J.M. Sorrell: Is ‘unity’ possible?

  • President-elect Joe Biden listens as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, speaks about economic recovery at The Queen theater, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.   AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Published: 12/1/2020 7:21:21 AM

The presidential election brought feelings of relief for anyone who believes that the person currently impersonating a president is dangerous and incompetent. If you had asked me a year ago if I would be happy to see Joe Biden become president, I would have laughed. I would have told you that I would never vote for him due to his centrist and often racist record in the Senate, because of how he treated Anita Hill, and because of his generally arrogant white male behavior that causes him to assume physical contact with anyone he chooses to hug or touch. Never say never. I voted for him.

It helped that Kamala Harris was on the ticket, and I bought yard signs from a Black-woman-owned company that intentionally made sure the font size was equal for Biden and Harris. It helped that this was an emergency situation where no one could afford to be precious about their progressive politics. Despite being raised by fairly apolitical parents, they instilled in me the absolute responsibility to vote. It does not feel optional to me.

Along with relief, I was shocked that nearly 74 million people chose to vote for the predator-in-chief despite the last four years of his con-man incompetence, taking credit for Obama’s economic recovery while helping to undo it, aiding and abetting a pandemic where a person dies every minute now in the U.S., and decimating relationships with our allies around the world. He has repeatedly emboldened white supremacists. The list goes on and on.

Then I tuned into post-election Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and Working Families Party Zoom meetings. Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams and many Black and Latina leaders joined various meetings to discuss environmental, economic and racial justice, and what needs to happen now that the door is open for possibilities. I noticed no one was surprised about the 74 million; in fact, BIPOC people expect such behavior from crazy white people. Now I understand the shock that I felt is the everyday existence for many people in this country.

I find myself reflecting on the concept of unity and what is possible. When I consider that the M4BL, the Lincoln Project, progressives of all sorts, John Kasich, moderate Democrats and environmental activists pulled together to get Biden elected, I am hopeful. Seemingly disparate groups of people transcended differences for the call to action.

It is far more challenging to believe in unity potential with the 74 million. If I meet them in the middle, would I have to be sort of willfully ignorant, sort of racist and anti-Semitic, sort of misogynist, sort of xenophobic and sort of homophobic? Where exactly is the middle?

Biden has consistently spoken of unity and how we are all Americans in his speeches since the election. I understand his strategy but it also feels to be an avoidance of reality. Professing unity does not make it happen. We Americans seem to specialize in putting band-aids on large wounds. We have been doing it for decades regarding racial and gender equality. The band-aids do not stop the bleeding.

I believe we have to model the conduct we expect in a civil and just society. Seeking unity is a ridiculous waste of time and energy as the federal government will have to, essentially for the first time, manage a pandemic that will be far worse by Jan. 20, 2021 when Biden is inaugurated.

It is naive to think that people will pull together. We will require laws and consequences. How much more thinning of the herd is needed before people adhere to public health advice? Can people be forced to care about the well-being of others without hostility? A mask mandate without enforcement will mean little because people are habituated to being inconsiderate sociopaths who think that wearing a mask and keeping physical distance somehow cramps their style rather than understanding the need for cooperative action. This disturbing behavior is peculiarly American and not limited to Republicans. I see it on my street every day. Air particles everywhere. Political unity does not equal behavioral unity.

Clearly, I would not be a good choice for the unity cheerleading squad at this moment. If anyone can pull it off, s/he should get a Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, I will make calls for the Georgia Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. I will push for progressives in cabinet posts. In December, I will make latkes and continue my role as the mask-insistent Scrooge.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist, anti-racism trainer and health care advocate.

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