One of the reasons Joe Biden was elected president was because the majority of people wanted someone who could unify the country. They were sick of the divisiveness they felt was caused by Donald Trump.
It has been almost one year since Biden became president. Although the tone of the rhetoric from the White House has changed since January 20, the facts on the ground are that the country is as divided as ever. There is plenty of blame to go around. There have been many blown chances to change the dynamic.
The most significant event was the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters attempting to stop the certification of the election. The initial reaction of both parties in Congress was determination. They were not going to let a mob stop them from doing the people’s business of deciding whether to certify the election. Thus, Congress went back into session the night of January 6. It was a unifying moment that unfortunately didn’t last too long because of the rancor on how to proceed that night. It was clear that Biden was going to be certified as the next president. Republican members had a choice of what to do. Some Republican senators decided that considering what happened earlier that day, for the good of the country it would be better to show a united front. An alternative was to allow the House members to get up and state their objections to the House accepting electoral votes from a particular state and then having no senator agree to put it up to discussion and vote. This had happened in the past. Instead, Senators Cruz and Hawley signed off on the challenges and it took hours until the House voted to accept the electors. Many Democrats were upset at these tactics. Thus, a chance for unity was lost.
The first reaction of politicians on both sides of the aisle to the storming of the Capitol was almost uniform in horror about what occurred and who was at fault. This attack happened because right-wing extremism took hold. Then, most Republicans in Congress, in response to the criticism by Trump and the Republican base, backed off from their stand, either becoming wishy-washy or coming up with alternative facts. Republicans refused to support an independent commission, which resulted in the House having to form its own special committee to investigate the attack.
The January 6 attack also gave politicians who had been silent while Trump and many of his followers claimed that the election was stolen with an opportunity to speak out. In 2000, the Democrats lost a presidential election many believed they’d won. The Supreme Court de facto ended up deciding the election. Vice-President Al Gore and his supporters were disappointed, but Gore decided that it was for the good of the country to move on and forcefully state that George Bush is the President of the United States. That was significant in diminishing the number of Democrats who felt otherwise to a minuscule number. Since Trump decided not to act in the same manner and continued to peddle debunked theories of a stolen election, it was up to other elected Republicans to speak out. Unfortunately, few have done so, another lost opportunity to unite the nation.
Then there is COVID-19. One would have expected that since the disease attacks everyone no matter their political beliefs, dealing with it would unify the country. Moreover, there has been one of the greatest achievements in vaccine development, being to create an effective vaccine in record time. Unfortunately, that has not happened, whether it relates to wearing masks or taking of vaccines.
Vaccine development and taking vaccines is where Biden and Trump have been on the same page. Whatever criticism there is about how Trump dealt with COVID, he created Operation WARP Speed, which gave the pharmaceutical companies the comfort of knowing that if they spend money developing a vaccine and are not successful or if the virus is no longer a threat, they would still be paid. Also, Trump and Biden were vaccinated and have received booster shots. Yet a significant number in the Trump base are not following his lead. This is disturbing because it shows that it is not an issue of a cult figure as many have claimed, which could be eliminated when he is no longer on the scene, but rather a deep-seated view of many Republicans who are anti-science and have no faith in our democratic system.
Another impediment to the country unifying is that in media - whether social media, television, radio, or print media - the nastier and more extreme a person or elected official is, the more coverage they receive. If one determined power based on media coverage, then a person would believe that Ilhan Omar is the speaker of the House and Marjorie Taylor Greene is the minority leader, instead of the reality that they are on the fringes of their parties.
Even the holidays are not immune to this nastiness. For example, Jimmy Kimmel for the past few years has had a Jewish writer from his show dress up as Chanucorn. This year he decided to include another writer to dress up as Kwanzaroo and changed the Chanukah person from Chanucorn to Chanukaren. It ended up having what I felt were nasty and political exchanges between the two. Also, during the annual White House NORAD Santa-tracking phone call, a caller said to President Biden, “Let’s go Brandon,” which has become a code word in some right-wing circles, for “[expletive] Joe Biden.”
People who try to reach across the aisle are attacked. After many years, an infrastructure bill passed because of Republican support in the Senate and the House. Trump attacked those who voted for the bill as traitors. The merits of the bill did not matter. He is just stating what the Republican base wants to hear.
2021 has shown us that civility and bipartisanship is going to be a tall order to obtain in our highly polarized society. 2022 is going to be an election year for the control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Unfortunately, I do not expect much change from our elected officials. It will take a long time to get rid of this cancer in the county. If the divisiveness continues, there will be more January 6 attacks and our democracy can fail. The Roman empire was not built in a day, and it was not destroyed in one day. Empires are destroyed from within. If we keep on this path, it will lead to the destruction of the United States of America as we know it.