The Unity Paradox

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JAN 23, 2021

The word unity served as a theme for the Wednesday inauguration at a time when national politics feels defined chiefly but divisiveness. The term, of course, is one of those that tends to draw bipartisan laudits, like civility of finding consensus. Yet the words and actions through the political realm in the following days — and frankly from President Joe Biden himself — shows there may be more hunger for the word unity while there’s little appetite for anything resembling it in practice.

Maybe that’s as it should be. Democracy stands as a form of government built on the reality people will disagree. Otherwise, there would be no need for debates, elections or persuasion campaigns. As impassioned as we all may feel about the moral clarity of our most principled ideals, there’s always going to be reasonable people who disagree.

And so we have a lion of the Senate ascend to the presidency and immediately issue executive orders that undo much of his predecessors work and bypass the legislative branch. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave a Senate speech welcoming Biden to office, then two days later slammed the new Commander in Chief for enacting a “radical leftist agenda.”

Less than two days into the Biden era, a mini-scandal about treatment of National Guardsmen seemed to reduce rhetoric to its cheapest lows. Some order no one yet will claim to have made resulted in Guardsmen who rather famously had been guarding the Capitol 24-7 to start sleeping in an unsanitary parking garage.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, tweeted “No wonder one Guardsman felt ‘incredibly betrayed.’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Schumer have a lot of questions to answer.” U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, posted “The level of disrespect towards our National Guardsmen is disgraceful.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis responded by calling Florida’s Guard home, making clear they are not Speaker “Nancy Pelosi’s servants.” That one prompted U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, to decry Florida Republicans for ignoring Biden’s aforementioned call for unity and greeting it with “fear-mongering.”

This rhetoric all occurred over an issue that seemed to be resolved within a couple hours; Guardsmen were not forced to sleep overnight in an exhaust-filled parking garage overnight.

And yet, it’s easy to see how the volume cranked up even as everyone preaches a need to turn the temperature down. The tribalism in America today leads many to view neighbors with different views not as political adversaries but as state enemies.

This happens, incidentally, at a moment when American voters have given Democrats control of both chambers of Congress but by margins that can’t mathematically be much closer. Democrats enjoy an 11-seat edge in the 435-member House. The Senate, with only the second 50-50 split in history, goes blue only thanks to a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President. Now, elections have consequences, and you can expect Democrats to exercise the likely limited time with full government control to advance a progressive agenda. But you better believe Republicans have a mandate to water it down to a level palatable to half the nation.

Policy differences will be hard fought, and true change hard to come by. Still, America’= has seen worse schisms than this. Maybe what we truly should ask of our elected leaders is not unity but respect, an acknowledgement of legitimate disagreements, no matter the level of emotion.

And hopefully, we can leave issues decided in Congress and directed from the ballot box to matters of policy, not to the "disgraceful" motives or perceived lack of patriotism when we dare to disagree with one another.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.  

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

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