What America Needs More Than ‘Unity’

What America Needs More Than ‘Unity’

President Biden’s pursuit of solidarity is well intentioned. But without concrete plans to hold bad actors accountable, his efforts will be useless.

On Tuesday, the eve of the presidential inauguration, then-President-elect Joe Biden stood on the perimeter of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus. In his brief remarks, he said, “To heal, we must remember; it’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” Those words set the tone for the next day’s peaceful transfer of power, which had been endangered just two weeks prior by a violent coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead.

The threats to the future prosperity of the United States are multiple: the pandemic, near economic collapse, insurgent white-supremacist extremism and antidemocratic forces, and myriad systemic racial inequalities. But watching the inauguration, where President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recited an oath of service to the nation and fidelity to the Constitution, felt reparative. Rituals and traditions have an anchoring effect that counters moments of upheaval. Even as political theater, Wednesday’s spectacle was a temporary but necessary balm for the wounds acquired from a chaotic and destructive Trump presidency. In his address, Biden emphasized the resilience of democratic order: “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words,” he said. “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”