Our choice in the 2020 Presidential race actually has a very simple algorithm behind it from which we can cast our vote. All the issues aside, when we cast our vote we have to ask ourselves what is the cost of division in America? I have been in many a debate over economic and foreign policy, much of which is dependent less on the Presidency and more Congress or the world in general, so that discounts the conventional decision making. The meat of our decision, should now be based on whether the forum we have been hosting in America the last 4 years is one we are happy with. To be blunt, it has been divisive and not worth it. The news feeds off it for profit, it eats away at our souls, and on the international stage, it makes the US look bad.
Biden is capitalizing on the turmoil and riding the unity wave. Frankly, at this point, America will latch onto anything non-divisive and even remotely uplifting no matter how random, as evidenced by things like the birth of the Dreams Challenge where a man filmed himself happily skateboarding to work while drinking cranberry juice, but I digress. Whether Biden is capitalizing on it or not, its what people need right now.
Biden recently gave a speech recently where he said: “The country is in a dangerous place,” he said. “Our trust in each other is ebbing. Hope seems elusive. Too many Americans see our public life not as an arena for mediation of our difference but, rather, they see it as an occasion for total, unrelenting partisan warfare. Instead of treating each other’s party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy.”
Biden is calling for an end to “this era of division.” It is a message that Biden has turned to time and again when looking for a purpose for his campaign. Biden has been raiding money hand over fist for his campaign in the last month in a mad dash to flip swing states and focus on unity. In his recently released commercial voiced by actor Sam Elliot, he goes all in with an almost sappy approach that many media outlets say is so patriotic “it would make apple pie blush” Catch the commercial here:
Call it sappy, or overpatriotic, or even taking advantage of voters in our 2020 Covid mindset, but if you look back in history, Biden has been made of relational politics long before 2020 came around.
In his memoir “Promises to Keep,” from 2007, he recalls the counsel of Mike Mansfield—the Democratic Majority Leader when Biden arrived in the Senate, in 1973, at the age of thirty—to always “find the good things in your colleagues.” Mansfield’s admonition helped Biden forge a relationship with the Mississippi Democrat James Eastland, the powerful, longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an unrepentant segregationist. Eastland eventually awarded Biden a seat on his committee and later offered to come to Delaware to aid his reëlection campaign. “I’ll campaign for ya or against ya, Joe,” Biden recalls Eastland saying. “Whichever way you think helps you the most.”
Bidens style is rarely straight to the point, and more focused on building a relationship first and then working off of that. It may seem old fashioned but decency matters in politics. It is, essentially, the pitch that he is making to voters in his Presidential campaign. But the American political landscape has been transformed since Biden started his career. People got sick of politics as usual and we have been blindly throwing darts at a board to try and change that. It might explain how Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California and how Donald Trump, a reality TV star became President. I think we have to ask ourselves if this is the right approach. If Biden is elected, we will be taking the first step in correcting that course. It will not be easy, for on top of the long list of Presidential tasks, he will have Covid, the economy, and the rehabilitation of the partisan divisions that imperil American democracy.
Don’t get me wrong, there has always been fighting between parties and candidates since the earliest days of the Republic, but our current culture has amplified it. The internet makes it easier for us to cut each other down and the 24 hour news cycle shoves a bias down our throats constantly stirring the soup of division to make money on commercials. The challenge then, is that Democrats and Republicans increasingly are socially isolated from each other. It has become too easy to be divided and we forgot that we don’t have to be. Hopefully a Biden Administration cant take steps to spur community groups, the media, Congress, and other institutions that encourage the breaking down of political barriers.
To look at this more broadly, America needs a new identity, separated from divisiveness, separated from whatever nonsense gets views in the media, separated from the rash decisions we have made trying to get away from politics as usual. In that new identity, we need to find the place that TRULY made America great in the first place. We have to do that ourselves by electing leaders that represent our values and not who we think might be a tough negotiator and darling of the media. An identity born from concepts such as innovation, entrepreneurism, and family values. Many an author have traced back a brunt of our societal woes from education to incarceration rates and even health, to family structure. Well thought out, proper family values and parenting across the nation applied to all races and cultures could technically solve a lot of these problems. We shouldn’t give up that dream by electing a leader who clearly doesn’t represent that.
Robert D. Putnam wrote a book called “The Upswing,” In it, Putnam finds many similarities between the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and the nation today. “Inequality, political polarization, social dislocation, and cultural narcissism prevailed––all accompanied as they are now, by unprecedented technological advances, prosperity, and material well-being,” , Putnam describes the sixties as a pivot point for the country. Economic mobility stalled, community and family ties frayed, and American culture turned inward, losing focus on the common good. He labels this pattern the “I-we-I” curve, arguing that America clambered from an individualistic “I” society to a more communitarian “We” ethos, only to revert back.
Hopefully Biden can ride this wave back to the “common good”, and find a renewed American identity. “No one party, no one policy or platform, and no one charismatic leader was responsible for bringing about America’s upswing as we entered the twentieth century,” Putnam writes. “It was, instead, countless citizens engaging in their own spheres of influence and coming together to create a vast ferment of criticism and change––a genuine shift from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ ”
Biden can’t do this alone, we have to take responisibility and the first step is to vote. If anything has been made clear by the Trump era, it is that the Presidency offers a pulpit to shape the broader culture. A narcissistic President drives a narcissistic culture. A movement toward “We” in America could start with a President less focussed on “I. #vote.