Joe Biden gave a hopeful inaugural address in which he called for national healing, compassion, action, and unity:
For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.
Biden’s call was powerful and after hearing it I am partially optimistic. At the very least, I believe he can turn down the temperature of the last 5 years which saw Trump impeached twice, a global health catastrophe, and a politics defined by anger, resentment, and division. My fear, however, is that his administration’s calming tone and competence will only be temporary—the curtains on a window that when pulled back will reveal an arsonist ready to burn the house down.
The “arsonist” I’m referring to is the Republican Party, which has dishonestly and hypocritically sought to turn Biden’s call for unity against him.
The GOP unity rave
Let’s begin with the dishonesty and discuss Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.
Obviously it’s a large top line, but one that is absolutely in line with a responsible fiscal response to an economic shutdown and a crucial life line for the millions of families still suffering severe hardship. But after Biden’s inauguration, Republicans—still blinded by their addiction to Reaganomics—reflexively went into absolute opposition. They said $1.9 trillion is too high. Their counter offer? A paltry $600 billion package, less than 1/3 of Biden’s proposal.
Democrats have since decided to push the package through without any GOP votes using a process known as budget reconciliation. In a nutshell, if they limit the elements of the stimulus package so they affect federal spending and revenue, don’t change social security, and make sure the plan doesn’t increase the federal deficit after 10 years, they can pass the bill with only Democratic votes in the Senate. Of course, the turn to budget reconciliation has only further enraged the newfound cabal of “unity Republicans.” Their calls for unity are disingenuous and recent history makes that clear. The main character is current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mitch will bring us together
At the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency, McConnell said that his party’s priority was to make Obama a one term president. He failed, but only after doing everything he could to destroy that presidency.
Fast forward to 2017: Donald Trump was in the Oval Office and Republicans controlled Congress by a slim margin. Without 60 votes, Republicans’ highest ambitions—Obamacare repeal and corporate tax cuts—could not survive without Democratic support, which was certainly not going to be forthcoming. Both ACA repeal and tax cuts for the wealthiest were—and still are—incredibly unpopular.
Mitch, please stop, your belief in unity and bipartisanship is underwhelming…
Trump’s impeachment trial and spurning democracy
On January 6th, Donald Trump incited a crowd of rowdy supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, where Congress was about to count the certified Electoral College results, cementing Joe Biden’s legitimate victory. The insurrectionists violently entered the building with the express purpose of stopping the democratic process in its tracks. The charges in Trump’s impeachment trial are that he incited and directed the mob. Yet despite the video evidence and the countless reports of Trump and his allies bullying election officials to “find more votes,” the majority of Republican Senators are going to vote to acquit. Even worse, some GOP Senators proclaim that Trump’s impeachment trial is just another sign that Democrats’ calls for unity are a façade.
What real unity looks like
The impediments to unity here are not Democrats—and some few Republicans—who are standing up for accountability and deterrence; it is the Republican Party.
In the pursuit of power, Republicans know they have to change the rules. In addition to aggressively questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election they are passing voter-ID laws, purging voter rolls, and exploiting the institutional bias our government has for smaller, rural states; which they dominate. When Democrats win office—for example in recent governor’s races in Wisconsin and North Carolina—Republican state legislatures rush to strip power from them.
The Republican Party’s call for unity is anything but serious. If they truly hoped to achieve unity, that would begin with understanding that democracy—the rules and foundation of our system—comes first. Voting unanimously in favor of Trump’s impeachment would be a good start.
So long as Republicans continue to limp along with a nativist, anti-democratic populism shackled to their ankles, they will be a force for division not unity.