As Biden’s presidency begins, 62% of Democrats believe he should compromise and work with congressional Republicans. Only 38% of Republicans, though, want compromise and unity from their leaders. It seems a majority of Republican voters prefer division, and our Utah officials have responded accordingly.
Just one day after inauguration, Senator Mike Lee proclaimed Biden’s executive order to protect Bears Ears National Monument to be “simply incompatible with his promise of unity.” That same day, Representative Chris Stewart derided Biden’s efforts to protect the environment and expand legal immigration, calling it a “divisive partisan agenda” designed to “further divide[ ] our nation.” Similar sentiments can be found on the Twitter feeds of Representative Owens and many other Utah officials.
To be clear, unity doesn’t require agreement, and not all Republicans have latched onto this truly divisive rhetoric. In his State of the State address last week, Governor Cox reminded his colleagues that disagreement is part of the “gloriously messy and inspired process” we call democracy. Policy is complicated and there will always be disagreement, but as Governor Cox said, “there must be no room for contempt or hate. We are friends. We must always be friends.”
As a progressive Utahn, I know what it’s like to disagree. Most of my family is conservative, and although they aren’t very ideological, we have political disagreements all the time. Even in disagreement, though, our debate is respectful, open, and grounded in truth. We are friends, but when Republican leaders, many of which they support and trust, spread divisive rhetoric based in fear and propaganda, unity becomes more difficult.
Unity starts with truth.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of President Trump’s administration was the assault on truth. Lies and conspiracy theories have become mainstream, so much so that many conservatives need their own social media platform to feel safe from science and “liberal fact checkers.” Even in defeat, President Trump and his colleagues convinced 68% of Republicans that the 2020 election was stolen from them—a belief that led to the siege of our nation’s Capitol and the death of 5 Americans.
We desperately need unity in this country. President Biden believes it. Governor Cox believes it. But unity is impossible without truth. When one party believes the other to be an enemy whose agenda would cripple the country and destroy their values, how can we possibly come together as Americans?
The unfortunate truth is that many Republican leaders fed this lie to maintain power. 70% of Republicans say fact-checking efforts by news outlets and other organizations are biased towards one side—not because facts don’t exist, but because many of their leaders preach conspiracy as truth. These lies are responsible for the insurrection on January 6th and will continue to divide the country unless our elected officials step up.
The majority of the country is united around justice and accountability. Most Americans support environmental protections, compassionate immigration, good government, racial equity—81 million voters chose this and they deserve to be represented. Republican leaders don’t have to agree on policy, but we must be united as Americans, respectful of our differences, and grounded in truth.
To Senator Lee, Representative Stewart, and the other leaders spreading lies about the Democrat’s “divisive, partisan, agenda” in Washington: follow our Governor’s example. Lead with truth, not tribalism. Disagree on policy, not principles. Let’s be friends.
Cameron Carter is the Policy intern for Alliance for a Better Utah