In November’s election, voters rejected the divisiveness that plagues the extremes of both political parties. We saw this when Joe Biden campaigned as a political centrist and outperformed Democrats (who were tainted by extreme policies such as “defund the police”) even as Republicans outperformed Donald Trump (whose vicious attacks on his enemies became the focus of his administration).
Biden’s inaugural address was pitch perfect; making a case for unity and civil discourse. The new president is right that we can have strong disagreements on issues without demonizing our political opponents.
In fact, after getting the pandemic under control, I believe our next greatest national challenge is healing our stark partisan divisions. Over the last year, I have spoken to many people who are deeply upset that they can no longer communicate with certain friends or loved ones who have adopted extreme political views or unhinged conspiracy theories.
Indeed, the insurrectionist violence at the U.S. Capitol was a wake-up call for Republicans that their rhetoric has become too severe. We don’t need an impeachment trial in the Senate to prove that Trump incited that violence on Capitol Hill; Sen. Mitch McConnell admitted it on the Senate floor. Yet no one, even the president, is above the law.
Democrats and the new president must lead from the center and seek common ground whenever possible. It is my sincere hope that Biden, and his Democratic allies in the Congress, tone down the rhetoric and the “us versus them” mentality. I am by no means implying that Democrats cannot support progressive policies. Rather, we must be willing to accept political compromises and not vilify our opponents.
This also means Democrats must reject the notion of “cancel culture.” After four years of abuse from the Trump administration, some Democrats think now is the time to exact revenge on conservatives. We must reject those urges. Within days of Biden’s inauguration, one commentator argued that Fox News should be illegal. Last Sunday, a media columnist in the Washington Post was calling the network a “hazard to our democracy.”
These days, I could not disagree more with Fox News. But half the country gets their news from conservative media, and “canceling” a network will not bring about the unification Biden is seeking.
Worse, efforts to stifle conservative viewpoints make Republicans feel as if they under attack for speaking their minds. When people are scared, they are willing to support self-interested political leaders who stoke those fears as a path to power. Case in point, I believe many Republicans were willing to overlook Trump’s worst transgressions because he was willing to stand up to the politically correct “woke” mob.
Democrats must also understand that Trump’s nastiness was not unique to Trump. The so-called Bernie Bros, the online, social-media gang that overzealously supports progressive politicians and policies with mean-spirited trolling, are bad for both Democrats and America. In last year’s Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Elizabeth Warren withheld her support for Sen. Bernie Sanders partly because she and her supporters felt the full brunt of the Bernie Bros and their online attacks.
Apparently, many of the Bernie Bros felt that Warren’s candidacy split the progressive vote and prevented Sanders from winning the nomination. This wasn’t accurate — many of the Democrats who supported Warren had reservations about Sanders’s electability.
I don’t believe that Biden can heal this country overnight. But I am hopeful that he can lead by example by refusing to engage in the mean-spiritedness that has plagued our national politics and seek political compromises by finding common ground with conservatives. This also means that Republicans must stop with their over-the-top rhetoric, admit Trump lost fair and square, and resist partisan urges to oppose Democrats at every turn. If both parties act responsibly, we can heal America.
Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, represented Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District from 1999-2003.
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