Sam E Lewis
One way President Biden can unify his country
President Biden started his administration this week with what was widely considered an overdue call for unity. With the sun shining its glorious light on proceedings as if God himself approved of his message, he effortlessly declared ‘Unity is the path forward’. The idea may sound like folly in the current climate but then again it also sounds a bit cliché. It was the clarion call of Obama’s inauguration, of Bush’s and before him Clinton made similar musings. Even the man that has done so much to destroy American camaraderie in the last four years started his term with a plea for it.
That the new President stills holds belief in the act of bi-partisanship is entirely understandable. One of then Senator Biden’s first acts after his election in 1972 was to join forces with Republicans to bring down President Nixon after the Watergate scandal. The 46th President grew up in one of those few times in American history when the country was surprisingly united, even after the tumult of the 1960s when America was rocked by the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam war. Perhaps this is what gives him such optimism for the future - that America can return to a time when electoral college maps were suggestive of agreement between the urban and rural communities and Supreme Court justices were unanimously approved.
During the second Presidential debate in October of last year, Biden said he would seek unification by ‘decency, honour, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure everyone has an even chance’. If he succeeds this will no doubt improve relations within the country, but then again this begs the question, why was this not enough to create a lasting peace after President Obama? What makes the 1970s and 80s an era of unity in a way that the 2000’s and 10s weren’t? Is unity not the de facto force in democracies?
From the 1950’s onwards, Americans were almost too unified in the aftermath of coming together to defeat a fascist enemy. Unanimity in opposing fascism soon turned into agreement in opposing communism. So united were Americans that there were far too few voices dissenting from the slow build-up of forces into Vietnam at the time, paying no attention to the failures of the French from the decade before. Even after the Vietnam war, however, the ultimate threat of the Soviet Union hadn’t disappeared. They were still causing trouble in South America and the Middle East, as well as in Asia. Indeed, the mutual threat from the Soviet Union is what united China and America in the first place after two decades of angry diplomatic isolation.
It is no surprise that since the 1990s when American supremacy was supposedly confirmed, the ‘End of History’ theory termed by Francis Fukuyama seemed to catch onto a subconscious belief in American society that there were no more enemies to vanquish. As such unity gave way to internal division as ‘American exceptionalism’ took on a new turn. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the last time an American President won by over 400 electoral college votes was 1988.
Islamic extremism temporarily united the nation in the aftermath of 9/11 when President Bush’s approval ratings peaked at over 90%. However, the hard to define nature of this enemy, which had no geopolitical presence, meant this didn’t continue as a lasting feature in American politics.
This is why the recent bi-partisan support in condemning China is so interesting. The next Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made it clear in his confirmation hearing that even though he didn’t agree with all of his methods, Donald Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. Over what other aspect of American policy has Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who described slavery in America as a ‘necessary evil’ and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreed upon? Whether Cotton truly opposes slavery in Xinjiang after comments like that shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is one of the few issues in American politics that unites the two otherwise firmly opposed parties.
Perhaps this is therefore an area Biden can explore if he truly seeks to unify the country - there is nothing that quite unites people more than a common external enemy. The real surprise is that this type of unity stemmed from the actions of one Donald J Trump in re-aligning American views towards the Asian giant in the first place.