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We’re Two Americas. Here’s How Joe Biden Can Govern Both

A torn poster on the ground outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston after skirmishes broke out during a demonstration by both Joe Biden and President Trump supporters on the day that the news broke that Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election Nov. 7, 2020.  (Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A torn poster on the ground outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston after skirmishes broke out during a demonstration by both Joe Biden and President Trump supporters on the day that the news broke that Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election Nov. 7, 2020. (Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Depending on whether Donald Trump was elected or rejected, America would be telegraphing starkly different messages about who we are, pundit David Brooks opined on Election Night. Actually, the message we sent wound up considerably muddled.

Joe Biden was chosen as president of two countries, radically opposed.

In one, 70 million voters, damn near half the turnout, swooned for a president so deviant that we’re arguing over whether Nazi analogies are apt. It would be odious to allege Trump’s voters approve of anything like the Holocaust. But they indisputably embody “the enduring appeal of fascism.”

Trump ripped children from parents and caged them; tried to weaponize, however incompetently, foreign intrusion and federal officeholders against political opponents; approved Mitch McConnell’s packing the Supreme Court without expanding the number of justices; winked at supporters’ intimidation tactics and racial hatred (“good people” can be white supremacists, the Proud Boys should “stand by”); and demonized reporters who called out his non-stop lies, the post-election vomiting of which forced networks to hit the off-button on his lunacy-fest. The only election theft was floated by presidential lackeys who suggested GOP legislatures overturn voters’ will in states that voted Biden.

His zealots’ mantra -- he’s a bad person, but we like his policies -- ignores that this undemocratic litany is policy, repudiated by the Founders. Millions in this first country are hostile to the democratic project we’ve been fine-tuning since Cleisthenes of Athens five centuries before Christ.

The simple part will be shelving Trump’s rhetorical IEDs ... The hard part will be setting legislative priorities.

The second country Biden won, bless it, gave Trump the boot. But It includes progressives who, while appalled by Trumpeters’ atavistic cruelty, will demand, as the left is wont, that the new president lead them to an unreachable Utopia.

Can he simultaneously govern these mutually loathing nations?

The simple part will be shelving Trump’s rhetorical IEDs. Scarred by recurrent personal loss, Joe Biden brims with the empathy that is dead in his predecessor. In his victory speech Saturday, he tried to salve the wounds of Trump supporters with words their man could never utter: "I understand the disappointment tonight. I've lost a couple of times myself. But now, let's give each other a chance. This is the time to heal in America."

The hard part will be setting legislative priorities. Biden will have to pursue achievable promises while erecting guardrails against his base’s unrealism, starting, sadly, with health care.

He campaigned on a sensible plan to make Obamacare all but universal. It grieves me that Election Day produced a Senate with enough Republicans to sustain the party’s obstructionist jihad against the Affordable Care Act. “Without a Democratic majority in the Senate, Biden as president could not likely advance many of his top health agenda items,” Kaiser Health News predicts.

A Trump supporter argues with counter protesters in St. Paul, MN. November 7, 2020. Supporters of Donald Trump -- including a number of outspoken conspiracy theorists -- gathered outside the Governor's Mansion in St. Paul, MN to reject Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. Attendees argued with counter protestors while repeating many of Donald Trump's falsehoods regarding the integrity of the vote. (Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A Trump supporter argues with counter protesters in St. Paul, MN. November 7, 2020. Supporters of Donald Trump -- including a number of outspoken conspiracy theorists -- gathered outside the Governor's Mansion in St. Paul, MN to reject Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. Attendees argued with counter protestors while repeating many of Donald Trump's falsehoods regarding the integrity of the vote. (Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Biden touts his cross-aisle bonhomie. But if you think that’s a magic wand that will make Republican animosity to universal insurance go poof! after those 70 million Trump votes, reality is not your current address. Other than the pandemic — a national emergency he appropriately tackled out the gate -- President Biden may have to coach his base in the virtues of incremental health reforms.

Similarly, he must work for true racial justice while stiff-arming woke progressives. Vox ran an insightful report on Trump’s surprising pull with Latino voters, including Mexican-Americans whose ancestral home, according to the president, churns out rapists and murderers. They voted Republican because, on issues from immigration to police budget cuts, many Hispanics (and other Americans of color) break ranks with white liberals.

In one mundane but illustrative case, the two camps literally don’t speak the same language. Among cloistered academics and activists, “Latinx” has become mandatory to refer to Latin Americans. But only 3 percent of Hispanics use it, as the vast majority consider it a microaggression.

Spanish, which has masculine and feminine nouns, employs the masculine “Latino” to describe mixed-sex groups, an allegedly sexist construction. Moreover, words like “Latino” (for a man) and “Latina” (for a woman) seem to exclude nonbinary people. Hence “Latinx.” “The message of the term, however, is that the entire grammatical system of the Spanish language is problematic, which in any other context progressives would recognize as an alienating and insensitive message,” Vox wrote.

In the primaries, Biden mostly abstained from trying to out-lib his most liberal competition. As president, he should hold that course, privileging issues popular with both white Democrats and people of color. The political compass points to landfall on economic initiatives: Florida’s Hispanics turned up their noses at the Democrats, but they and the rest of the state overwhelmingly passed a minimum wage increase, Vox noted.

The populist wave that drowned [Hillary Clinton] was no ebbing tide; it almost swept away Biden, too.

Indifferent to suffering, Trump bequeathed countless economic problems for which Biden can offer answers: well-paying jobs fixing our public works, subsidies for healthy food markets to combat hunger; free public college tuition; and a reinforced safety net. These would narrow racial economic disparities; since many could be financed with current spending, Biden might coax Republican support.

Even in areas like immigration and climate change, Biden need not be paralyzed. One analysis calculates those are among the areas where the new administration could enact 277 policies through executive authority, without Congressional approval.

For now, Democrats and Trump-hating independents owe an apology to Hillary Clinton, whom many savaged for losing to Trump four years ago. For all her undeniable flaws and baggage, last week’s results showed that Bernie Sanders or any other candidate would have struggled as she did. The populist wave that drowned her was no ebbing tide; it almost swept away Biden, too. America’s lifeguards — anti-Trumpers and our institutions — will be working overtime to rescue us from it in years ahead.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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