Sunday, November 15, 2020

Chasing Unity


By Emma Goldman
Social Affairs Editor
with Andrew Goodman on assignment in the South

With the election of Joe Biden now unmistakable to all but the meanest intelligence, and his 73 million diehards, the incoming President has called for unity.  Today The New York Times rounded up the usual diner patrons and reported that it wasn't going to be easy:

More specifically,

Towering before him is a wall of Republican resistance, starting with Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede, extending to G.O.P. lawmakers’ reluctance to acknowledge his victory and stretching, perhaps most significantly for American politics in the long term, to ordinary voters who steadfastly deny the election’s outcome. 

Who saw that coming?  Perhaps anyone who has been awake this century or learned anything about American history, but you don't have to open a dusty book to suspect that the drive for unity has already broken down in the ditch of a country where most Republican officeholders and many if not most Republican voters can't unite around the fact that Biden was elected:

On Monday in Dallas, hundreds of Mr. Trump’s supporters gathered outside the city’s election office in a “Stop the Steal” protest promoted by the state Republican Party. The message from speakers and attendees went further than expressing fears of election fraud, amounting to a wholesale rejection of a Biden presidency and of the Republican elected officials who acknowledged it. One speaker said of the Republican lawmakers who had called Mr. Biden the president-elect, “Remember who they are when you go to the polls next.”

Now portraying the incoming Democratic President as somehow illegitimate has been the Republican playbook since at least 1992, so who really can be surprised when Republicans take it to the next step and claim in the face of all those pesky facts (including statements of  Republican election officials) that the election was somehow “rigged?”  And if one political party is basing its claim to power on paranoid lies about the other, it's hard to know how to unify around that.  

So that's one problem.  But the road to unity is littered with tank traps, as these very fine diner diners will tell you:

Ms. Smith, 67, and her husband, Dennis, 69, tied their unequivocal support for the president — even in defeat — to larger cultural concerns.

Like Mr. Biden and his supporters, the Smiths saw this election as a battle for the country’s soul. To unify with Mr. Biden would be an admission that the battle is lost, and that the multicultural tide powering his victory will continue its ascension.

“Everything I worked for, Biden wants to give to the immigrants to help them live, when they don’t do nothing but sit on their butts,” Mr. Smith said.

“And if those protesters come here, if they go tearing up stuff, I guarantee you they won’t be in this town very long,” he added. “We’ll string them up and send them out of here — and it won’t be the same way they came in.”

If you were hoping we could unite around our shared revulsion of lynching protesters (or indeed anyone), sorry!  By the way, have you ever met an undocumented immigrant who sits on their butt, like this guy?  We bet you haven't because they're not eligible for any cash assistance or food stamps, so if they don't work, they die.

And here's another grumpy old white man spouting insane crap that we're having a hard time unifying with.  This superannuated tosser claimed that the effort to fight the lethal coronavirus

“has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” “I am not diminishing the severity of the virus’s threat to public health,” he said. “All that I’m saying is this, and I think that it is an indisputable statement of fact: We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.” 

We haven't seen a pandemic take 235,000 American lives in quite a while either, gramps.  By the way, the speaker wasn't some fat duffer slurping pie in a diner, he was, wait for it, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who has decided he does not want to be known as The Great Unifier. 

This bats**t crazy sentiment from yet another distinguished Republican graduate of the Harvard Law School reminds us that we can't even achieve unity on what our old friend Tom Hobbes thought was something everyone agreed on: the absolute priority of self-preservation.

While South Dakota has been crushed by COVID-19, viz:

and the Governor of North Dakota (which apparently thanks to Pres. Harrison is another thing entirely) has finally admitted that masks must be worn, his colleague in the stricken South, Gov. Kristi “Choose Death” Noem has, to promote her future in the Republican Party, taken a different approach:

Death before Democrats may be a principle, but it's not likely that we will be able to rally around it, at least until Gov. Noem's loyal supporters are all in the ground.  If Republicans want their voters to die rather than making them taking sensible temporary public health precautions for the duration of a pandemic, it's hard to see a single f***in' thing around which we can come together as a nation other than Nacho Cheez Doritos.

There's a peculiar thing about all of these divisions: on one side is white supremacy, usually financed by plutocratic big bucks.  On the other side are non-crazy people.  Nor should this be a surprise: this fault line runs through all of American life and history.  Atop this dispatch is an illustration by our old pal Tom Nast.  It's entitled “Compromise with the South,” in response to pleas for unity from Copperhead Democrats who wanted the United States to lure the Confederacy back into the United States by allowing them to continue to enslave Black men, women, and children. 

The cartoon shows a triumphant Confederate, whip in hand, leaning over the grave of Union dead to accept obeisance from a crippled Union soldier and a grieving nation while in the background cities burn and Black men and women are in chains.  The epitaph over the Union grave reads “In Memory of the Union Heroes Who Died in a Useless War.”  President Lincoln yearned for Unity, but he knew it was no substitute for Victory. 

As we write this, we're listening to unity-yearnin' Yuval Levin, a well-paid flack for the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, who recommends we build unity bottom up at the local level rather than worry too much about whom we elect to national office.  Let's just say his past experience on building unity gives his views a great deal of – validity.  He doesn't teach a course at Columbia on Media, Movies, and National Unity, but he has “served as a member of the White House domestic policy staff under President [and Great Unifier] George W. Bush.”  So there!

Now some things (like preventing local police from brutalizing Black citizens) could be addressed at the local level, although we don't see much progress there, despite the undoubtedly hard work of the Massachusetts Legislature.  But ensuring health care for all, addressing a national pandemic, reversing the lethal effects of climate change, and protecting the nation from corrupt politicians nobbled by Russian subversion can't be fixed by building campfires on the town common, can they? 

And aren't those national goals more pressing and important than Unity?  Unity may be appealing and even cute, but if you're spending all your time pursuing it with help from the Bush Administration geniuses at the Acme Enterprise Institute, you're likely to find yourself noticing that, like Wile E. Coyote, there's nothing beneath your feet but air.

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