Republicans Have the Biden Presidency Caught in a Unity Trap

“The crisis is precisely that the old dies and the new cannot be born.
A multitude of pathological symptoms occur in this interregnum. “

– –Antonio Gramsci, Notebooks from prison (1930)

D.Joe Biden delivered his inaugural address in a garrison town where more than 20,000 National Guard soldiers were stationed just two weeks after Donald Trump prompted thousands of his supporters to attack Congress to overthrow the elections. Of course, he organized his speech and the festivities of the day around the topic of “unity”. Not that he needed to be pushed in that direction: Biden’s campaign had often pondered how he would be a national healer and unifier who would end his predecessor’s split.

Trump’s abandoned coup – an eerie event, no matter how clownishly it was carried out – made these requests more urgent and heartfelt. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the way forward,” said Biden persisted. He explicitly alluded to an earlier moment of national discord in deciphering the current “civil war”. The president, who led the Union during the actual civil war, was enlisted by Biden as a role model for emphasizing these words:

Unit. Unit.

Another January in Washington, on New Year’s Day, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Emancipation.

As he put the pen on paper, the President said, “If my name ever goes down, it will be for this act and all of my soul is in it.”

My whole soul is in it.

Today, on this January day, my whole soul is involved: Bringing America together.

The problem with unity is that, in and of itself, regardless of a meaningful political agenda, it is an empty concept. Unity is as easy to affirm as motherhood or national size – precisely because it does not make any special demands. The preservation of unity in itself paradoxically leads to conflict as it opens the door to competing ideas about the conditions of union.

The civil war and the reconstruction illustrate the division of unity politics. Even those who agreed on the goal of unity fought fiercely over the terms: Should the nation be reunited by a return to the status quo ante, with slavery again restricted to the South (like many Doughface Democrats and moderate Republicans wanted to)? Or was the abolition of slavery a prerequisite for real national restoration, as the abolitionists pointed out? And should unity be achieved after the war by securing democracy for the formerly enslaved people, as the radical republicans demanded? Or did the reintegration of the white South into the Union require the transfer of the black southerners to second-class status, as a non-partisan political elite had decided in the compromise of 1877, which ended reconstruction?


Leave a Comment