Commentary: We’re hearing lots about unity but little about compromise


I’m all for unity and healing. I like to get along with people. Pres. Joe Biden spent most of his inaugural speech Wednesday calling for unity. He repeated it over and over again. He said he will be president for all Americans, not just those who voted for him.

But I honestly don’t know what politicians mean when they call for unity. Personally, I don’t talk much about political unity because it’s generally unrealistic. I fear most politicians define unity as the other side giving in and agreeing with them.


While Biden emphasized unity, he never once mentioned compromise, negotiating, meeting the other side halfway, or making deals. In reality, it’s compromise, not unity, that is critical to moving the country forward.

We can certainly be unified on some values and principles — in our love for country, in our belief that resorting to violence is never the answer, whether protesting for civil rights or protesting the election outcome. We should be unified in dealing with foreign opponents (although even there we’re not unified). I hope my family and my church are unified.

But unity on many political issues is basically impossible. As a country, we’re not even unified in how we approach the deadly pandemic. We’re certainly not unified on major foreign policy issues. We’re far apart on religious freedom, taxes, regulatory burdens, education, what constitutes social justice, and myriad other issues.

If unity means compromise and making deals to get things done, then let’s have lots of unity. But Biden didn’t suggest compromise at all. His first actions reversing Trump policies certainly won’t be unifying. Convicting a defeated president in an impeachment trial won’t be unifying. Democrats and prominent media personalities calling for Trump supporters to be “deprogrammed” isn’t unifying. 

The Republican side isn’t any better. They’re not going to surrender on issues important to them. Trump certainly wasn’t a unifying president. He didn’t try. His style and rhetoric were anything but unifying.

But both sides, if they want to get anything done, need to compromise, to negotiate, to make deals.

Biden’s presidency will be far calmer than Trump’s, with far less drama. He won’t vilify his enemies like Trump did.

But instead of calling for unrealistic unity, I really wish Biden would have said he’s willing to compromise, to meet Republicans halfway, to negotiate on the big problems facing the country.

Compromise might be possible. Political unity is not.