Of all the promises President Biden made during the 2020 presidential campaign, none were more important for the fabric of the nation than the promise to unite the country. Once he had won the presidency, Biden reiterated this promise. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify,” Biden said in his November 7 victory speech, “who doesn’t see red states and blue states - only sees the United States.” Throughout the campaign, the former Vice President looked to contrast his message of unity with President Trump’s extremely divisive four years in office.
However, some Conservatives were eager to point out that this was never going to happen, as Biden’s policy agenda was always promising to be one of the most - if not the most - progressive agenda of any president. But those people missed the point. A President Joe Biden was never promising to be the Uniter-in-Chief on a policy level. He was going to be the Uniter-in-Chief on a rhetoric level. After four years of “the press is the enemy of the people” and the name-calling and nickname-giving of Trump’s political opponents, Biden was here to bring down the temperature of the country. He was here to bridge divides, and to basically be an adult. And for someone like me, who for the most part believed in what Trump was doing, but thought that his rhetoric was so deplorable that it overshadowed the policies, I was excited to have a president who - although I disagree with him on just about every policy - at least would be actively trying to bridge the vast divide in America.
At the time, I said that this ambitious undertaking could put Biden in rare company. Think about it: If President Biden can settle the country down from the throes of a pandemic, the race wars that have been going on for the better part of a year, and the overall instability of the country’s mood - regardless of what his policies end up being - it is entirely possible that Biden could go down as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. It would truly be an exact reverse of his predecessor: The rhetoric so unifying that it overshadows terrible policy. Not even Barack Obama could say that he did that. President Obama was a terrific speaker but had very divisive rhetoric.
But how could President Biden achieve this? How could a president accomplish this lofty goal? Remember, the pledge was not only to lower the temperature, but to unify the country. Simply toning down the divisive rhetoric would not be enough. In order to unify, President Biden would have to be gracious to the other side of the aisle - his political opponents. This does not exclusively mean actual Republican politicians. More important than the elected political opponents is the portion of the country that voted against him in the last election - those who either view the Democrats as evil, or perceive the Democrats as viewing them as evil. Those are the people to whom a strong leader and political unifier needs to talk directly. And it was the hope of a nation that the President would be able to begin to heal wounds and build bridges.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. We had very little coming directly from the President in his first 100 days in office, save for a few friendly press questions. But right at the end of those 100 days, the country was finally able to witness the first address of President Biden to the nation, in the form of his address to a joint session of Congress. Going into this speech, America needed to hear one thing and one thing only. It was not to hear some moderate policy proposals. It was not for the President to chastise the extremists in his own party. The bar was extremely low in what the country needed to hear. All President Biden needed to do was make a statement acknowledging that 70 million people voted against him this past November, and that the simple decision to pull that lever does not make someone a bad person. That’s all we needed. Sure there are other, more “controversial” statements he could have made. But if the goal is to heal the country, we must acknowledge that our political opponents are not inherently bad or racist or bigoted in any way simply because they do not approve of your political party. This is something I wish we would hear from both sides of the aisle. Sadly, we rarely, if ever, hear it from either. If President Biden truly wants to unite the country, this is the tact he would have to take.
Sadly, we did not hear such a statement. There were no messages of unity. The closest we came to hearing messages directed at political adversaries were in the form of pleas to come join the Democrats to vote in policy measures. That was it. For a man who has the primary goal of uniting a divided country, President Biden could not muster up even a small compliment (not even a compliment, a “they are not automatically racist” statement) to deliver to his nation.
It is not like Biden had no opportunity to do so. He could have mentioned his predecessor when discussing the progress we have made in battling COVID. When going through everything the country has done, Biden could not be bothered to mention the name “Donald Trump.” He did not even acknowledge that any steps had been taken prior to his administration entering the office. Did he not think that the 70 million people who voted for Donald Trump would have appreciated the head nod? No, Biden could not be bothered to throw the tiniest of bones towards anyone who voted against him.
When analyzing the address, ABC News contributor and Marquette University professor of political science Julia Azari pondered the question of to whom Biden’s speech was directed. She arrived at three groups: Americans who are sitting on the fence, middle-of the road Democrats, and the press. These are the three groups of people President Biden chose to direct his speech towards in an effort to unite the country. No effort whatsoever was made to bridge gaps, heal wounds, or otherwise follow through on the one campaign promise on which this country desperately needs him to follow through.
So on we wait. On we wait for President Biden to make one tiny step towards healing this country. Because as long as he refuses to acknowledge that the people who oppose him are not bad or racist or bigoted, this country cannot possibly heal.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.