Undividing America — How President Biden Could Bring Us Together

Sunlight is the best disinfectant — Justice Louis Brandeis

Central to President Biden’s campaign promise was his pledge to bring us together, not the least of which would be causing Republicans and Democrats to cooperate in the service of the American people.

With that in mind, what follows is a suggested Declaration of Cooperation that President Biden could announce publicly addressing Congress that could help bridge the partisan divide.

“As your President, I am the leader and Commander in Chief of all Americans. That means all races, genders, cultures, generations and political parties.

I am speaking to all of America today to begin to keep my campaign promise to bring us together, which is something I can only do with your help and cannot do without your help.

I am specifically directing the following to Congress and by that, I mean all of Congress, be they Republicans, Democrats or Independents.

Something I have realized is that people don’t do what is important to them, they do what they care enough about. People know it’s important to eat healthy and exercise, but unless they care enough about it, they are not going to do it.

Americans know that there continues to exist the truth from Abraham Lincoln that ‘united we stand, divided we fall,’ and most believe in their heads that it is important to end the divisions that lead to conflict, violence and gridlock. However, unless Americans, and specifically the Republican and Democratic parties care enough about ending those divisions in our hearts, we are unlikely to take action.

The challenge is how to cause people to care enough to do so.

With that in mind I am asking the Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress, namely Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy in the House, and Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, to have the following conversation in public.

I am hoping to serve as a catalyst for it in what I am saying to all Americans now.

Following this and agreeing to this meeting by all participants we will bring in someone highly skilled in facilitating and mediating to assist in having that conversation be as constructive as possible.

To initiate having that conversation, I believe that is seems all too apparent to Americans that Republicans and Democrats and even Independents, not only do not see eye to eye on many of the major challenges facing our nation, but that each party seems passionately and fervently committed to their positions and to their hostility towards their opposing party. As long as each remains vehemently attached to those positions, divisiveness, contentiousness and gridlock will continue in Washington and beyond. And gridlock is something America desperately needs to end for us as a nation to make progress in the daunting challenges facing us.

To proceed, each of the four individuals named above will say to their partisan counterparts, ‘It seems that you are passionately committed to your positions on the major issues facing our country including the Coronavirus pandemic, health, the economy, stimulus packages, the racial divide, immigration, foreign policy, etc. which in most cases differs from my party’s and my own. If you are willing, I will first share with you how and why my party and I came to be committed to our positions as being in the best interest of our constituencies vs. our political parties and what alternative positions we considered in coming to those positions and then I will ask you to do the same. If you prefer, you can go first.’

The purpose of having this conversation is for the American public to hear firsthand how each of these individuals and their parties came to their conclusions and positions regarding the most important challenges our country is facing.

Following that I have faith in the American public that if they see our major political parties moving from contempt to communication and cooperation and diatribe to discussion and dialogue, that they will follow that example in their own conversations with each other.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously proclaimed, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’

By having this public conversation, discussion and dialogue rather than a vitriolic zero sum game debate that nobody wins, it is our and my hope that it will serve as a ‘disinfectant’ to lessen the disease of divisiveness and gridlock that is currently infecting our chances not only for progress, but survival.

It seems to be a widely accepted recommendation that friends and family not get into conversations about politics, because of how likely they are to escalate into conflicts, and even bitter arguments.

Is it possible that such an escalation occurs because our political leader role models from each party are engaged in such battles? And even if that doesn’t incite us to violence, their examples can certainly provoke us into contentious arguments.

If that is true, is it also possible that if our political leaders would instead model being able to have cooperative discussions and dialogues instead of the highly polarized and polarizing conversations they are now having, that Americans will follow suit?

I certainly recognize the value of rigorous debate at coming to better solutions in life, but is it possible that we have gone too far? Have our present and our future become lost in transaction, in which “win win” solutions seem more like unicorns than what is truly achievable?

We really are all in this together and as such, let’s commit to replacing you vs. me with we and a deeply held transactional mindset with something transcendent that can lift us up together and headed to a better future for all of us that offers the possibility of true hope and optimism.”

Although I am hopeful the above could happen, I am not optimistic.

That is because such a conversation risks the American public having doubts in these individuals if their “sunlit” explanations for their positions come off as superficial, empty, thoughtless, overly partisan or even lame, which could be a risk that some of them would not want to take.

On a deeper unconscious level, such a conversation might actually lead to empathy and cooperation and the actual caring that causes people to commit to cooperation, but doing that might require those individuals to go back to their parties and share what they learned about their opposing party counterparts and that could risk vehement backlash from their parties.

In closing, doesn’t it seem that if such problems arise, they belong to the political parties, not to the American public?

Dr. Goulston is the inventor of Surgical Empathy, a speaker, executive coach & the author of "Just Listen" which became the top book on listening in the world.