In his inaugural address two weeks ago, President Joe Biden made it clear that he wants to unify the country. Synonyms of togetherness made up nearly 1% of all words in Biden’s speech, beating a record previously held by George Washington. Yet, a plethora of pleasantries on a Wednesday in January will not be enough to bridge the divide in this country.
A poll in October 2020 found that 85% of registered voters would describe Americans as being greatly divided in their values. Another poll found only one in five Americans have confidence that President Biden can unite the country. These numbers do not bode well for a president whose constituents include both left and right-wing agitators, the latter recently plotting to assassinate those who voted to uphold his election victory during the capitol riot.
I agree with the majority of Americans that the president cannot unite the country, but it is through no character flaw of his own. One person, no matter how inspirational and willing to compromise he or she may be, is not able to unite an entire nation — at least not in a constitutional republic. And quite frankly, I would not want them to be.
In Russia’s most recent presidential election, Vladimir Putin won with more than 76% of the vote, his nearest competitor receiving only 12%. On the surface, Russia may seem relatively united in their support of their president, but I would venture most Americans are not hoping for Biden to foster this kind of unity.
The unity most Americans want comes from citizens not letting their political disagreements get in the way of their personal relationships. It does not mean that everyone will suddenly become a moderate Democrat, but it does mean that political differences are respected. Biden’s relative lack of inflammatory tweets may create fewer sparks for political arguments, but he cannot force people to show respect for one another.
The road to unity will be challenging, but America is already more united than you may think, and it’s not just because of our new president.
A 2020 Harvard survey found 71% of Americans believe they have more in common with each other than many people think. The same survey found that more than 90% of both Republicans and Democrats believe voting, equal protection, free speech, equal opportunity, privacy and racial equality are essential rights of Americans today.
With such similar fundamental values, how did America end up so divided? President Trump may not have helped the situation with his constant incendiary remarks, but the media has only added fuel to the fire.
Blaming the media for being divisive is not exactly a groundbreaking take, but it is vital for journalists to understand that they play an important role in uniting or dividing the nation.
A 2020 Gallup/Knight survey revealed that 80% of Americans place a great deal of blame on the media for the nation’s division, but a similar number of Americans believe that the media has the opportunity to fix it.
I do not believe that journalists have the power to create unity in this country, and again, I would not want them to. Avoiding controversial stories and instead focusing solely on uplifting human interest pieces would not serve this nation well. However, it is important for journalists to avoid the temptation to exploit political differences in an attempt to receive more clicks and revenue.
It is ultimately unwise for anyone to wait for the government or the media to unite the nation, as they do not and should not have that power. At the risk of sounding trite, it is up to all of us as citizens to unite the country through putting aside political differences ourselves.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.