“Unity” is the new buzzword politicians use to claim now is the time for us to come together and heal our divides. You know, it sounds wonderful, especially in the midst of the holiday season. Families are no longer feuding, a red hat merely means the wearer supports the Hogs and, finally, Facebook can return to being a place where we primarily share photos of our children, pets and meals. It would be a welcome respite for those who are exhausted from the years of hard battles over immigration, voting rights and racial justice issues.
Progressive readers, beware. Beware the sweet lull of that siren song calling for “unity” and for us to “come together.” It’s the latest incarnation of the call for “civility,” and just as dangerous. “Unity for its own sake cannot be the goal,” Rev. William Barber, leader of the revived Poor People’s Campaign, warned recently. He’s right. The current push for unity, like the earlier demands for civility, depends on those pushing for equality and justice toning it down. Backing off and not asking for so much. Waiting their turn and not fighting so hard against the status quo. Otherwise, they are labeled as “divisive.” It is already happening. Candidates who ran on the platform of helping the poor, working for racial justice, expanding access to health care and protecting voting rights are seen as fringe or extreme in parts of the country. Never mind these issues are not political, as Barber often says, but moral. And never mind those candidates won in many districts. A call for unity is really just a call to stop rocking the centrist boat.
Tuesday’s televised Oval Office meeting between President Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demonstrated the folly in believing the current GOP will compromise. Pelosi and Schumer were there to try to work out an agreement to avoid a government shutdown, but it was clear that the petulant Trump was only there to grandstand, lie and further embarrass anyone with any sense.
How can anyone expect unity when our president refuses to negotiate and insists on using made-up facts and statistics to make decisions on key issues such as border security and the military? He treats the Oval Office like the fake boardroom on “The Apprentice,” where he was the boss and his ratings depended on outrageous behavior, cliffhangers and shocking twists. That is all fine and good for television, but not for governing.
It is clear that Trump, who is in way over his head on policy, has made up his mind and anyone who disagrees with him is at fault for the impending government shutdown. He repeatedly talked over Pelosi and Schumer and outright scoffed at their claims that they had a bipartisan plan.
After watching that spectacle, what I want to know is why do the calls for “unity” and “civility” seem to be directed toward the young and those advocating for better, more accessible government? The expectation is that they are the ones who should change, instead of demanding that moderate Republicans speak up and tell Trump and his supporters their behavior is unacceptable and not unifying in the least. Instead, there is a constant push for the progressives to join the warm and fuzzy center where immigration reform, racial issues and poverty take a backseat to winning over rural, white voters. It’s offensive and bad strategy because, as we saw in Arkansas with the passing of an increased minimum wage and medical marijuana, those voters will embrace progressive, moral ideals if the right messaging is used. That is where the energy needs to be focused by the Democrats, instead of trying to rein in the visionaries and activists. So, progressive readers, lash yourself to your principles and be prepared to fight off those who want to claim your values are divisive. Keep fighting. Many are depending on you for their safety and health because too often “unity” comes at the expense of the most vulnerable.