Biden’s unification dilemma
The author is the Washington bureau chiefof the JoongAng Ilbo.
The streets of Washington, D.C. were muddy. Bushes made it hard to travel. Construction for the federal government buildings made the site even more chaotic. The third U.S. President-elect Thomas Jefferson walked the path and arrived at the Capitol. According to U.S. congressional records, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to be inaugurated at the Capitol on March 4, 1801.
On the Senate floor, Jefferson said, “The minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.” It was an appeal to those who did not vote for him in the intense election that they would not suffer disadvantage or have their rights violated.
180 years later, the 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in the West Front instead of the traditional location of the East Portico to accommodate more crowds. Reagan encouraged Americans dispirited by the oil shock and economic slump to open an era of national revival. That day, 52 American hostages held in Iran were released.
The inauguration of the 46th President Joe Biden was held at the West Front. Instead of hundreds of millions of people celebrating, Stars and Stripes and state flags filled the National Mall. The scars of the mobs breaking into the Capitol two weeks ago amid the pandemic were not completely healed. Biden’s two shoulders hold two challenges — Jefferson’s unity and Reagan’s revival.
Biden’s keyword for breakthrough is unity. He poses as the leader of unity to devote his soul to reviving the economy critically hit by the pandemic and bring together the divided nation. A few hours later he was sworn in as president, Biden scrapped all Trump doctrines based on America First and non-intervention foreign policy, including immigration policy. These are the sources of Trumpism.
A Washington Post and ABC poll showed that 57 percent of Republicans wanted the party leaders to follow Trump’s legacy. 70 percent still deny Biden’s victory in the election. Political strategist Frank Luntz predicted that “strong divisions will remain despite the incoming Biden administration’s push for unity.” Republicans and Trump supporters are not the only skeptics. Another challenge for Biden is how to persuade progressives in the Democratic Party.
Biden’s unity started the first day by removing Trump’s traces, and it is still in the fog. In his inaugural address, Biden said, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.” But Trump said, “We will be back in some form.” Washington with barbed wires and the state defense forces is still eerie, just like the bleak scenery 220 years ago.