The phrase in the Pledge is “one nation under God.” When we recited it at the 46th District Democrats in Seattle, you could hear the volume drop at that phrase as at least one half of us left it out. Not because we objected to being One Nation. Maybe we could rewrite it? One nation in democracy? It could work.
It has always, I would argue, been difficult to be “one nation.” People have been beheaded, burnt at the stake, imprisoned, and pogromed for being a threat to national unity. And when the United States were brought into being, it was difficult enough even for the white male segment of the population to be brought into “union.” And less than a century later, they failed for a few years. No wonder the folks trying to hold that demographic together was not particularly enamored of bringing women on board, not to mention African Americans, Latinx immigrants, Native Americans, Asian immigrants, etc. Not that misogyny and racism weren’t involved. They most certainly were. They were also very useful arguments against enlarging the franchise. Losing control. Destroying the Union.
These days it seems that we are nearly as disunited as we were in 1860. President Biden has promised to bring us together again, to create once more a United States. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Senate haven’t gotten the message and, because of that, some in the media are saying that he is failing to unite us.
I’m not so sure.
It would take a silver-tongued mesmerizer to bring the Republicans on board Democratic policy legislation, and Joe’s good, but not that good. So it will likely take something more powerful to unite the nation. Something like the US used in the early days. Money.
There was little that could unite a country full of such disparate interests as those that defined the white male population of the early 19th century. Moneyed aristocrats in the north, newly rich manufacturers of everything from buttons to bows to iron chains, southern planters, and poor whites of north and south everywhere. Nothing but the prospect of open land and, as the Biden campaign promises even today, opportunity.
It wasn’t love of country or of the constitution that brought the nation together. It was good old commerce and a promised land of milk and honey. Or more likely gold and grain and lumber and beef. All sewn together by railroads and telegraph. Today we call them Amazon and social media.
So Joe Biden won’t unify this nation with the rhetoric of our sacred union, of democracy or loving our neighbor. No, his best chance at unity is extending a much-needed hand to all within our borders. We will all get vaccinations. We will all get help with our rent and cable bills. Our children will be fed and go back to school. We might get public transportation worth using. We might get solar panels. We might get real assistance when the fires crest the hills again, the flood waters creep across the land, and the storms of climate change consume entire townships.
There is no more land to grab. We have used and abused nearly all of our resources. What is left of them lies in a few hands and god help the rest of us when we demand a share.
No, the only valuable resource we have left is our people. Our people who may not be “united,” may not agree on much of anything. But people who have a history of making something out of nothing. If only they didn’t have to struggle so hard just to have a roof over their heads and food on the table. Freedom from want makes all the other freedoms possible. Freedom to tinker in the garage, to put words on a page and paint on canvas, to draw music from almost anything. It can also be the freedom of a good job and the ability to crash on your couch watching The Game or The Walking Dead, after a good dinner, of an evening. Freedom comes in many forms.
And that is the unity that President Biden is offering. The 19th Century offered opportunity if you had what it took to take it. The 21st has a better offer. Equal Opportunity. A unifying principle not dreamed of by the Founders. I suspect most of them would have found it an impossible dream if it was to be dreamed of at all. But now we dare to dream of it. And whether you were for us or against us, it can be yours as well. Equal Opportunity for All is the promise by which the President hopes to unify the nation. The folks across the aisle will have to explain to their constituencies why they don’t want it for them.