Nevo: Unity is great. Progress is better.

Lily Nevo, Columnist

Unity took center stage at President Joe Biden’s inauguration last week. But in an era of extreme polarization, what does unity look like?

For many in Washington, unity is not a call for real bipartisanship, but rather a justification for lack of accountability and, ironically, a perpetuation of partisan politics. Take the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, for example. Just before the impeachment vote, eight senators voted against certifying the election results, still proclaiming a stolen election and denying the country an opportunity to move forward with their legitimately elected president. One week later, many Republicans suddenly cried for unity when the House voted to impeach Trump, but two weeks after that, 45 of them voted against holding a trial.

“Democrats appear intent on weaponizing every tool at their disposal — including pushing an unconstitutional impeachment process — to further divide the country” said U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the most vocal opponents of election certification. Seven other Republican senators made almost identical claims on the divisiveness of an impeachment trial.

For these Republican leaders, unity means impunity. Even among liberals, the ideal of unity is comforting to the white moderate, for those who maybe are sympathetic to a cause but do not support the difficult, uncompromising work it takes to get there. But in practice, unity is often evoked at the expense of those whose identities are seen as divisive and as a justification for circumventing politically inconvenient checks and balances. In short, if unity upholds the status quo and promotes a lack of accountability, why is Biden touting it as a priority?

For the first time since 2011, Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, largely due to the record turnout of Black voters in key states like Georgia and Pennsylvania. But the party will not hold on to such power if they do not maintain the trust of these voters. In 2016, Black voter turnout fell by seven percent from the record-breaking 2012 turnout, which some attribute to a lack of trust in the party following President Barack Obama’s underwhelming push for transformative social and criminal justice reforms.

Biden has already demonstrated a willingness to pursue a progressive agenda. Since his first day in office, he has signed over 40 executive orders, reversing Trump’s transgender military ban, strengthening DACA, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, and ending the federal government’s use of private prisons.

“So far Biden has talked like a centrist but governed from the radical left,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a tweet last Friday, reflecting a common critique among Republicans that Biden’s rhetoric of unity is nothing more than talk.

While many of Biden’s executive orders may not garner bipartisan support in Washington, they are largely popular among the American people. In 2019, 71 percent of Americans supported transgender people serving in the military. 61 percent and 65 percent of people support rejoining the Paris climate agreement and reinstating DACA, respectively.

These numbers reveal that while politicians may be consumed by partisan politics, there is hope for reconciliation among ordinary Americans, and that maybe we aren’t as polarized as we think we are. Still, mere conversation with neighbors and empathy for the other side cannot change the world, and real reform will only be solidified through the legislative work that Biden has already begun.

So, Biden, please do not let “unity” become your “MAGA”. Yes, we all dream of a world where hyperpartisanship is a thing of the past, just like we all hope to witness American greatness. But when unity is deployed at the expense of the American people and at the service of power-hungry politicians, you have to wonder, What are we really fighting for?

Lily Nevo is a Weinberg Freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.