Yet even if we say, for the sake of argument, that a President Biden could be a net force for unity, we’re left with the same problem: It’s not enough. The president can’t heal our country’s division. The Trump administration is at least as much a symptom as a cause of the illness in our politics, and that illness won’t go away with Trump’s departure, whether next year or in 2025. Clean away the gravel, but the knee is still skinned.
Our illness is a result both of culture and institutions of governance. The cultural etiology is what my colleague Matthew Walther has dubbed “middle-finger voting,” politics for the sake of “seeing one’s real or perceived enemies discomfited.” The point is not governance, but power for its own sake; not adherence to principles but punishing those we deem a threat to us and ours.
This mindset is not universal among Americans, and most of those who call their partisan opponents “downright evil” likely have friends and family whom they love across party lines. But in the turn from those specific relationships to national politics, a fever sets in. “[W]hat defines Republicans and Democrats isn’t programs or beliefs or ideology,” writes J.D. Tucille at Reason; “it’s achieving power and destroying the enemy in the process.” When “platforms and ideas don’t really matter,” he adds, “there’s no room for finding common ground or cutting deals” on policy, because uncompromising control is the very point.