The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘We need to get over being a divided country.’ What three Trump voters think of Biden’s call for unity.

They see the 'extreme left’ and impeachment as sources of division

In his inaugural address to the nation on Jan. 20, President Biden called for “uniting to fight the foes we face." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

President Biden’s inauguration speech Wednesday focused on unity. “With unity, we can do great things, important things,” he said on the Capitol steps, and he invited Americans to “join me in this cause” to bring “America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation.”

Biden’s call for unity comes at a time of stark division in the nation, including over his own leadership. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 50 percent of Americans had “just some” confidence or “none at all” in Biden’s ability to make the right decisions for the country’s future, including 88 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of people who voted for President Donald Trump in November. Just 12 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Trump voters felt “a great deal” or “a good amount” of confidence in Biden making the right decisions for the country. The poll was conducted Jan. 10-13 among 1,002 U.S. adults.

How was Biden’s inaugural message heard by Trump voters? The Post spoke with three of them who participated in the Post-ABC poll to get their first impressions.

Each voter voiced disagreement with Biden on at least something, voted for Trump in November and called themselves Republicans. But their hopes for the future evoke some messages that Biden emphasized in his inauguration speech. On Wednesday, he said the freedom to disagree was at the heart of the country: “If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America.”

Isaac Peterson, a construction worker in Birmingham, Ala., did not watch Biden’s inauguration speech but hopes that over the next four years the stock market stays stable and “we can all just keep working.” He thinks it will be tough for Biden to unite the country because “everyone is so divided.”

On Biden’s first day in office, he signed executive orders to rejoin the Paris climate accord and rescinded the permit Trump granted to the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil. Peterson disagreed with both decisions: “I wish that he wouldn’t do the Paris climate accord and all the bull crap where we waste money. I totally disagree with shutting down the XL pipeline.”

If the 45-year-old could send a message to Washington, he would tell Biden, “We are all Americans, and we may have different ideas of how things should be done, but I don’t think we’re all that far off.” The Republican said, “If we would really think about us Americans [overall] and not making everything Democratic and Republican,” things would be better.

Another Trump voter, Robert Bergstrand of Seekonk, Mass., read about Biden’s speech and said that he thinks he has a different definition of “unity” from Biden’s. “I don’t think he made the point” in his speech, Bergstrand said. “It was a politician doing what politicians do.”

Bergstrand, a 78-year-old Republican, said he thinks Biden’s definition of unity is “if you want us to get along, your opinion has to come to mine,” whereas Bergstrand said his definition is “we do not have to agree, but we have to be willing to talk and listen to each other.”

He hopes that Biden will evaluate the successes and failures of the Trump administration and build on the successes — though he doesn’t see Biden as willing to do so. Bergstrand thinks Biden should focus on Iran and the Mideast and build on the “fiscal or economic successes of the Trump administration.”

The former Army officer hopes that over the next four years “both parties can meet in the center and get things done,” and he sees Biden as a president who would like to be a centrist but “doesn’t know how. I think he’s a good politician; I don’t know if he’s a good manager.” Bergstrand says Biden should avoid listening to the “extreme left in his party” and instead should “listen to the centrists in his party.”

Biden, Bergstrand said, “stated that he’s going to be the president for the entire country, not just the people who voted for him,” and he should “make that happen with his rhetoric and his policies.”

James Thomson, an economic developer for New York’s Delaware County, watched Biden’s speech and said he thought “it’s great that he talked about unity and pulling the country together.” The 74-year-old said: “Let’s keep working together and keep the unity thing going. I think that is so critical right now.” The Delhi, N.Y., resident said the biggest thing to tackle right now is “covid vaccinations. We got to get out from under this epidemic.”

Thomson said he hopes that in the next four years the country “can stabilize so we can go forward” and that Biden will help America “get over being a divided country like we are now.”

One thing the Republican wants is for Biden to stop the impeachment trial of Trump. “That’s just punitive. And it’s going to be a protracted legal battle. He’s out of office; it’s over and done with. Let’s put everything back together and go on with our business.”

Thomson said that for the country to move forward, “we have to sacrifice the name-calling, the partisanship. We’re not just Republicans. We’re not just Democrats. We’re Americans, for God’s sake.”