The talk of healing is understandable and even laudable from a statesman like Biden. It sends a signal of stability to world leaders. It sends a message of calm to the financial markets. It reminds young people that adults can work together after doing battle — but right now, that is really just wishful thinking.
What we are seeing from the other side is a far cry from Little League, where the defeated team sucks it up and shakes the victors’ hands. President Trump and the Republicans who have allowed him to remake their party have no intention of working alongside Democrats. Division itself is the fuel that drives their engine.
Talk of healing would normally strike the right chords after a hard-fought election, but in this interminable scrum, it is a little like bringing an olive branch to a knife fight.
Biden’s natural instinct is to be a peacemaker. It is rooted in his Catholic faith. It is the underpinning in his campaign pledge to fight for the soul of America.
But the diverse coalition of voters who stood in long lines and voted as if their lives depended on it is expecting Biden to do just that: fight. They are looking for a righteous warrior more than a peacemaker in this moment.
Almost half the country supports a president and a party that seem to care nothing about upholding democracy as they mount a massive disinformation campaign about an allegedly stolen election with no evidence offered for this claim.
The threat of an eroding democracy does not seem to present a deterrent. Trump has consistently argued that his supporters were going to lose some of the things they hold most dear — safety, security, status, wealth. His campaigns were built around the psychology of loss aversion — the theory that the threat of losing something is much more persuasive than the promise of gaining something of value in the future.
In this case, that something they are willing to forgo is democracy. The party that extols the importance of the Constitution, and never misses an opportunity to fly 50 flags when a few would suffice, does not place a high value on electing a government through free and fair elections with the full participation of all people.
Instead, the GOP is hellbent on preserving power by making it harder for people to vote through suppression, lawsuits and misinformation campaigns. A conservative talk-show host went so far as to suggest that Republican state legislatures step in to invalidate some election results and claim victory for Trump.
Damage is being done to our country, damage that could be lasting and that goes beyond this outrageous attempt to mount a slow-moving coup. Millions of Americans are suffering because of covid-19 and economic uncertainties. Our standing abroad has toppled. After years of slow but somewhat demonstrable racial progress, we are witnessing a tide of racial hatred and unapologetic calls for white supremacy.
Reconciliation requires truth. Truth requires courage. Justice, if we can ever hope to get to that, requires atonement, respect for the rule of law and a shared set of facts. This is a tall order right now. Again, almost half of America supported a president who promotes policies and an ideology seen as hostile to many of the people who swept Biden to victory.
The road to healing will be long, and healing, as we know, can come in many forms. We often think of it as forces coming together in unity. Too often healing requires a certain degree of amnesia with calls to forgive and forget in an effort to move on.
I understand why Biden instinctively calls for healing. I just hope there will not be an accompanying expectation for amnesia. We must never forget what we have just witnessed; indeed, what we are still living through. America revealed herself in this election. And America, as we know, has a way of expunging the most shameful chapters of her history.