It will take much more than urging people to welcome opposing views to bridge the political divide in the United States.
It’s been 11 weeks since President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural address, preaching unity and urging Americans and politicians to lower the political temperature.
“Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” Biden said on January 20. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
So, how’s that working out for him? Not too well, it seems.
The war continues
The events of Trump’s final months in office – claims of voter fraud leading to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol – continue to have ripple effects among rank-and-file politicians in both parties and are hampering Biden’s wishes for unity.
January and February were consumed with fallout from the riot and Trump’s second impeachment.
Some Democrats held Republicans publicly responsible for the siege on the Capitol, with progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going as far as accusing Republican Senator Ted Cruz of “almost” having her “murdered”, blaming his support of Trump’s voting fraud claims for the riot.
I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out.
Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed.
In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign. https://t.co/4mVREbaqqm
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 28, 2021
Ocasio-Cortez’s comment spurred far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments by Democrats for earlier incendiary and racist comments, to lash out at her.
“I was in the chamber, unlike AOC, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, that faked her outrage with another hoax,” Taylor Greene said.
That’s just one example of the “raging fire”, as Biden put it, that coursed through politics in the first few months of 2021, a fire that included Trump’s return to public life at a conservatives’ convention in February and the inferno that arrived in March: the debate about voting restrictions.
If the intense verbal disagreements aren’t enough of an indicator that Biden’s inaugural wish is having trouble taking root, a poll from the Reuters news agency this week shows how extremely difficult it will be for Biden’s hopes to be realised.
Sixty percent of Republicans continue to believe Trump’s claim that “the 2020 election was stolen from” him with 38 percent of Republicans strongly agreeing with that statement. There also continues to be no evidence of widespread fraud nor any evidence that Trump had the election “stolen” from him.
It’s this sentiment that is driving Republican legislatures and governors to pursue – and in some states, pass – new voting restrictions in the name of “election integrity”.
Georgia, which its Republican election administrators insisted there was no evidence of fraud in Biden’s November victory or in January’s Senate runoff elections won by two Democrats, passed a sweeping voter restriction bill last month.
Contrary to Biden’s inaugural desires, the passage of that bill resulted in “disagreement” that has erupted into “total war”, involving not only pro-voting restriction Republicans, but Georgia-based big business, Major League Baseball, and even Biden himself.
Biden in the fray
Georgia’s law, which includes stricter voter identification requirements and gives the state election board powers to exert control over local election offices, has drawn intense criticism from Democrats who are concerned about its effects on Black voters and the potential politicisation of the administration of elections.
Biden aggressively jumped into the fray after the bill was passed, publicly referring to it as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “Jim Crow on steroids”, politically charged comments that refer to former laws that suppressed the votes of Blacks.
The president, in contrast to his calls to lower the intensity of political fights, instead echoed the law’s strongest detractors, amplifying some falsehoods along the way and even said he “strongly” supported moving the Major League Baseball All-Star Game out of Georgia.
Interestingly, a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday showed that while only 39 percent of Americans supported the move of the All-Star Game, 65 percent of Democrats backed the idea.
As for the law itself, slightly more Americans, 42-36 percent agree with it than oppose it. However, only 23 percent of US Democrats support the law.
Why the ‘raging fire’ is hard to put out
No matter what Biden’s dreams are regarding a more unified nation, the current state of politics is a lucrative one for elected officials.
There’s the obvious benefit of generating support from each party’s base. Every tweet or over-the-top statement is designed to energize the most enthusiasm from diehard backers, whether it’s Trump and Taylor Greene or Biden and Ocasio-Cortez.
And that enthusiasm translates into cold, hard cash.
Ocasio-Cortez raised $20.6 million dollars for her campaign in the two years leading to her 2020 re-election – the fifth-highest fundraising total in the US House and, among House Democrats, only Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised more money. This week, Politico reported that Taylor Greene raised $3.2 million for her campaign in the first three months of 2021. Considering these are her first three months as a member of Congress, that total is massive – it’s four times what Ocasio-Cortez raised in her first three months as a congresswoman.
It turns out “raging fires” are good for political business and they’re something Biden, despite his own wishes, finds himself embroiled in. Until “total war” becomes a political liability, expect Biden’s inaugural dream to continue to be just that.