It didn’t take long. Within minutes after I finished watching Biden’s speech, a dear friend whose politics I don’t share—although he is staunchly antifascist and hence respectable—posted on Facebook that I have learned nothing, because I disagree with Joe Biden when he says that Americans are not our enemies.
I disagree with that because it’s overtly false on its face, and that’s something I have very much learned in the last four years. It’s something I forgot in 2008, when I thought American support for torture had been repudiated once and for all. I was wrong then, and I’m right now.
Let’s approach this question logically. One of the following must be true:
1. Under no circumstances can a citizen of the United States be the enemy of another.
This is egregiously false, as was demonstrated in 1776 and 1861 at the national level, and which continues to be demonstrable at smaller ones. We want to still believe that disregard for the lives and a willingness to violence against fellow Americans is a fringe belief, but if it is, it’s a fringe belief that 70 million Americans are willing to stand with. If you’re completely comfortable that there will be no electoral violence between now and the Inauguration, or after, the FBI has research to show you.
2. Under no circumstances short of violence can a citizen of the United States be the enemy of another.
This caveat provides the comfortable wiggle room for many. “We simply disagree vociferously—until it’s a matter of life and death, we’re not enemies.”
My question, then, is how much violence is tolerable? It’s not zero. It’s never been zero. The widespread protests of 2020 should have told comfortable, safe, kumbayah America that millions of fellow Americans do not feel safe in the streets and do not feel protected—quite the opposite, the police who protect the privileged are their biggest threat. But a Democrat has been elected, so yay, all must be forgiven of those who cheered on the carnage.
But never mind the widespread enthusiasm for police brutality. I would argue that continued willful ignorance of public health and disregard for 230,000 American deaths shows the Republican party to be a death cult. There remains little doubt that their ongoing resistance to effective measures will contribute to the rise of this number by tens or hundreds of thousands. These are Civil War numbers. The only difference is that the triggers being pulled are invisible.
3. Under some circumstances, a citizen of the United States can be the enemy of another.
This is the only reasonable conclusion to draw, and the simplest place to draw the line is when an American cares nothing about the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness about a class of Americans they deem to be “other.” But for a more rigorous definition, we have text. Originalist text, if you will:
We the people of the United States
in order to form a more perfect Union1
and ensure domestic tranquility,3
provide for the common defense4
promote the general welfare5
and secure the blessings of liberty6
for ourselves and our posterity7
do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.
I argue that if you do not support the seven bullet points above, you are un-American. And I further argue that the Republican party has abdicated its agreement to these points—in some cases for four years, in others, for decades. Need I enumerate the ways in which Republican policy overtly states its opposition to these values? Must I point out the numerous minoritarian hammerlocks they maintain on power, in the Electoral College, in gerrymandered House districts, in the Senate, and in the Supreme Court? They gloat about it.
It’s really quite simple. The predicate to having political opponents, not enemies, is a set of shared values. We did not erode these values in the other side; they chose to abdicate them as a path to power.
We are not demonizing the other side to state factual things about them; we are stating the truth in order to stand the slightest chance of reversing it.
If this sounds like demonization but is factually true, the existence of the debate is the proof of the argument: we continue to pretend we’re playing by the same values because we have the emotional development of children and a perverse belief in our inaccurate myths. Transplant any of these politics to another country. If you would say different things about the same scenario elsewhere, you are awash in comforting bullshit.
I’ve stated elsewhere and I’ll reiterate it: if you continue to have respect for a political opponent who voted for Trump, analyze the strength of your own values. It used to be taken for granted that we would reject Nazism, white supremacy, fascism, authoritarianism, brutalization, and a failure to agree to the peaceful change of power. Their side has embraced all of these things, and much more, including astonishing levels of incompetence and corruption. These are the positions of enemies of American values.
Phrased another way: if you, as I do, know Republicans who left the fold due to disgust with the past four years, what changes need to take place within the Republican party for them to return without the taint of the past four years? Joe Biden seems to think that all is forgiven—or at least, promotes the myth that all is forgiven. History and the experience of the global community indicates this is a dangerous myth to believe.
See America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent, Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic
So… no. Hell no. Mitch McConnell does not get to become the Mitch McConnell of 2008, the principled opponent of Democrats. Mitch McConnell is the enabler of autocrats, a direct promoter of forces within the American experiment that seek to end it. The Republican Party requires a reckoning, one that could have been but was not imposed by a tidal wave of Democratic wins this week, and one that now is questionable whether it will happen at all. The absence of that tidal wave stands as a clear warning.
If you treat those who consider you an enemy as your opponent, expect to lose. They’re not playing by your rules, or by any rules. They’re welcome back to the table as distinguished opponents at their option, but until then we cannot pretend otherwise, or demand that some privileged plurality of us return to the safety of our mythical American blankie. There is only one thing that can be shared now by all Americans: our collective failure to face ourselves. If we wish to return to a time when we can share better things, we must be clear about where we’re starting from.