Divided We Begin 2021
We are a divided country, no doubt about it. Not only in terms of American history, but also in comparison to other countries in the present, per Pew Research.
Most would like to change this. How do we?
First, our leaders need to make strong efforts, not simply speeches.
Let’s start with the Congress. They began 2021 in the same way as 2020: impeaching President Trump. The Democrats and some Republicans have argued it is to keep the president accountable, even after he has set to leave office with his political career in ashes. Impeaching a president after leaving office is unprecedented, and a long, drawn out battle over it will divide the country further.
I would be more accepting of a second impeachment of President Trump if people were punished equally. No proponent of Russian collusion conspiracy theories have been punished. Even after former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation didn’t find that President Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign, they refused to give in. It’s a bit much to hear about accountability from these politicians.
If Congress is hell bent on impeaching President Trump again, they better start calling themselves out.
Let’s move to President Biden, fresh off his inauguration and winning a nasty, partisan election. As I wrote on December 10th, he should appoint a special counsel per political pundit Bill O’Reilly’s analysis. It’s not entirely fair that he’s facing a torrent of accusations that the election was stolen. Many of the claims are illogical and conspiratorial. However, politics is often unfair.
If Mr. Biden appointed a special counsel headed by a Republican, or even better, a strong Trumper, his credibility would rise among the 74 million who voted for Mr. Trump, many of whom doubt the election was legitimate. A clear, irrefutable and easy to understand study from someone who supported the president, along with repeating the results as aggressively as the election fraud accusations, would take much of the power from the conspiracy.
It’s important to remember that Mr. Biden made no comment critiquing the Democrats hyper-partisan efforts to handicap Mr. Trump from the day of his inauguration. After the Mueller Report, he didn’t extol his Democrats to move on and work with Mr. Trump.
Mr. O’Reilly suggested that if Mr. Biden called for an end to impeachment in his inaugural address, he would go down in the history books, referencing Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural. On March 4, 1865, Mr. Lincoln said:
“With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Honest Abe made these comments after nearly four years of the North and South killing each other. Whether Mr. Lincoln was correct in believing that everyone involved, especially slaveholders and politicians who enabled them, should be forgiven quickly, the spirit of his words is very applicable to Mr. Biden’s situation.
Dismissing the 2nd impeachment would no doubt infuriate Democrats, but it would relieve many fatigued Independents and might earn the support of some Republicans, especially the more moderate wing. Sure, the Donald could take advantage of such kindness and rise again, but I sincerely doubt even him can rise above what happened on January 6th.
Who you voted for doesn’t matter. Providing solutions for every American does. We all have suffered long enough from partisanship and COVID. Mr. Biden could have lessened the divide in his inaugural address. He can still in his first 100 days.
Now, President Trump. As I wrote on January 10th,
“There’s no question that Mr. Trump’s constant tweeting about fraud since the election led to some of his more radical supporters storming the capital. Constantly talking about rigging, theft and being the rightful winner is incendiary and he should’ve known a potential outcomes of such rhetoric could be what we saw on Wednesday.”
Mr. Trump is an ad man, someone who thinks about marketing and branding. He goes for the jugular and avoids subtlety. While this is appropriate for TV, real estate or other business ventures, it often has unintended consequences in the political arena. His loaded words almost every single day for two months triggered the more impressionable and misguided of to attack the US capitol itself.
“However, many headlines arguing he wanted insurrection or his speech at the rally explicitly encouraged violence are downright false. Although he repeated his vague and often false claims of voter fraud before the riot/insurrection, he used the phases ‘walk to the Capitol’ and ‘peacefully and patriotically protest’ which don’t encourage violence. He told the protestors to ‘go home, go in peace and we have to have law and order’ in a now deleted Twitter video the day of the riot. The day after, he condemned the riot again, vowing those involved would be prosecuted and finally conceded that he won’t be serving a second term.”
While Mr. Trump has been unfairly blamed for explicitly inciting the Capitol insurrection, he needs to do more to undo on January 6th. Issuing statements is all well and good, but there has to be action. Mr. Trump raised almost 200 million for his Election Defense Fund (EDF) to protect ‘election integrity’ and look for fraud in the 2020 election. Instead of taxpayers footing the entire bill for the riot, the EDF should pay for a significant portion along with the funeral costs for the five people who died in the insurrection, especially police officer Brian Sicknick.
Of course, Mr. Trump cannot pay himself as it would indicate guilt in a court of law. Having the EDF pay would allow him in his Trumpian manner to deny responsibility while still preventing U.S. taxpayers paying for something they had nothing to do with, wanted or supported in any way. He can show his movement is about law and order by cleaning up the disorder and honoring a man who died fighting some of his crazed followers, albeit through a surrogate.
Finally, local politicians and citizens. I believe local and state governments should distance themselves from national groups such as the RNC or DNC. As much as possible, local and state candidates should campaign on local issues without invoking larger issues or divisive figures. Perhaps by making the parties accountable to more specific regional needs there will be less division.
The Greater Good Magazine from UC-Berkeley talks about political polarization and how to combat it in an excellent article. I encourage you to read, as it helped inspire some ideas below.
As someone who runs a political blog, I greatly value political discourse, challenging opposing viewpoints and having spirited debates. The approach is called the “contact hypothesis.” I also try to put myself in others’ shoes with poetry and fiction, the “perspective-taking” method.
Unfortunately, tempers are running so high almost no one appears to be listening anymore. For some, I recommend abstaining from political discussion if you feel you can’t handle it or are sick of it. We all need breaks from work, friends, spouses, whatever. Politics is no exception.
For those willing to jump into the political abyss, I recommend a few things.
Try to talk about topics that are less polarizing or divisive, such as the national debt, education reform or environmentalism instead of abortion, gun control or border security. Most of the time, we simply aren’t going to convince the other person and we piss each other off without really learning anything.
Per Greater Good, are you side taking or perspective taking? If you find yourself doing the former, get out as soon as possible. Do everything in your power to experience the opposing argument, to live it, not see it as an abstract concept.
I encourage you to become independents and refuse a dogmatic political label. Rejecting the party groupthink is far more liberating and will make the parties embrace more moderate positions to get your votes.
Political polarization is a deeply ingrained cancer. My little post will hardly put a dent in it.
Yet, all efforts of all sizes matter.
Go forth, and lessen political polarization!