President Biden and America’s Identity Crisis

By: H. Stasik Winderbaum

It’s no secret that the United States is more divided now than it has been in over a century. As Joe Biden begins his first term in the highest office in the land, division not only permeates down the party line but within both major political parties as well. Biden is walking into a situation where he must not only contend with challenges from Republican rivals in Congress, but more progressive Democrats who will hold him accountable for campaign promises, sweeping legislation on social justice, climate (among other things), and definitive action to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily for Biden, his first month in office has shown him governing to the left of what many expected, and that’s brought on a lot of goodwill from these leftist figures.

Will it last? We don’t really know. This could be entirely the result of the so-called “honeymoon period” for Presidents – where the beginning of a new administration is generally popular simply for how refreshing a change in the oval office tends to be – or some other unifying factor such as Democrats’ repudiation of former President Donald Trump. Suffice it to say that although Democrats are riding high, the alliance between moderates and progressives is tentative and will certainly face challenges over the next four years.

But an advantage for Biden is that, on the conservative side of the political aisle, the Republican party is fractured, too. The presence of Donald Trump has, no matter how you slice it, permanently changed the GOP. His influence is not unlike that of Ronald Reagan, with both men defining America’s other major political party before their arrival and after it. The post-Reagan era of modern conservatism had been defined by the rise of the Christian right, supply-side economics, and American nationalism. In many ways, Trump continued this tradition–– but tacked on conspiracy-centric politics, the legitimization of the “big lie,” vicious attacks on federal institutions, and “America first” rhetoric that emboldened the far-right and ultimately led to the insurrection at the capitol a little over a month ago, among other violent showings in the last four years.

The Republican party is, as many pundits have already pointed out, facing its “morning after” from the Trump administration. Trump is unable to influence congressional, state, and local-level Republicans directly now that he is no longer in office, but such a large portion of the party has become loyal to him that for a Republican politician to deviate from his agenda, even now, is political suicide in some parts of the country. The upsetting truth is that it doesn’t matter so much whether Donald J. Trump is the guy in the oval office; what he represents has made its way into the GOP platform. We’ve already seen politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene – a fierce Trump loyalist and conspiracy theorist – popping up in congress, for example.

The challenging reality for Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders now is that, whether they dig their heels in for Trump or return to the establishment, moderate politics of someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain, they’re pretty much consigning themselves to losing half their base. That’s why, as of this writing, you see a lot of GOP lawmakers trying to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak; unwilling to completely denounce Trump while insisting that they aren’t really on board with him.

So, where do we go from here?

Something’s gotta give. That’s the overall theme of the United States right now. It’s part of why we’re in such a constant of anxiety over the future; we can tell we’re at some turning point socio-politically and we know it’s been in the works for a long time. We certainly didn’t get here overnight. In the same way that Republicans and Democrats are attempting to balance different interests within their parties, the country as a whole is asking itself now more than ever: what kind of America are we going to be? What does the United States look like in the 2020s? The 2030s? What about the 21st century as a whole?

To my mind, our main takeaway ought to be that the dedicated involvement of ordinary people in a democracy is the antidote to many of our biggest issues. It’s an almost-annoyingly prevalent sentiment these days, but there’s a reason for it; just look at Georgia. To meet this moment, we need to realize that politics isn’t something to be taken lightly, nor is it some abstract concept that has no real bearing on our daily lives. Complacency, above most else, is the villain of the modern American story.

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