There are Boomer Voices on all sides of politics. But with not too many exceptions, we have a lot of common goals: personal security, health security, financial security, national security. Would some level of unity get us closer? That’s what BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes about, asking, Is Unity a Pipe Dream?
A lot of us— probably most in today’s partitioned population— aspire to unity. The search for common goals. The longing for civility. The antithesis of division.
I’m one of them. And that’s not just lip service. It’s a worthy goal for all the nation.
But worthy, and likely, are two different things. When you read that according to polls, a majority of Republicans still believe that Donald Trump beat Joe Biden— almost a third even take a positive position on QAnon— unity seems a distant dream. As columnist Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, “Trump is gone. The cult of Trump lives on.“
That’s why, while it’s not unwarranted and it hurts me to say it, we don’t get closer to unity by upbraiding as pariahs the politicians who lied about a rigged election; that won’t give rise to reconciliation. And while it’s assuredly not unwarranted and there’s little I’d rather see, we’re no closer to unity by convicting a discredited president for inciting the attempted coup that those lies inspired; that won’t stop copycats-in-waiting from destabilizing our democracy once again. It’s also irrefutably warranted, but still doesn’t get us closer, to convict the criminals who besieged and sacked the Capitol; that won’t excise the stain of insurrection. It’s not even enough to back the ambitious goals of our nation’s new president; that won’t pave him, or us, a smooth path to unity and success.
If we want the ferocity of the fires to fade, none of that, alone, is enough.
This is not to say that in the interest of unity, we should put the pillagers or the politicians who aided and abetted the attack on democracy in our rear view mirrors. As Dan Rather rightly wrote over the weekend, “They must be defeated, not normalized or even ignored.” New Jersey Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski was seething with cynicism when he said, “I’m not going to condemn someone who just attempted to kidnap and kill me. It would only foster division.”
Unity cannot come at any price.
But, we cannot ignore one glaring reality: 75 million Americans, after watching Trump’s travesties for four years, cast their votes to give him four more. This doesn’t mean they all applaud his malpractice and misconduct— capped by his assault on a co-equal branch of government— but many millions do. It will take something more than removing Trump from Twitter to remove the legacy he has left in his wake.
But what? As Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, wrote after Joe Biden’s inauguration, “It’s much easier to talk unity than achieve it.”
So begin with this adage: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And this begins by dispensing with the notable but naive notion of Rodney King’s plea almost 30 years ago as riots rocked Los Angeles: “Can’t we all just get along?” Sad to say, if it takes “all” of us, no we can’t. For some Americans, the cancers of racism and homophobia, misogyny and paranoia, aren’t just in their brains, they’re in their bloodstreams.
But most of us can get along, and that’s why we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. True, that didn’t work so well once when my wife and I were looking for a couch and I just wanted to buy the first one we saw and be done with it. But when it comes to a vision of unity for a bifurcated nation, the perfect couch just isn’t out there. The best we can do is get one that will work for most Americans, and bring maybe a modicum of comfort to almost everybody. In my book, that is what Joe Biden has been doing since he moved into the Oval Office.
For starters, as Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times, “Biden hasn’t merely been urging civility. He’s been modeling it.” He hasn’t been demonizing Donald Trump because you demonize Trump, you demonize his supporters. And he has spoken with virtually no vitriol of the abysmal antics of Trump’s most unwavering acolytes.
Maybe more important, although many will disagree, so far he is governing from the center. I assert that because most Americans— the vast majority, whether left or right— are going to be the beneficiaries of his first acts. Vaccine distribution, stimulus checks, easier access to healthcare, more concern for climate principle, foreign policy founded on honorable ethics and not just business. In short, Biden is enacting change that could win consent from citizens in both parties, not just Democrats. If he helps Americans dig out of the holes in which so many are suffocating, then he is putting us on a path to unity.
Even with the insurrectionists, who think they have to “save America,” some might see that they don’t have to. The national arm of the Proud Boys conceded last week, “At least the incoming administration is honest about their intentions.” Hardly a painless pivot to national unity, but at risk of sounding naive, it’s a start.
For those who fear that any effort at unity means an abandonment of promises and principles, don’t. What it means is showing your detractors how to see your dream. It might work, it might not. But one thing’s guaranteed: it won’t work if we don’t try.
I’ve covered the religious wars in Northern Ireland and the drug wars in Colombia. I never thought I’d see the killing end and to be sure, there still are murderous maniacs in both. But each nation now enjoys at least a truce if not total peace. In both cases, governments— with American collaboration by the way— found mutually beneficial ways to help people live and work alongside those they’d hated. Maybe they still don’t like each other, but by and large, they’re not trying to kill each other either.
Here in America too, if history is any guide, the maniacs will never go away, but if their voices are weakened by the mainstream of Americans, we are that much closer to unity.
I’ve always said, almost all of us want the same things, we just have different ways of getting there. If at least we are united in wanting to get there, there’s a chance we will. As Bruce Springsteen said in his Super Bowl ad, “We just have to remember, the very soil we stand on is common ground.”
Greg Dobbs also publishes on Substack, at firstname.lastname@example.org.