Biden's First Week in Office Showed Why Accountability Must Come First - Rolling Stone
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To Start the Healing, Set the Bones First

Biden’s first week indicates just how much triage he must perform on a broken nation, and why unity cannot take priority over accountability

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  President Joe R. Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris by his side, speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Thursday, Jan 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Joe R. Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris by his side, speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Thursday, Jan 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Im

Donald Trump was a negligent and corrupt president who, by his own standards, got rolled in his bid for re-election. He then instigated a deadly attack upon the seat of federal democracy as part of a months-long attempted coup. You might think Republicans would want to take the off ramp away from this guy when given the chance, but no.

The second impeachment presented a gift of sorts for Republicans. Technically, it still is a chance to sideline Trump from their party and from American politics forever. Expecting the GOP to suddenly start caring about the marginalized communities or women they’ve scapegoated for years is perhaps too much, but the party could then attempt a long-awaited rebrand as an authentically populist party that exhibits even a moderate interest in ideas and governance. Were they not so frightened of their deeply unpopular ex-president and their own extremist base, Republicans might have pulled this off. They have decided not to try.

Forty-five of the 50 Senate Republicans declared formally in a Tuesday vote that they would prefer to live in a fantasy world. What else are we to make of their votes for Rand Paul’s measure, which falsely alleges that it is unconstitutional to impeach Donald Trump after the end of his presidency? If they planned to put forth resolutions based entirely on notions disprovable by a Google search, particularly during a raging pandemic and economic crisis, I’m unsure why any of these cretins ran for public office.

These 45 Republicans lost this charade of a vote, of course, but signaled the more important outcome ahead: the second acquittal of Trump in the impending impeachment trial. It would be one thing to simply signal that they’ll neither impeach nor bar Trump from office for trying to overturn an election — but when all but five of the GOP caucus signed off on Paul’s fiction, they told every Republican voter that it’s permissible to continue living in the imaginary universe of racial resentment and misguided machismo that fueled Trumpism in the first place.

Theirs is a movement on a tremendous losing streak — the House in 2018, the White House in 2020, the Senate in 2021 — so it is tempting to say Republicans are welcome to ruin their own party. However, Trump illustrated all too well how their self-immolation burned us all.

And while Republicans cling to the past, they’re engaged in their own attempt to nullify the election, after the fact: insisting that Biden use the presidency not to change the nation’s course, but to lock in Trump’s permanently. Anything else, they claim, is somehow a violation of the “unity” Biden promised and insisted upon in his inauguration address.

Even now, there is this talk of “unity” being bandied about, on all sides, as ludicrous as it may seem to talk of harmony when Republicans and their media are so clearly bent on legislative laziness and Congressional chaos. When President Biden on Monday restored the protections for transgender Americans wishing to serve openly in the military that Barack Obama instituted and Trump removed, Senator John Cornyn lampooned the move with a tweet: “Another ‘unifying’ move by the new Administration?” It echoed the language from a Fox News anchor who argued that Biden took “divisive actions” when he cut off funding for Trump’s border wall. Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch is whining about being silenced by an “awful woke orthodoxy” while owning one of the top-rated cable networks on the entire planet. Impeachment is illegal. Stopping walls is divisive. Up is down.

Biden played into this for this during his inauguration speech by preaching about unity as an elixir for our national woes. Many American populations bear histories that have taught them not to rush towards making peace before getting restitution, and many of them voted to put Joe Biden in the White House. He should learn from them to never unify with those whose agenda is subjugation — particularly before the subjugating stops.

In the case of impeachment, accountability requires a bipartisan vote. However, that is about Republicans holding themselves accountable, not any sort of unity that Democrats force upon themselves. When we rush to paper over our faults as a nation and present ourselves as healed, we may ignore what’s broken. That only makes things worse. With the Rand Paul resolution, Republicans have made their choice, so from here forward, Biden and the Democrats must act accordingly.

Any doctor will tell you that when broken bones heal out of alignment, it can cause deformation and pain that can last a lifetime unless there’s another fracture (termed malunion, appropriate for this context) and set to heal properly. However, that is precisely what Republicans are asking Biden to do: take Trump’s broken, ineffective, and discriminatory policies and keep them permanently, all in the name of “healing.”

For all of Biden’s gauzy talk about “unity,” his first week in office indicates that he and his administration are at least focused upon what needs doing and what they’re up against. Their early executive actions and policy announcements indicate a grasp of how fractured the country is. Hopefully, they’re learning how many more structures they may need to break before it all can be fixed.

As Democrats in Congress have prepared for impeachment and begun approving his Cabinet nominees, the new president has spent the first week of his presidency busying himself with reversals of Trump’s executive orders and previews of forthcoming pandemic vaccine rollout and stimulus plans.. Both he and his fellow Democrats have resembled frenzied wartime medics in a tent full of wounded institutions and dying citizens, attempting triage on a nation that his predecessor left to bleed out.

There were more than a dozen such orders on Biden’s first day, and a diverse array on virtually every one since. It has been a cornucopia of fixes, bandages and casts for virtually every part of the American body. One day, he’s ending Trump’s xenophobic Muslim travel ban and disposing of the revisionist 1776 Commission. On another, he’s reversing the prior administration’s climate-change denialism, ending family separations, addressing racial bias in housing, or pausing student loan payments. Biden might be ending new oil and gas leases on federal land, or revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, or introducing a plan to fight Covid-19 that the nation has needed for months.

More can and should be done. His Justice Department prohibition on private prisons is insufficient, representing a tiny fraction of those incarcerated by federal authorities. Or, they’re just outright missing, such an end to the misogynist and classist Hyde Amendment. We all should push for better, but amidst an ongoing economic crisis and an American pandemic death toll topping 400,000, Biden is tightening a tourniquet after the Trump years.

Most of the Democrats appear to share his urgency. Not all.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer refused to promise Mitch McConnell that he wouldn’t kill the filibuster if Republicans abused it. Unfortunately, he and the rest of the Democrats were undercut by the capitulation of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. The two moderates’ quixotic faith in future Republican cooperation led McConnell to drop his sword on the filibuster standoff. The headlines say the Senate Minority Leader lost, but only the battle — Democrats were finally able to assume control of the body and make their committee assignments, but the real war to come decidedly favors McConnell. With that “cherished tool of segregationists” still in his quiver, McConnell and the 50 Republicans will still be able to force a 60-vote threshold on legislation, essentially dooming any halfway-progressive legislation during a Biden term, from everything from the minimum wage to climate change. By pledging to both keep the filibuster in place for nonexistent Republican promises to cooperate, both Manchin and Sinema foolishly played Charlie Brown to McConnell’s Lucy, lining up once again to kick that elusive field goal that will never come.

These are critical mistakes to recall later, after the rush to stanch the immediate damage of the Trump years subsides. Rushing to a premature and false unity over the bodies and rights of those still deprived of social justice in this country would only ignore the swelling threat that the Capitol attack foretold. It would allow the nation’s existing injuries to go untreated, all in the name of a calm and peace dictated purely on the terms of America’s most privileged.

We need government to work again, to solve problems again. And it will take that work, not merely faith, to make America into the country that Biden and so many others believe it to be. We must set the bones, or break the misshapen ones, before the healing begins. It appears, from early indications, that the president may understand that.

 

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