Unity Was A Mistake
From the moment President Joe Biden started going on about "unity," I knew it was not going to end well.
Was this because I simply have no interest in campfire sing-a-alongs with Republicans? It is not. I mean, I don't have any interest in doing that at all — I think they are bad people — but that is not why I thought it wasn't going to end well. It was also not because I didn't think it was going to happen, which is also true.
No, it was because I knew we would be spending this entire first year, at least, listening to Republicans going, "This is bad unity! If you really wanted unity you'd do what we want instead!" every time things didn't go their way. That any time anyone criticized them for saying or doing something racist or sexist, they would shriek "You're doing unity wrong!"
Joe Biden has not even been President for two whole weeks yet, and already I have seen approximately 45,000 op-eds on the myriad ways he is doing unity wrong.
Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, wrote an op-ed in Newsweek about how Biden was doing unity wrong because he, like every other Democratic president before him, ended the Mexico City policy. She described this policy as one that prevents US taxpayers "from funding abortions overseas." Except, of course, the policy does not have jackshit to do with "funding abortions overseas." No one is funding any abortions. The global gag rule simply denies funding to organizations that either perform abortions (that are not funded by the United States), or tell patients abortion exists and where they can get one. The policy, in reality, leads to more abortions, because it means these organizations do not have the funding to distribute contraception to those who need it.
HEADLINE: "Rolling Back Popular Pro-Life Protections is no Way to Pursue Unity"
Since Biden took office, The Federalist has published somewhere near 12,000 op-eds on how he is doing this unity thing all wrong.
HEADLINE: "If Joe Biden Really Wants Unity, He'll Call For Lockdowns To End Forever"
At least four of these articles were published the day after his inauguration.
HEADLINES: There's No Unity When You're Pursuing Impeachment/There's Nothing Moderate Or Unifying About Biden's Sweeping New Transgender Executive Order
HEADLINE: How Joe Biden Misunderstands Unity
HEADLINE: Why Joe Biden Can't Restore Unity
You know who else has some thoughts on how Biden is doing unity wrong? Noted unifier Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich: Biden says 'unity' but he really means 'conformity' — here's what the real deal would look like.
According to Gingrich, if Biden really wanted to do unity, he would — like the March for Life lady said — let the Mexico City Policy stand. He would also never have passed an executive order to ban discrimination based on gender or gender identity in Title X programs, because of how much conservatives enjoy discriminating against trans people. Also divisive? Killing the Keystone pipeline and abolishing the 1776 Commission — which he called "an act of cultural warfare." Keep in mind the 1776 Commission was basically the end product of a tantrum Donald Trump and friends were throwing over the 1619 Project, because they're afraid that if you teach kids about racism, they'll grow up to be pretty pissed off about racism.
It's clear to anyone with half a brain that when Biden said he wanted unity, he was speaking more about superficial social unity than legislative unity. He wasn't saying he was just going to go in and do whatever Republicans wanted in order to keep them happy. He wanted to a return to what he felt were the halcyon days when Democrats and Republicans could respectfully disagree on policy but get along otherwise. (Well, at least those whose actual lives were rarely seriously affected by legislation and policy and who were thus able to look at politics the same way they might look at team sports.) A lot of people were into that kind of thing! Those who didn't want things to be awkward at PTA meetings or family functions. Those who, before four years ago, were maybe the kind of people who didn't even pay attention to politics and were eager to go back to doing that. That's who the "unity" stuff was for, mostly.
That this was always going to be what happened should have been obvious to anyone who has ever heard the phrase, "If you're so tolerant, then why don't you tolerate my intolerance, huh?"
It does us absolutely no favors to pretend we don't know how the Right operates, to pretend they act in good faith, that they will return favors and send thank you notes when they have absolutely no history of doing that. I'm sure the decision to go with $1,400 stimulus checks instead of $2,000 checks was made in hopes of not "scaring" Republicans, with the assumption that they would see that as a gesture of good will and then vote for it in gratitude or return the favor in some other way. But that is not what is going to happen. Those who would vote against $2,000 checks will also vote against $1,400 checks and then turn around and campaign on Democrats having reneged on their promised $2,000 checks.
Even if Biden were to do everything on the Republican wish list, everything they claim would be real unity, it would still backfire, eventually. Just as it has literally every single other time Democrats have done that. You see any Republicans being held accountable for their support for the Iraq War? Gosh no. Never. But the Democrats who voted for it as a gesture of good will to Bush II and their Republican colleagues, or out of fear of being called unpatriotic or even treasonous? They get the blame for the whole thing. Republicans regularly point to Democrats who supported "civil unions" in order to "both sides" the opposition to same-sex marriage. NAFTA was a Bush I production that was negotiated and signed before Clinton took office, pushed for by Newt Freaking Gingrich and supported by far more Republicans than Democrats. Who gets the blame? Not Newt Gingrich, that's for sure.
One thing Republicans do better than Democrats, unfortunately (other than successfully skirting blame for their past mistakes and playing disingenuous rhetorical games with words) is dancing with the ones who brought them. They don't see their base as an inconvenience they have to overcome in order to appeal to the rest of us, they see them as the best base anyone could ever have, regardless of how batshit crazy they are. They're not worried about not scaring us, because their base really likes it when we are scared shitless. They consider that a success.
I can't say for certain things work the same way in politics, but I for sure know that socially, people who spend all of their time and effort trying to get assholes to approve of them usually are not too great to the non-assholes in their lives. I figured out when I was a teenager not to trust people who suddenly become nicer to you once you decide they're not worth your time, and this has served me well in life. Groucho Marx jokes aside, it's way more fun and far less stressful to belong to clubs that actually do want you as a member.
If Biden wants to keep talking about unity and civility, I can't stop him. However, it should be clear by now that Republicans are going to do their darndest to use it as a cudgel with which to attack him for the next four years. Hopefully he will not be too shocked by that when it happens.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse