In his inaugural address six weeks ago, President Joe Biden repeatedly emphasized one word: "Unity." The Democrat said unity would help "restore the soul" and "secure the future of America." He added, "With unity we can do great things.... This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward."
The new president wasn't describing a political environment in which everyone agrees with one another, but rather, a process in which people are treated with mutual respect, and leaders take care not to pit Americans against one another.
Oddly enough, Donald Trump used similar words yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, though as the New York Times noted, the Republican has a qualitatively different vision in mind.
After days of insisting they could paper over their intraparty divisions, Republican lawmakers were met with a grim reminder of the challenge ahead on Sunday when former President Donald J. Trump stood before a conservative conference and ominously listed the names of Republicans he is targeting for defeat.... Mr. Trump read a sort of hit list of every congressional Republican who voted to impeach him, all but vowing revenge.
Much of the former president's speech was dull and predictable. Trump told the lies everyone expected him to tell; he clung to the fiction that he won the election he lost; and he hinted at a possible 2024 campaign. Coverage of the remarks probably could've been pre-written before he even reached the podium.
But it was the Republican's references to "unity" that stood out for me.
"We have the Republican Party. It's going to unite and be stronger than ever before," Trump said, adding, "The Republican party is united. The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country. I think we have tremendous unity."
It's so "unified," in fact, that the former president condemned the "RINOs" ("Republicans In Name Only") who help lead his party, before calling out the names of individual Republican officials whom he considers insufficiently loyal to him.
"Get rid of them all," Trump said.
The result was a set of unusual rhetorical bookends: In his first speech as president, Biden emphasized "unity" as a national call for mutual respect, and in his first speech since leaving the presidency, Trump emphasized "unity" as a partisan call for Republicans to spurn those who dare to question how awesome his awesomeness is.
Biden wants a unified country with a sense of shared purpose; Trump wants a unified party that celebrates himself. They may have used the same word, but their intended meanings spoke volumes about their priorities.