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How Biden can rebuild a divided and distrustful nation

Editor's Note:

The full essay was published by Foreign Affairs on January 4, 2021.

Joe Biden’s election to the presidency this November did not heal the wounds of division in this country. If anything, the election and the refusal of Donald Trump and his base to recognize the result, have further exposed the depth of our divisions. In a new essay in Foreign Affairs, I examine the forces pulling us apart and policies that could help bring us back together.

The sorting of Americans into distinct, seemingly incompatible tribes is as much a matter of culture as economicsand increasingly overlaps with political identity. Exit polls from the November election revealed social issues like racism, abortion, crime, and the COVID-19 pandemic were among the most important to voters. Religion has taken a similarly partisan bent: nearly half of Republican poll respondents answered yes to the question “Do you believe God wanted Trump to be president?”  

These partisan cultural identities were borne out of the deeply entwined politics of race, class, and immigration in the U.S., and in recent years they have been incubated in a media ecosystem increasingly polluted with misinformation. As hostility grows on one side, backlash on the other results, yielding an unrelenting cycle of escalation. 

To address this divide, we need social solutions as well as economic ones. Key goals I identify in my essay include: 

  • Reestablish respect for facts and limit the spread of misinformation 
  • Improve intergroup contact and strengthen bonds between Americans 
  • Build trust in governing institutions and encourage communities to solve problems together by returning policy power to local governments 

To achieve these goals, I recommend a number of potential policies, including enhanced media literacy education and a more robust public broadcast system; a new “scholarships for service” national service program; and a devolution of powers to state and local governments.  

To lead effectively, Joe Biden will need to unify the country. His road will be a difficult one to travel. These policies could be a first step.   

Read the full essay here 

Acknowledgments:

Christopher Miller provided editorial assistance for this summary. 

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