The DNC was about unity. The RNC is about to show us why that was a mistake.
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Condensed under the constraints of coronavirus and stripped of most of the procedural fluff, the 2020 Democratic National Convention reflected the passions and priorities of its nominee, Joseph R. Biden, even more than its predecessors. We saw not only the former Vice-President’s focus on the best in people, but his commitment to bringing them together—whether within the party or across the aisle. From the choice of speakers to the emphasis on personal character to the official theme (“Uniting America”), the four days of the DNC sent an unambiguous message: This is the big tent party.
Nowhere was this message more prominent than in the inclusion of Republicans. Every night of the convention dedicated to the needs and hopes of Democrats featured former Republican officials, political legacies, and loyal voters, all attesting to the competence, character, and charisma of Joe Biden. It was designed to give the comforting, if temporary, sensation that there are values that all Americans can agree upon.
There’s only one problem: It isn’t true.
There is no coming comity around the goodness and decency of Joe Biden, just as there was none for the hope and change of Barack Obama’s historic victory. The very same Republicans whom Joe Biden invited to speak about his personal character did not let their appreciation of it stop them from attacking voter registration and organizing in Black and brown communities, using the power of their office to impose hunger on the marginalized, or laundering lies to governing bodies and allies to facilitate preemptive war.
Nor should there be any temptation to conflate their personal distaste for Trump with a fervor for a functioning republic. These are people from the same party that took George W. Bush’s popular vote loss and presidential appointment by a partisan Supreme Court as divine consecration to rule as they pleased, while treating Obama’s seven-point popular vote margin and Electoral College shellacking as a hostile takeover of government. They are from the Republican Party that stayed silent as Mitch McConnell strove to undermine the executive and the Senate by denying confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland (invoking Biden’s name, no less), that campaigned on a “Real America” as if there is a false one, that gave Donald Trump— caught dead to rights on an attempted manipulation of the 2020 elections—a 94 percent approval rating during his impeachment.
We are going to watch a celebration of those values—supremacy, militarism, autocracy—on display at the Republican National Convention, which begins tonight. Republicans will talk about love of country, but the country they speak of will only house their own. They will valorize corruption and demonize accountability as an invasive imposition. The GOP will laud their success in dismantling huge swathes of the federal government that served some of the most marginalized Americans, and they will cheer themselves for stacking the courts. Unlike its Democratic counterpart, this convention will preach no unity. The RNC themselves have revealed that their platform is little more than a vow of loyalty to their corrupt candidate, Donald J. Trump.
The RNC will try to lure Republicans home. They will say that Democrats are going to upend the country as we know it. They will attack our commitments to diversity; they will promise white supremacy. They will make every night a reminder that Democrats and liberals think that choices—to attack, to denigrate, to manipulate and harm—should come with costs: to business owners, to the police, and even to the President of the United States. Republicans are going to tell their voters that they will be wholly vulnerable to Democratic values and judgments if Joe Biden wins the presidency, and in only this, they must be right.
The damage inflicted upon the country, its people, and its institutions is too dire for compromise with the opposition. There are millions unemployed, thousands dying daily, and the integrity of the election in any given state relies entirely on whether those overseeing it belong to the Democratic Party. We are staring down extraordinary collective challenges in public health, infrastructure, climate change, racial equity, white nationalism, and economic inequality-to say nothing of where these issues intersect. It is impossible to negotiate with a partner that looks at these problems we need to solve as opportunities to exploit.
Will the Republicans whom the DNC has tried to lure support tax increases on capital gains, a modern Glass-Steagall Act, and stiff fines for companies that offshore labor to cut costs and exploit vulnerable economies? Will they stay silent and stand aside for a reinvigoration of government offices and services, from the United States Post Office to the EPA? Will they applaud Joe Biden’s sense of decency and decorum when his Attorney General and multiple Special Prosecutors begin indicting Republicans who aided and abetted Trump’s corruption? It is worth remembering that Republicans have a problem with Trump’s personality, not his policies.
Unity as the price of victory is too steep a cost for the voters most in need of a Biden administration. Such bipartisan “cooperation” would mean negotiating away the ability to resolve any of the present and looming catastrophic crises that could destroy us. We have spent the last four years starved of investment, buried in neglect, our lives offered up as a blood sacrifice for white hegemony. We cannot afford comity and healing that prioritizes the feelings of white Republicans over the needs of multiracial democracy. We remember the bargains made by President Obama, and we remember that Republicans elected Trump as his successor regardless.
No tent is that big.
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