Opinion

NICHOLS: Biden Is Governing Like The Unifier America Needs

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Jason Nichols Professor and progressive commentator
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that Biden is governing as a unifier. You can find a counterpoint here, where Parissa Sedghi, executive vice president at FreedomWorks, argues that Biden has abandoned his earlier calls for unity.

President Joe Biden campaigned on unifying a nation badly fractured by divisive demagogues who preached hatred for fellow citizens on the basis of their religion, country of origin and political affiliation. He promised to reach across the aisle and bring bipartisan compromise back to the federal government to supplant the hostage-style negotiating tactics that the previous administration employed with programs like DACA, using people’s lives and futures as bargaining chips.

Thus far, President Biden is doing just that.

As a career centrist, Biden has the daunting task of reaching out in both directions and finding compromise. Many leftists feared that Biden would not adopt the policies that they care about most. Progressives that backed his primary rival Bernie Sanders felt that health care and student loan debt, two major drivers of wealth inequality, would be forgotten and the corporate lobbies would win out.

However, Biden is working to expand Medicare and forgive federal student loan debt for people earning less than $125,000 who attended public universities, historically Black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions.  It is not Medicare for All or a full cancelation of all student debt, but it certainly helps those who need assistance most.

President Biden has signed more executive orders in a shorter period of time than all of his predecessors save for FDR.  However, what Biden did was not create new edicts, he simply undid terrible policy by the previous failed administration.

He ended the discriminatory “Muslim ban,” created a task force to reunite children with their parents after Trump’s DHS separated families and issued two letters rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord. When Trump wrote his executive orders, they were embarrassingly not well thought out, which made legal challenges easy and revisions necessary. Biden’s legal framework was airtight. In other words, he was prepared to be president on day one.

However, even with Democrats in full control of the federal government, Biden has been willing to discuss and negotiate the terms of the COVID relief stimulus with Republicans. Biden met with 10 Republicans who were hoping to shrink the Biden plan, which carries a $1.9 trillion price tag. Biden and Senate Democrats have the votes to pass the bill without Republican support.

Yet Biden had a collegial meeting with these Republicans. Reportedly, there was no childish yelling by the president. He did not abruptly walk out of the meeting. He did not take to social media to ridicule them. Instead of copying the behavior of his predecessor, he listened to their proposals. The New York Times reports that even Mitch McConnell believes that Biden is interested in compromise.

These are the same Republicans who refused to vote on Merrick Garland allegedly because it was an election year, then rushed the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett a few weeks before the 2020 election. These Republicans made working with the Obama administration an unforgivable sin, to the point that John Boehner had to enter the White House through a side door in the middle of the night to avoid being seen by members of his own party. While the previous president was in Mar-a-Lago allegedly making out an enemies list, Biden met with his former political adversaries and heard them out.

Biden has largely stayed above the fray of impeachment and commenting on wayward members of Congress. It is a welcome change from his predecessor, who spent quite a bit of time attacking and social media trolling his opponents, tweeting about cable news ratings and golfing (or doing all three simultaneously).

What he also has not done and should not do is normalize the extremism coming from Republican members of our government that arguably led a violent and deadly insurrection. Those who claim unity means forgetting and “moving on” while the people responsible for the massive election lie have refused to take accountability or even acknowledge the theories they propagated were vicious falsehoods aimed at subverting democracy, are exposing themselves as bad faith actors and traitors. We must unify in our country — left and right — to ostracize those who threaten our republic.

Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and a prolific progressive commentator.