On Saturday, November 7, Joe Biden finally declared victory, giving a speech emphasizing the importance of coming together to fix our broken and divided nation. Political polarization is nothing new in the US. The election of a president who would rather divide the country than unite it showed us all the danger of running a campaign built on racist rhetoric. The good news is: It. Did. Not. Work. But unfortunately its effects will remain. 70 million Americans still voted for Trump, who through his actions proved that despite how far we have come, racism and division is still an effective political strategy. So how do we move past this? How can we overcome a presidency defined by hate and ham-fisted bigotry?
Although every country is different, there is a set of general rules we can learn from other countries on how to reunite after a period of war or severe social unrest. We can actually learn a lot from our own history of Reconstruction after the Civil War about what not to do when it comes to reuniting a country in a state of division. During the Reconstruction era, from 1863 to 1877, both sides acted with very little sympathy for one another, with the Southern Democrats throwing fuel on the fire of racism with Black Codes and the Northern Republicans confiscating huge swaths of land for slaves. While it is vital that racism be deconstructed and destroyed, the idea that nothing ever gets done if one side’s only ambition is to punish the other is very prescient. Empathy should be the thing binding our broken country back together.
A great first step towards creating a more equal and less polarized country is widespread welfare programs. FiveThirtyEight published a study showing that as economic equality increases, so does the number of people who are politically active. Enacting laws that make college more affordable and eliminating outdated for-profit institutions such as Common Core could really boost the prosperity and economic participation of the American people. Furthermore, it makes a great amount of sense to invest in education, as the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. Investing in welfare and education would be a huge factor towards dispelling racist misinformation campaigns that Republicans have pushed for years.
Another thing we need to restore during Biden’s presidency is intelligent political conversation. During his presidency, Trump said repeatedly that he was going to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” It is an utterly absurd notion to think that someone could force Mexico to pay for Trump’s border wall, but what a slogan to latch onto it was! He appealed to his supporters’ worst demons and spewed enough triumphant sounding rhetoric to make them think everything he was saying wasn’t just an ideological sh*tstorm of lies. But the fact that it nearly worked twice is worrying. We need to de-normalize these unfounded promises that are merely there to keep people in power and appeal to our worst instincts.
Another significant ramification of this kind of campaigning is that the inherent hollowness of it forces politicians to deceive the public when presented with something that can not be explained by a slogan or a brief promise. The truth is oftentimes extremely complex and impossible to put onto a sign, flag, or bumper sticker, but it is also essential that the truth comes before marketability. We have to stop thinking of politicians as brands or celebrities, but rather as the ideas they stand for. Doing this will force politicians to present us with their actual agenda and ideas, and prevent any would-be Trumps from inspiring more hate and division.
With the Trump presidency coming to a close, it is important we take these necessary steps to restoring decency and dignity to a divided nation. The process is not going to be easy, and even now Trump stokes the flames of hate and seeks to divide us yet further. But if there’s one thing Biden was right about, it’s that we need to work for everyone, and a first step is ending this horrible polarization we have been dealing with for decades.