The expectation of a “blue wave” was premised on the assumption that Trump’s voters would reject a snake-oil salesman than swindled his way into the White House. Instead Trump’s 62 million votes in 2016 grew to more than 70 million votes in 2020, which included demographic groups previously out of reach for Republicans. How will Biden be a president to the Americans who are committed to Trumpism and a Republican Party that will reform itself accordingly?
Unifying good Americans and bad Americans
Empathy and a common cause are imperative for unity. Although, the effort to delegitimise Trump over the past four years also resulted in the de-legitimisation of his voters. Clinton set the tone in 2016 when she referred to Trump voters as “deplorables”. The democrats and the liberal-leaning media have since continued to depict Trump’s voters as stupid racists who supported a fascist committed to destroying America.
Will the democrats recognise that Trump voters are not bad people, or will reconciliation depend on republicans first repenting for their sins to rejoin enlightened and civilised America? Michelle Obama acknowledged the urgent need to unify America by reaching out to Trump voter as half the country voted for “supporting lies, hate, chaos, and division”.
If the Trump voters have supported division and the Biden voters supported unity, the polarisation of America has been between bad Americans and good Americans. There does not appear to be any empathy for Trump voters who believe that their president has been making America great again and blamed Democrats for destroying the country. Does unity entail mutual understanding and a common cause, or for the virtuous to emerge victorious over the wicked?
Unity under identity politics?
The self-acclaimed role of the Democratic Party as the defenders of minorities has implied that the Republican Party, as the opponent and the “other”, seeks to marginalise minorities. As Biden brazenly told a black voter during the campaign: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”. The tendency to view supporters of the opposition as bad people was also exemplified with Biden explaining to an interviewer that around 10-15% of Americans are “not very good people”. Does unity entail giving Trump voters a path to redeem themselves by supporting the right policies and voting the right way?
How will Biden respond to the fact that Trump increased his support with every demographic group except white men? Identity politics explained the Trump phenomenon in 2016 as racist and misogynic white men unleashing their fury upon marginalised groups. Hannah-Jones, The New York Times’ 1619 Project author, explained that the large vote for Trump among Cuban Americans was because they are not Latino but white – who betrayed people of colour by joining the white supremacist movement. Will identity politics be ended or will the tolerant find common cause with the white supremacists?
The coming civil war in the Democratic Party
The ability of Democrats to seek reconciliation with the Republicans is premised on the flawed notion that the Democrats themselves are unified. Biden’s entire election platform was based on getting Trump out of office and wearing masks. Biden’s statement that he would not reveal whether he would pack the Supreme Court until after the election is indicative of the strategic ambiguity and empty platform required to mitigate the deep divisions among Democrats.
Once “Orange Hitler” is out of the White House, the foundation for unity among the Democrats withers away. The far-Left despises the neo-liberal status quo that centrist Democrats consider a return to normal. Centrist Democrats have already lashed out against the “socialist wing” of the party and blamed them for losing seats to the Republicans, while the far-Left are denouncing the centrists as running on an outdated platform.
The far-Left Democrats are advancing the mission of eradicating systemic racism in America, which entails pulling out racist roots dating back to 1619 and the institutions they founded. How do these revolutionary “progressives” feel about finding common ground with the conservatives who believe that a stable system must be built on the institutions of the past?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez requested that people keep track of Trump “sycophants” to hold them accountable for enabling the president. The subsequent “Trump accountability project” was launched to blacklist political enemies. It is hardly a modern Nuremberg Trial, although it begs the question of what room it leaves for reconciliation. Biden has not supported this initiative, yet by firmly repudiating the blacklisting of political enemies to reconcile with the Republicans, he would alienate the far-Left.
Winning over Republicans
Are the Republicans ready for reconciliation and unity? Democrats are outraged that Trump and his supporters are undermining the legitimacy of the coming Biden presidency, which is believed to reaffirm the absence of a moral compass among these deplorables and irredeemables.
However, the Democrats did not recognise the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. The Trump presidency was tarnished with four years of Russiagating and depicting Trump as a Russian agent. Only last week, Hillary Clinton repeated that the election was “stolen” from her, and in August she advised that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances”. Yet the Trump voters are asked to concede the election before the mandatory recount and legal challenges of voter irregularity are even settled.
What is the lesson learned for the Trump voters? Voters made excuses for Trump’s unabashed and un-presidential demeanour as a necessary personal trait to take on a biased media, tech-monopolies and the deep state. In the end, they consider Trump to have been deposed by a media that misrepresented Trump and never held Biden accountable, tech-monopolies that manipulated algorithms and imposed politically motivated censorship, and a security state that continuously undermined his presidency. Is the lesson that the next republican candidate they vote for will have to be even more unapologetic and unabashed in the endeavour to make America great again?
Divided States of America
One does not need to agree with the Trump voter or share their frustration, although the reluctance to recognise legitimacy for their frustrations and beliefs will prevent unity.
The Biden election campaign consisted of delegitimising and rejecting everything that Trump stands for, which implies there is not much room for a common cause. Trump aimed to reverse and undo all of Obama’s policies, and Biden has committed himself to reverse everything done by Trump. The Republican challenger to Biden in 2024 will likely seek to undo everything Biden seeks to do.
The US has fragmented towards two sets of identities, values and ambitions that view the other side as an enemy attempting to destroy America. Biden’s ambition to be a president for all Americans is applaudable, although to heal a divided nation the endeavour needs substance.
By Glenn Diesen, an Associate Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal. Follow him on Twitter
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.