The charges leveled at former President Donald Trump have always contained one central tenet: He was first and foremost a divider. The Joe Biden/Kamala Harris campaign exploited this accusation exponentially and preached the gospel of unity ad nauseam. Who knows how many Americans, sick of the daily dose of divisiveness, went to the polls in search of this elusive precept? So, it seems fair to ask how this principle can be attained.
Searching for Better Angels
James Madison famously quipped, “If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The problem here is that men are not angels. Thus, Madison went on to clarify that both government and the governed must exercise some control. Figuring out how to go about tamping down the vitriol and legislating with unity as a guiding ideology appears to be the challenge. But there exists a congressional infrastructure that just might be able to pave the way forward.
Fifty-six lawmakers, 28 from each party, formed something called the Problem Solvers Caucus in 2017. Co-chaired by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY), the problem solvers say they are “committed to passing bipartisan legislation.” Caucus goals include creating “a durable bloc that champions ideas that appeal to a broad spectrum of the American people.” It just could be that its time has come.
The caucus lists six issues in which (it believes) bipartisan support can be attained: infrastructure, coronavirus recovery, health care, immigration, criminal justice reform, rules reform, and gun & school safety. Skeptics might say this is a tall order – and indeed it is – but caucus members have one win under their belt so far.
The Problem Solvers Caucus was the primary entity that crafted the COVID relief package passed in December 2020. To the fiscal-minded American, this may not fall under the category of a win, but at least the caucus can say its initiative turned the screw to get the bipartisan bill passed. Emboldened by this success, members continue to press unity in 2021. Following the inauguration, they issued this statement:
“Restoring faith in our democratic institutions and rebuilding our economy will require all of us — regardless of party and at every level of government — to set aside our differences, bind our wounds, and commit to doing the hard work of bipartisan lawmaking … ”
Despite a crisis down on the border, infrastructure might be the best issue to solve next. It may not be the sexiest topic, but it is one both parties want and should have squeaked by during the Trump years. It was the president’s party that scuttled his infrastructure plans. Michael Grunwald summed up the problem in a recent Politico Magazine article: “Many GOP conservatives see infrastructure as a euphemism for big government, which is why Trump never got an infrastructure bill done and his numerous Infrastructure Weeks became a running joke, but public works are popular with the electorate.”
The last part of that — about public works’ popularity with the people — is a signal that this is a potential unity opportunity. Republicans will have to get over the Obama stimulus years when the shovel-ready infrastructure projects amounted to, well, let’s just say not that much. With the American economy still reeling from the many lengthy COVID lockdowns, this topic is low-hanging fruit both sides of the political aisle could grab to score a win.
For true unity to occur, Republicans must permit such legislation to succeed during the Biden years, something the Democrats repeatedly refused to do during the Trump era. That political question is central to attaining unity. Co-Chair Reed (who has recently been accused of sexual misconduct) told The Daily Caller Foundation, “… I think, that if we do look in the mirror, to our better angels, the message that President Biden offered on Inauguration Day will resoundingly take over America.” However, it remains to be seen whether there are any “better angels” out there.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.