Call for Unity

Joe Biden taking the oath of office as president

Donald Trump leaving the White House on the morning of January 20, 2021

Donald Trump left the White House several hours before Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday, January 20, 2021, as the nation’s 46th president. A small person to the end, Trump broke a long-standing tradition by declining to attend his successor’s inauguration. Just as well, as the presence of former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama testified to the sanctity of the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power while highlighting Trump’s petulant refusal to concede he lost.

President Joe Biden delivering his Inaugural Address

Biden’s Inaugural Address was a clarion call to unity, asking Americans to put aside “this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” But, Biden uttered more than platitudes. The president also called upon America to live up to its core values of truth, equality, justice, and acceptance of diversity of opinion. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war,” Biden said. 

The new president’s appeal to our “better angels” contrasted with his predecessor’s constant stoking of division, distrust, and hatred. Other contrasts between Biden and Trump were the evident openness of the new administration — the new press secretary briefed Wednesday evening — and the eagerness of those at the top to get down to work. Biden signed several executive orders only hours after becoming president, and Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the swearing-in of three new senators in her role as President of the Senate. Trump always showed little interest in actually being president, in the work of the presidency, and in the weeks following his electoral defeat he did little but stew, lie about the validity of the election, play golf, and issue pardons to his cronies.

Members of the Proud Boys

There is evidence that the sway of Trumpism is diminishing. The Proud Boys, the far-right group asked by Trump at the first debate with Biden to “stand back and stand by,” is rethinking its undying loyalty to the former president. After the election, the Proud Boys wrote in an online message on a private channel “Hail Emperor Trump.” But, as soon as Trump departed the White House, the White-supremacist group referred to him as a “shill” and “extraordinarily weak.” It may be a positive sign that no militias descended on Washington, D.C., and state capitols and no anti-Biden protests occurred, despite warnings from the FBI of the potential for violence and the threats of far-right activists to mobilize in the days leading up to the Inauguration.

One place where divisiveness still lingers is the Capitol. Biden is quite right to call for unity and to appeal for bipartisan cooperation, which may occur as some Republicans search for ways to work with Democrats on much needed legislation, such as economic relief from the ravages of the pandemic and rebuilding the nation’s decrepit infrastructure.

While unity and bipartisan cooperation is a worthy goal, some accountability is needed for those who worked to undermine American democracy by pushing the “big lie” of election fraud. That there was no significant fraud and that Biden fairly won election as the next president was evident immediately after November 3. Yet, a significant bloc of Republican senators and a majority of the House GOP caucus voted against certifying the electoral returns of two states. They did so only hours after a mob — encouraged by Trump and congressional opposition to certification — stormed the Capitol, putting the lives of members of Congress in jeopardy.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy congratulating President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

The United States cannot pretend this did not happen. Obviously, we will never forget those frightful images of insurrectionists desecrating the “people’s house.” But, we also must never forget the role played by prominent Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is a case in point. Two weeks ago, McCarthy was a prominent challenger of Biden’s victory, telling constituents, “I agreed with objections that were made to two states.” Yet, Wednesday, McCarthy had the temerity, the gall, the nerve to stand in Statuary Hall and tell Biden and Harris he was “very proud of you both.” The California Republican added, “I listened to your [Biden’s] speech today. You talked about tension and division. Our task as leaders is to bind this nation’s wounds and dedicate ourselves to the values that all Americans hold dear.”

Not too proud, evidently, to vote against Biden’s and Harris’ certification as president and vice president. Politics is not a profession that emphasizes self-introspection, but really, Mr. Minority Leader, how lacking in self-awareness can you be? On Inaugural Day, McCarthy also said, “As leaders, we are judged not by our words, but by our actions.” Indeed! Mr. Minority Leader, your action in objecting to electoral certification before and just after the insurrection of January 6 speaks much louder than those words you spoke on Inaugural Day!

January 6, 2021

McCarthy is not the only Republican who requires scrutiny. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas fanned the flames of insurrection by their words and actions. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin called the behavior of Hawley and Cruz “inexcusable” and said the Senate must  “seriously” investigate their actions. Some Republicans in the House may have given aid to the mob before and during the storming of the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “there will be prosecutions” if evidence shows that members of Congress “aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died.”

Public understanding of the role of elected officials in undermining the peaceful transfer of power — a bedrock of republican government — needs to occur not because Americans are vengeful but because knowledge is the most effective tool for preventing future betrayals. We know that lies — deliberate lies told by people who knew better or ought to have known better — unleashed the mob on the Capitol. The only way to fight lies is with truth and the truth will only emerge when the culprits are named and their abettors come to grips with their betrayal of constitutional government. Only then will the unity of which President Biden spoke truly occur. 

Posted January 22, 2021

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