing Donald Trump on impeachment charges for inciting an attack on his own government.
The Unity theme is being alternately used for bridging deep divisions — Biden’s promise to govern for those who did not vote for him — or as a back-door insistence on sudden bipartisanship, depending on the political silo in which you stand isolated. The political Right is throwing the term around with dripping sarcasm to highlight any effort to be inclusive that does not continue to bow to Trump’s continuing election fraud fantasies.
By itself, that word has lost its inspirational power in America to the reality of now-violent insistence on self.
What’s missing here is recognition of the price of “Unity” on an Inauguration Day when you need 25,000 National Guardsmen ringing the Capitol.
Simply put, Biden’s message should be for Unity for all Americans who choose to accept the same realities about public life — about election results, for sure, but about a pandemic tin which Trump forces failed to coordinate adequate response, about an economic that has been made more unequal, about the growing number of Americans who are hungry, poor, lacking affordable health care and predictability in international policies.
Biden should tell the nation that Unity is there for all who denounce hate, and support realistic truth-telling.
Deep Emotional Wounds
We have been dragged politically and emotionally wounded to Day Last for Donald Trump, Day One for Joe Biden, beset with problems galore that far transcend the notion that there was just enough fraud to overturn votes only for Trump only in cities with large Black populations.
Yet the lasting image for an outgoing Trump — “a reign defined by constant chaos, corruption and scandal, a tenure that numerous scholars predict is destined to rank him among America’s worst presidents,” as a Washington Post summation quoting historians argued — is of the Jan. 6 attack by his Trump-clad mob on the Capitol seeking to overturn election results.
Trump seemed never to really want to do the actual job of president, and basically has been AWOL since November.
Whatever you think of Joe Biden, he enters the job knowing how to do it and wanting very much to govern. He will be a much better governor than campaigner.
But as polls and interviews show, there is a significant slice of Trump’s 74 million voters still think he won the election amid the fraud tales they have been sold. “The country’s political divide is no longer a disagreement over issues like guns and abortion but a fundamental difference in how people see reality. That, in turn, is driving more extremist beliefs. This shift has been years in the making, but it went into hyper-speed after the Nov. 3 election as Trump and many in his party encouraged Americans, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to believe that the results were fraudulent,” argues reporter Sabrina Tavernise.
It’s a denial that extends to mask-wearing for public health, to believing that the vast majority of immigrants are criminals, to insisting that Biden and Democrats are “socialists” who want to kill jobs, who believe that Climate Change is a hoax along with blind acceptance of all that Trump says aloud, despite his documented 20,000 public policy lies.
As a Financial Times article put it, it looks as if Biden “is promising to unify a nation whose citizens hate their neighbors. Good luck with that.”
That’s the central problem with the “Unity” theme. We don’t agree even on what to disagree about.
No Peaceful Transition
There’s no real celebrating a peaceful transition today. We’re going through the motions under armed guard — in which we feel compelled even to look at the background of those doing the guarding.
Trump couldn’t leave without insisting on an adoring ceremony for himself this morning before the Inauguration and without grinding his heel into democratic realism a couple last times. There were pardons for individuals who have expressed political support for him, of course and there were hurry-up moves to box Biden into various immigration or security personnel and policies. And there was the very peculiar release of a report by the Trump-appointed 1776 Commission — with no historians — which demanded a rewrite of American history to soft-soap the role of slavery in the fundamental story of this nation.
The pattern has been clear through the Trump era. History is what he says it is, not what happened. News is what he says it is, not what journalists record. Public Truth is Trump Truth, amplified until this last week by a complicit social media system that refuses to take responsibility.
By all means, let’s have “Unity” as a theme going ahead. It’s Unity of purpose to tackle our biggest problems that is necessary, not uniform approach to the solutions.
But let’s make clear that “Unity” is an American privilege for those who accept reality over conspiracies.