This weapon will be wielded against Biden again and again. Whenever he criticizes his opponents or even just tries to follow through on the agenda that he ran and won with, Republicans will say that he has broken his own promise of unity. Here’s an early model:
Let’s be clear about something. The problem we face right now isn’t “our political divisions.” The Capitol building was not stormed by members of the Divisiveness Party.
The rioters who conducted that attack on American democracy were supporters of Donald Trump — the uncontested leader of the GOP, the president whom Rubio and nearly every other Republican supported, cheered on, justified, and rationalized for the past four years while he attacked American institutions and poured hate down on anyone who disagreed with him.
So instead of asking whether Biden is doing enough to promote unity, how about we ask what Republicans are doing to bring the country together?
Aren’t they the ones who have a special obligation to do so right now, when we just saw the logical conclusion of everything they’ve done over the past four years? What are they doing — actually doing — to foster unity?
Yes, there are some who have condemned the riot, and even a few who condemned Trump’s role in it. But we should never forget that after those insurrectionists were finally cleared from the building and Congress returned to complete its duty, 139 House Republicans — two-thirds of their caucus — voted not to accept the results of the election, effectively a vote of affirmation to the criminals who had just rampaged through the Capitol.
Yet they’ll try to convince us that the responsibility to create unity rests with Biden and Democrats. When he tries to expand health coverage, or increase the minimum wage, or address climate change, they’ll say, “How dare you! I thought you wanted unity!” When he appoints liberals to administration positions and judicial seats, they’ll say in sorrow, “I would have joined with Biden if he had done more to reach out to us, but since he turned his back on unity I’m left with no choice.”
Get ready to hear that a thousand times from Republicans: We tried to give Biden a chance, but not only did he govern as a radical socialist, he was mean to us. If America is divided, it’s his fault, not ours.
Just as important, unity scolding will be the way Republicans avoid accountability, for both Trump and themselves. He shouldn’t be impeached for inciting the Capitol insurrection, because that won’t unify the country. It might hurt the feelings of those who voted for him; as Trump loyalist Rep. Elise Stefanik said about the prospect of impeachment, “Stop politically shaming millions of Trump voters.”
Dwelling too much on the misdeeds of the Trump years — and their complicity — will only divide the nation, they’ll say, even as they do their best to keep their base enraged in advance of the 2022 midterm elections. Do you think that on Fox News and Newsmax and conservative talk radio they’ll be urging their audiences to turn down the temperature and wish Biden well? Of course not. Their business model is built on fear and anger, as is the entire Republican political project.
But Biden will continue to hope for unity. The Associated Press reports that the theme of his inauguration will be “America United.” After taking the oath of office, he’ll be joined by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their wives to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s a praiseworthy effort, but the trouble is that it isn’t in Biden’s power to create unity unless Republicans are willing to go along. They have veto power. All they have to do is withhold their cooperation, and Biden’s attempt to create unity fails.
And that’s exactly what they’ll do. They know that as a purely political calculation, genuine unity would help Biden and hurt them. Division is good for the opposition; it makes people upset and dissatisfied, and they wind up blaming the president even if it’s the fault of the other party.
But when Republicans say Biden isn’t doing enough to bring the country together, it should be greeted the same way we greet their newly rediscovered concern about the deficit: with contempt and dismissal.
After the past four years, Republicans don’t get to complain that someone else isn’t promoting unity.