Unprecedented security measures have been put in place for Joe Biden’s upcoming Inauguration, a stark reminder of the divisive and hostile nature of America’s political climate. The insurrection at the Capitol, and the violent polarization it represents, looms large over the incoming Biden administration.
The President-elect centered his campaign around “healing the soul of the nation,” a promise that is proving challenging to keep. How can President-elect Joe Biden address the toxic, deep-rooted divisions currently plaguing the country?
Listen: What will President-elect Joe Biden do about political polarization?
Peter T. Coleman is a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College Columbia University. He also recently wrote a public letter to President-elect Joe Biden titled “The War on Polarization.” Coleman says the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest can provide an opportunity for recovery. “These things can be a rich opportunity for a correction or reset, but that does take time, and people need guidance to move forward,” says Coleman on the destabilizing nature of recent events. He says these significant disruptions to everyday life can actually motivate and mobilize people away from division.
Polarization, according to Coleman, is powered in large part by economic uncertainty. “There is a profound sense of pain in many communities that goes back to at least the ’07/’08 crash… there’s been recovery by some but not many, and now COVID has exacerbated that,” says Coleman. Listening to this pain will be a significant part of addressing toxic polarization, according to Coleman. He implores Biden and other Democrats to go on a radical listening tour as a first step toward addressing polarization.