Unity’s Winners and Losers
‘Unity’ won’t repair America’s fractured society if we’re expected to do so with the lawmakers whose policies dehumanize women.
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Unity is a terrible word. It describes a state that’s very likely beyond the capacity of human society to achieve, and worse than that, at the moment, all the humans with access to a microphone won’t shut up about it. A call for unity here! A seven-point pre-unity plan there! It makes one rather wish for anatomization, if only for a change of pace.
The worst thing about “unity,” though, is that some people always seem to get more of it—those in power, those with money and influence, those who are sustained by and benefit from social systems so long-standing as to be the very air we breathe. When a white Republican calls for “unity,” such concord is more often than not meant to come at the expense of people who are not white Republicans. It’s unity not as reconciliation or accountability, but as a flattening of difference and truth.
Thus, Democrats, progressives, and your Great Aunt Betty are right to refuse “unity” when it’s called for by a party that has fomented insurrection, supports police brutality against Black and brown people, and has let Americans go hungry even as it’s watched us die in droves. I’d like to propose, however, that we add to that list an evil that often goes unmentioned: The GOP’s long and storied dedication to the systemic, often violent dehumanization of women.
The left is being called upon to seek unity with a party wholly dedicated to denying physical autonomy to half of the American people; a party significantly opposed to legal remedies for gendered income inequality; a party that is even now waiting on a Supreme Court ruling it hopes will haul the United States back to its pre-Obamacare days and reinstate a system in which “gender rating” was a regular feature—that is, a system in which women could be charged more than a man for the same health insurance or denied it altogether over such pesky preexisting conditions as pregnancy or domestic abuse. The left is being called upon to seek unity with a party that threw its arms around a serial sexual predator and elevated him to god-king for four nightmarish years.
As I have in the past, I ask you to briefly consider just that last bit: Imagine an America in which men who grab, prey on, and rape women didn’t succeed in business, host TV shows, lead political parties, and ascend to the White House; imagine what the past four years might have looked like if we were a country that held men who abuse women accountable. But we are not such a country, which is how Donald Trump got anywhere to begin with. I am no longer willing to overlook the fact that national goodwill so often depends on my willingness to overlook such blatant truths.
It is, I will acknowledge, far simpler to announce my lack of interest in unity with insurrectionists and COVID truthers, because those particular unity-seekers are pretty much confined to one side of the aisle. Whereas the patriarchy? Is the dictionary-definition of the aforementioned “social system so long-standing as to be the very air we breathe.”
I am, therefore, not only refusing unity with my opponents, but with a lot of people who think themselves my friends. I’ve been a Democrat since before I could cast a ballot, and I am painfully familiar with the drill: Our tent has to be big enough to include anti-choicers blah blah nominating a(nother) woman might alienate swing voters blah blah and really now, is it right to ruin a man’s political future over a night or two of roving hands? And if any Democrats are tempted to posit the election of Vice President Kamala Harris as a resolution of the issue, I’d like to recall for them the post-racial America in which we now live, thanks to President Barack Obama.
Democrats must also confront the fact that the party calling for unity, the party that’s openly dedicated to the dehumanization of women, has a whole lot of women in its ranks. When I demand, for instance, the right to make decisions about my own reproductive organs, the GOP can be trusted to wheel out women who insist it’s perfectly reasonable to force anyone with a uterus to be little but a vessel for the next generation—and furthermore, declare me a Bad Feminist for not supporting a woman with such opinions at the ballot box. They’re wrong, though, when they do that, both factually and morally, and I’m no longer willing to say it any less plain than that. There is no unity to be sought with such rank immorality.
The presence of women in the Republican Party does however serve to underscore the fact that women are not anything remotely like “unified” ourselves. We are everything and everybody, our lives and experiences vastly kaleidoscopic. I don’t know what it’s like to fight for maternal health care as a Black woman; I don’t know what it’s like to have different citizenship status than my children; I don’t know what it’s like to be misgendered and called a name that is not my own. I cannot know. I can only listen, can only work to lift up voices that are too seldom heeded, can only fight for a broader, deeper understanding of the ways in which America’s numerous original, foundational sins intersect and compound each other in the lives of individuals and communities.
After the last few weeks, the last 10 months, the last four years, I am so wildly desperate for this country to be functional. I don’t care if it’s great (again, or ever), I care only that we aspire to be good.
But we must begin to understand that we cannot be good or truly functional when half of us are prevented in a thousand different ways from realizing our potential—or even just escaping the hands of a man. If the only way to achieve national reconciliation is to allow my oppressor to continue to oppress me, there is no reconciliation to be had.
I believe that “unity” is not, ultimately, an achievable goal. Human society is made up of too many differences and too much fractured light for “unity.” But I believe that comity might be—if those of us who voted for Biden come to understand and impress upon those who voted for a sexual predator that the humanity of half of humanity is no longer up for debate.
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