World Events

Michael Goodwin: Biden’s call for unity — here’s what he can do to show he means it

The election’s not even over yet and already Joe Biden’s peace train could be headed off the rails.

The Democrat promised repeatedly during the campaign to unite the country by governing as “an American president,” a pledge he repeated Saturday. Since the polls closed, he’s also been urging patience as the counting went on in a handful of battleground states.

“We knew because of the unprecedented mail-in vote and the early vote that it was going to take a while,” he said Wednesday. “We have to be patient, and it’s not over until every vote is counted.”


On Thursday he said, “Democracy sometimes is messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well, so I ask everyone to stay calm.”

Excellent advice then — and he should follow it himself now by slowing down the rush to spike the football.


Equally important, he must make sure his supporters get the message that revenge was not on the ballot because some, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, apparently believe it was.

Now that the former vice president is considered the president-elect, it is imperative that his unity message not be discarded like a faded campaign poster. It must be embedded in every decision he makes if he actually wants it to be a governing principle.

If Biden isn’t sincere about bridging the polarization, both sides will know it and the national hatreds and violence he vowed to temper will multiply. Indeed, he will have to prove repeatedly he meant what he said with his own conduct before others in public life actually believe him and begin to act accordingly themselves.

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President Trump also has an important role to play. While he is entitled as a candidate and obligated as a sitting president to pursue challenges where he believes tallies are incorrect or illegal, it’s not in America’s interest or his to continue to lodge blanket accusations of fraud and theft. As young journalists are taught about good reporting, show, don’t tell. The president should let the evidence and his lawyers do most of the talking.

None of this is to suggest that Biden should not celebrate his enormous personal achievement. I was shocked he got the party’s nomination, let alone could win a record-shattering 74 million popular votes and what could be 300 electoral votes.

His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, has also made history of her own as the first female vice-president elect.

Still, both would be wise to acknowledge the more than 70 million people who voted for Trump, which would have gained him a landslide in any other year. To dismiss all those voters as racists and idiots, as many on the left do, is to consign the nation to unresolvable conflict.

Similarly, Biden and Harris should not scoff at the lawsuits and challenges in the most contested states.

If Biden were to shut his eyes and pretend that all Americans fully accept the outcome as untainted, he would be making a colossal mistake.

Giving legitimacy to those disputes would be unusual, but we live in unusual and dangerous times. If Biden were to shut his eyes and pretend that all Americans fully accept the outcome as untainted, he would be making a colossal mistake that could haunt him should he be formally declared the winner.

If he trusts the results are honest and accurate, he must do what he urged others to do — be patient and calm “until every vote is counted.”

A prime example is Pennsylvania, the first state that put him over the magic number of 270 electoral votes. Among the hot-button issues there is whether late-arriving ballots are legal, an issue flagged Friday when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took the highly unusual step of ordering the state to segregate those ballots and, if they are counted, to count them separately.

It’s not clear how many exist and whether they factor into Biden’s reported victory in the state. Until those issues are settled to the court’s satisfaction, the Pennsylvania results are effectively tentative.

Similarly, recounts are likely in Wisconsin and Georgia, and reports of computer “glitches” in Michigan, Nevada and elsewhere must be resolved if the results are to be widely believed.

All these resolutions can happen quickly — if Democrat state officials stop hiding behind cardboard coverings taped to windows and evicting GOP observers. Actions like that suggest there is something to hide and Biden must make it clear to those state officials that he wants full transparency and doesn’t fear it.

Another of his welcome campaign messages is one that he repeated Friday: “We may be opponents, but we are not enemies. We are Americans.”

It’s absolutely the right tone, but some of his key supporters sound more interested in humiliation and revenge than reconciliation.

His spokesman, Andrew Bates, also said Friday in a statement about Trump that “the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

No doubt that played well with the deep-state haters and resistance crowd, but it smacked of juvenile bravado and Bates deserves a visit to the woodshed. By letting the public know he doesn’t approve of such talk, Biden would be affirming his unity pledge to all Americans.

As for Ocasio-Cortez, she is supporting the reprehensible idea of having her side keep lists of Trump supporters, writing on Twitter: “Is anyone archiving these Trump sycophants for when they try to downplay or deny their complicity in the future?”


A group of Never Trumpers echoed the banana-republic notion, saying they aimed to punish the president’s supporters. Jennifer Rubin, the odious Washington Post columnist, wrote that Trump supporters “should never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into ‘polite’ society. We have a list.”

The best response Biden could give is to say that he, too, is keeping a list — of those who continue to stir hatred and division and that he denounces them, regardless of how they voted.



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