Ever since the near-octogenarian Joe Biden threw his hat in the ring for president of the United States, Americans have speculated about his mental decline. But the now-president’s cognitive decline pales in comparison to his cognitive dissonance. The man’s calls for unity completely contradict the other messages that escape his mouth and color his plans.
Conservatives have noted the shift in tone and tenor between campaign Biden and post-election Biden. The former version made half of the electorate out to be racists, sexists, and bigots and produced sentiments such as “you ain’t black” if you were considering casting your vote for Donald Trump. The latter produced sudden but endless calls for unity despite no attempt to reconcile with those he had so recently detested. These two versions came together in one speech: Biden’s inaugural address.
For listeners who successfully overcame the elementary unity script, the cognitive dissonance in the messaging was enough to give them whiplash. The facade of harmony, woven together with promises of hope and togetherness, couldn’t quite mask the subtle digs at the many Americans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for this administration. Nor did this theme of unity quite drown out Biden’s enthusiasm for narratives to which half the country doesn’t subscribe: systemic racism, impending climate doom, and the moral goodness of equity, as opposed to equal opportunities.
“This is a time of testing,” Biden said. “We face an attack on democracy and on truth. A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.”
For Americans who buy into these themes — that the most existential crisis facing our hurting nation is the climate, that white people are so hopelessly oppressive that all our institutions continue to be stained with racial animus more than 150 years since this great nation successfully passed the 13th Amendment, that it would be preferable to bring Americans down to the lowest common denominator in order to ensure equal outcomes — perhaps Biden is the man to tackle these “gravest of responsibilities.”
But what about the rest of us? According to Biden, we’re all in this fight toward a more progressive America together: “Now we must step up. All of us.” That’s what unity looks like. Our national diagnosis is that we are racist, science-denying, nationalist capitalists. And healing is only possible if we all agree and commit to leftists’ program.
The pleas for unification were ubiquitous. “To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words,” Biden announced. “It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.”
That admonition, however, directly followed more accusations about America’s racist character, alarm bells about the “desperate” planet, and a direct attack on Trump supporters, with language of “political extremism, white supremacy,” and “domestic terrorism.”
It might be easy to overlook these latter insults as a proper condemnation of the Capitol riots, if not for continued calls from figureheads in the president’s own party and corporate media complex to create a “9/11-style commission” to investigate the events of Jan. 6 including presumably the peaceful rally attendees, since law enforcement is so far doing a fine job of apprehending the criminals. Even more broadly, these politicians and pundits continually call for the “de-Baathification” of the Republican Party and the “deprogramming” of Trump supporters, all the while they’re being de-platformed.
Beyond Biden’s tired and unconvincing unity schtick, the remainder of his address was a pile of humdrum platitudes, some of which were still loaded with contempt for the Trump-devoted:
“There is truth and there are lies.”
“We endured and we prevailed.”
“We will get through this together.”
The 46th president’s address lacked American gusto, but no amount of presidential enthusiasm could have accomplished what Biden set out to do Wednesday: unify a deeply divided country, whose wounds cut all the way down to her national soul, her very identity. For ultimately, the disunity exists over a fundamental disagreement of what exactly America is and who we want her to be.
Biden’s commencement speech was an early snow, a beautiful and pure dusting but woefully inadequate to veil the ugliness of the dead and dirty earth peeking through. In Biden’s “dark winter,” his policies and invective are the tufts of lifeless weeds that no amount of glistening flakes of unity rhetoric can possibly cover.