I rise to defend-defiantly, perhaps foolishly-the notion of unity. I know the concept has taken a bashing this past month. It's been ridiculed, dismissed, and rendered banal. It's been conflated with \”bipartisanship,\” even though the two exist on separate metaphysical planes.
Unity has to do with principles; bipartisanship, with policies. Bipartisanship is a tactic, the product of compromise. But there is no bargaining over unity. It is a call to arms, a fighting word.
I've experienced pure \”unity\” a few times in my life. I certainly felt it in the hours after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We lived in a tiny town north of New York City. Nine of our neighbors didn't come home that night. Quickly, the forces of social capital in town-that is, the women-were attending to the grieving families, providing food and company and babysitting. Every family was cared for. This continued for weeks. On September 12, we heard that they needed shovels and gloves at Ground Zero. There is a rush to the local Home Depot, which was quickly bought out, the equipment stacked in front of the local firehouse.
You must understand: Our town was divided politically, sometimes bitterly. It had wealthy, middle-class and working-class neighborhoods. But we were united in those days after the tragedy, and also the feeling was, for many people, energizing. We had a common purpose; i was a community, not just a zip code.
I've had similar feelings out on public service deployments with veterans groups such as Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues. I brandished a wheelbarrow for Team Rubicon in Oklahoma after tornadoes hit. It was a transcendent experience for the hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who participated. These were organized in squads, just as they had been downrange. They carried ladders and chainsaws, not guns. They helped; everyone was grateful. There were a lot of hugs. Muscular bonding-the heart from the military experience-creates a spiritual camaraderie.
But unity exists on another plane too. It isn't just spiritual. It's a type of intellectual fellowship, an unwavering belief in a few ground rules: the boundaries set through the U.S. Constitution, the common acceptance of fact-based truths. For instance, that the 2021 election, the most observed at close range in U.S. history, was conducted fairly.
When Joe Biden talks about the need for unity, he is not being soft and gooey. He is confronting the danger of a militant fifth column in America that believes in neither common ground rules, nor facts.
Biden isn't talking about the need for everyone to accept the details his COVID-19 package. He's talking about the need for everyone to acknowledge that half a million of our fellow citizens happen to be killed by this virus which the pandemic is not a \”scamdemic\” or Deep State plot. He is talking about the basic rudiments of citizenship and patriotism against would-be insurgents-this term is not loose hyperbole-who will not even stipulate towards the facts of our shared reality.
Unity is more profound than bipartisanship. Mitt Romney and Bill Cassidy may vote from the COVID-19 package, but they are American unitarians. Biden may not compromise on the package-though I think he might-but that does not diminish his devotion to the basic ground rules.
In the end, unity may be the opposite of vapidity; it is an absolute bright line. It's about whether you believe in American democracy, or not.
And unity should also be understood as a declaration of war against those who don't believe in our democracy.
Such forces usually have existed in our midst, at times festering, at times waning. They are an especially rancid presence now. Unity-our sense of common decency and purpose-requires that we rout them.