At the end of any president’s term in office, we are able to look back and determine if they have delivered on the promises that they made when running for the position. President Joe Biden made many such promises while running for president - perhaps none more important that bringing the country closer together. After the divisiveness that has plagued us for the last four years (and let’s be honest, that was building for the previous sixteen), all Americans want right now is to feel like a country again. Sure, we may disagree on healthcare, foreign affairs, gun control, and a myriad of other policy-related topics, but if we can’t just accept that there are those who disagree with us without condemning them as morally depraved communists, or racist nutjobs, we are lost as a country. It is therefore with utmost imperativeness that President Biden succeed in uniting the country. And here’s how he can do it.
The first step is to reduce the condemnation of political opponents. It seems as though everything the conservative right does or says these days is labeled as racist or white supremacist. Take, for example, the Capitol riot on January 6. Was it evil? Yes. Was it dangerous? Yes. Illegal? Wrong? Should those who perpetuated it be jailed for a long time? Yes, yes, yes. Was it racist? I see no evidence of that. It’s just that in order for the Left to be able to condemn something in the highest regard, they must include that the action was “racist” or “white supremacist.” There are evils out there that aren’t racist, and when those terms are used interchangeably with evil, they lose all meaning. But it’s not limited to January 6. Republicans are racist if they oppose Medicare for all, climate regulations, and gun control. If they oppose abortion, they are racist and sexist. Conservatives understand that their opinions aren’t popular on the Left, but if we are to have discussions, we need to have them on the basis of fact, not on the basis of labeling the opinions as racist themselves.
President Biden can easily remedy this by calling on his side to refrain from slinging the racism accusations as a trump card to any argument. If he wants to work with Republicans on this, he can as well. Not every Democratic argument is going to lead us into communism. If Republicans don’t like the climate, healthcare, or immigration proposals, they should be able to argue them down without accusations of an attempt to destroy the country. Biden can try to work with Republicans to tamp down the language on both sides. The goal being to halt the accusations of the worst intentions on the other side of the aisle. It’s time that we acknowledge that whether Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, Left or Right, each side is only arguing for what they think is the best vision for the country. Each side is only trying to improve on what we have now. Democrats are not trying to remake the country into a socialist dystopia, and Republicans are not trying to create a real-life Handmaid’s Tale.
The next step is for Biden to have the ability to condemn his own side when they do something wrong. There is a long history of this sudden incapability to call out one’s own side, and this is not limited to either side of the aisle. Republicans repeatedly let President Trump make dubious claims and use reprehensible rhetoric without condemnation. Democrats chose to turn a vote on anti-Semitic statements made by Representative Ilhan Omar into a referendum condemning all hate. Republicans have had a hard time distancing themselves from violent Trump supporters (until about two weeks ago when Donald Trump was on his way out), while Democrats could not see any way to condemn Antifa or residual BLM violence over this past summer. Everyone seems to be afraid to alienate extreme sects on their own side for fear of retaliation or (gasp) losing votes.
If Biden wants to really heal this country, he will need to be able to condemn racist rhetoric and extreme violence that emanates from his own side with the same vigor that is used when condemning that from the other side. This is already proving to be a little difficult for the president, as the riots perpetuated in Portland and Seattle since his inauguration have gone on without comment from the White House (at least at time of this writing). The inexcusable nature of allowing this to go on is only compounded by the fact that although these rioters seem to be from the Left, they destroyed the DNC headquarters in Portland while chanting anti-Biden slogans. And still nothing from White House about it. We are not off to a great start here, but we have almost four entire years for him to turn it around.
This concept is not limited to the President of the United States. Members of Congress and even state and local politicians need to be able to call out their own side when warranted. We here in Queens saw this happen last week when Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal called out a member of his own party, Moumita Ahmed, for endorsing a tweet that used anti-Semitic tropes to fight for the BDS movement. Ahmed is running for the City Council seat left vacant by Rory Lancman. The election takes place this Tuesday, February 2, and Rosenthal has set an example of exactly the time to call out members of one’s own party for their transgressions.
Lastly, President Biden needs to make sure that the American people understand what he means by “return to normalcy” and “being the President for all Americans.” Let’s be frank about this: Joe Biden will not be pushing an agenda that is a mix of conservative and liberal ideas; the agenda will be a mix of liberal and more liberal items. Conservatives can’t expect Biden to push expanded healthcare access while also reducing abortion access. That’s just not going to happen. When Biden says that he will be the president for all Americans, a lot of people are expecting a split when it comes to policy. That just won’t happen. Biden needs to clarify that his goal is to lower the country’s temperature, and that Republicans shouldn’t be expecting anything more than that. He can begin to lower the temperature by using my first two suggestions, but making it clear just what he means by “a President for all Americans” is mandatory for the healing process to begin.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.