Saturday, January 30, 2021

Musings on Unity or Reconciliation in Politics and Religion--There's a Difference

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden has repeatedly called for bipartisan unity to achieve his political objectives in the first 100 days of his administration; but that’s wishful thinking.  He would be well advised to promote a politics of reconciliation rather than unanimity.  Reconciliation doesn’t require political unity, only a willingness to find consensus based on political common ground.

In America’s polarized partisan politics, a radical right Republican Party and a radical left Democratic Party rely on partisan unity in their fierce competition for political power.  Likewise, in religion, unity on conflicting exclusivist beliefs is not possible; but  reconciliation on moral standards is not only possible but essential to peace in a world of increasing religious pluralism. 

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have common Abrahamic roots but conflicitng beliefs that defy unity; but they can be reconciled with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith.         

Reconciliation on the altruistic moral imperative to love others as we love ourselves is an attainable objective in both religion and politics.  In politics it requires providing for the common good.  In religion it fosters religious peace in a world of religious hostility.  While such moral reconciliation is possible, a unity of religions or political parties is neither realistic nor desirable.  

By asserting unity as a political goal, Biden risks losing his political credibility to achieve reconciliation at two levels.  First, in the Democratic Party, where liberals oppose his moderate views; and second, in finding allies in the Republican Party to support important bipartisan legislation.  Neither will be easy, and together they represent a formidable challenge.

To be successful in Congress, the Biden administration must fashion a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents who share the moral ideal to provide for the common good.  It’s an altruistic political ideal that’s absent in America’s polarized partisan democracy, and one that’s not likely to survive a Biden administration.

Vice President Kamala Harris is the liberal heir apparent in a Democratic Party that has so far supported Biden; but that support will likely dissipate when Harris begins her expected campaign for the 2024 presidency.  That gives Biden only a limited window of opportunity to achieve bipartisan reconciliation on moral issues of political legitimacy.  

A politics of reconciliation requires making the common good a priority over narrow partisan interests.  It’s a formidable moral and political challenge for the Biden administration, and requires that Jews, Christians and Muslims promote the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor as a common word of their faith and politics. Unfortunately, the unity of polarized partisan politics continues to trump political reconciliation.    


Molly Roberts has written, Unity is dead.  Long live unity.  She observed, “The past four years brought us a riot of unity and division all at once. If polarization wasn’t more pronounced than ever before, it was certainly more visibly pronounced. The country was divided, and people on both sides were more unified than ever about which camp they belonged in. Reality itself turned controversial. Donald Trump was hacking away at the bedrock beneath us, and far too many were cheering him on.  Some, however, were not. Under threat of collapse, plenty of people who were previously rivals took shelter together: the so-called Never Trumpers who earned retweets from #Resistance zealots; the Lincoln Project crusaders who banded with establishment liberals; even the Bernie Sanders devotees who threw their voices and their votes behind a nominee who failed to inspire them but also failed to fill their loved ones with fear. “Unity” cropped up early on, remember, in those “Unity Task Forces” convened to bring the left and the somewhat-less-left together as the Democrats wrote their platform.

Earlier this month, the harmony reached its peak. Even a number of Trump grovelers and enablers stopped groveling and enabling long enough to stand up and say they believed in democracy’s most basic ideal. (Or they at least believed that a lawful transition of power after an election was preferable to an armed insurrection overturning the results.) ...Whatever the case, that’s already in the past. The common cause that united the unlikely frenemies has fled to Mar-a-Lago, which means there is more room for the little disunities that are the lifeblood of our politics: the infighting, the bickering, the blocking and the tackling. There is less room for an ode to something called unity, which is, when you think about it, just a word after all.”  See

In describing how Biden struggles to define his “unity” promise for a divided nation, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “Unity can be observed and felt, but not necessarily measured. “Unity to me simply means finding common ground — it doesn’t mean unanimity,” he said. “I don’t know why people think you can’t be unified unless you’re unanimous. That’s all Biden is talking about: trying to find common ground.”

Clyburn liked it to his 58-year marriage to his wife, who died in 2019. “There was never any disunity to our marriage,” he said. “But there was a whole lot of difference of opinion. We were seldom unanimous in what we did and what we thought, but there was always unity.”

Still, Clyburn added, though he believes Biden’s main goal is seeking common ground, the concept can also be warped — and even dangerous.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who often talks with Biden and spoke to him as he prepared the foundation of his campaign, said that some of the symbolic actions in the early days of Biden’s presidency — a day of service shortly before his inauguration, a memorial for coronavirus victims and a bipartisan invitation to lawmakers to join him for a church service — were designed with unity in mind. “It doesn’t mean uniformity, it doesn’t mean conformity or unanimity, it doesn’t mean we’re all going to agree on everything,” Coons said. “Bringing unity to the country starts with telling us the truth, having a real and concrete plan. It’s not just brave words. It’s actually doing the job of being president.”  See

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