President Joe Biden’s initial message about unity struck just the right chord at this moment in history. We’ve rarely been more divided, and the times call for coming together to overcome very difficult circumstances.
The new president is clearly not alone in that sentiment. We’ve been hearing good things about the idea of “compromise” from the Republicans recently. So there’s a welcome shift on both sides.
This will all evaporate when debates over issues start to heat up, meaning in, oh, about 15 minutes. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
“Unity” does not mean eliminating conflict, or stifling disagreements. “Compromise” does not mean giving up on principles.
The great thing about America is that we can handle conflict within the confines of a democratic system. With the exception of the 1860s, we can debate and disagree without shooting at each other.
There have been protests, marches and riots that turned violent in the past year, spurred on by loons on the left and neo-Nazis on the right. Those people exist outside of the mainstream of our country, and — to the extent that they have broken the law — should be prosecuted.
We settle our conflicts through debates in Congress, arguments at City Hall, and elections, and sometimes in the courts. Some of these conflicts — abortion and guns come to mind — are really never resolved. They just shift slightly. Other conflicts — gay marriage, for instance — turn around rather suddenly because of big changes in public opinion.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Conflict is inevitable, because we’re a diverse country full of strong-minded people living under a Constitution that guarantees our rights to express those opinions. Open conflict, in fact, is a heckuva lot better than enforced agreement with one idea, one party, one dictator. Because, as you might guess, there will always be disagreement — it’s just that in dictatorships, disagreement will get you shot.
But we can be united in our commitment to one another, and to the system that we believe in. We can be united in our faith in one another, and in our country. That sort of unity is, in fact, crucial.
To a large extent, we already have that sort of unity. The vast majority of us believe in our system of government. We just witnessed it working again, under tremendous strain.
What we need is to restore some faith in one another. We need to quit demonizing the other side. We can be Republicans without thinking that the Democrats are communist dictators, or that the Clintons are having everybody killed. We can be Democrats without assuming there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy to undermine democracy. We are each other’s neighbors, and friends, and fellow church-goers, and the coach of your kid’s basketball team. We all want the best for our country, and for ourselves, and for each other. We have different ideas of what constitutes “best,” and those are the things that divide us. But those divisions are relatively minor.
Unity in purpose, yes. Compromise in order to resolve differences, yes. Faith in each other? Most definitely yes.