Can Joe Biden Be America's Healer in Chief? | Opinion

A poll conducted earlier this summer found that happiness and national pride in the United States both hit all-time lows. Americans are the unhappiest they have been in 50 years, according to the poll by NORC at the University of Chicago, with just 14 percent reporting that they are happy.

The individual isolation, sadness and sense of national disunion felt by Americans is bracing and goes to the core of what it means to be American: after all, the "pursuit of happiness" and finding national identity in our diversity, "E Pluribus Unum," are among our Founding principles. The Founders warned that factions, based on their bitter experience, could tear the nation apart. George Washington's own family fled the civil wars in England. Alexander Hamilton presciently called partisanship "the most fatal disease" of republics, and James Madison declared that one of the roles of a national government should be "to break and control the violence of faction."

Fast-forward to the devastation of COVID-19 and the Trump administration's response to the crisis, which has needlessly politicized the pandemic and surely contributed to a sense of "every man for himself." At the same time, the continued experience of Americans taking to the streets in peaceful protest to call for long-overdue social justice has laid bare the inequities in our nation. Instead of seizing the moment to sooth and unify the country, the administration has met these opportunities with matches to the tinderbox.

To fulfill its creed, America needs to heal, literally and spiritually. Our wounds are not new; they go back to our Founding moments, when America's original sin of slavery became our most grievous and enduring dividing line. But can former Vice President Joe Biden be America's healer-in-chief in a country in which even scientific facts are open to debate on partisan lines?

Soothing the national soul has become part of the job description for modern presidents. Reagan did it after the Challenger disaster. Clinton did it after the Oklahoma City bombing. George W. Bush did it after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Obama did it after the mass murder of children in Newtown and countless church shootings.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Biden seems to instinctively understand this unique role and power of the presidency, and even as a candidate has moved to heal divisions. Within the Democratic Party, a faction of progressives allowed anti-Semitism to creep into its ranks. However, despite pressure from the Left, that sentiment, which also includes strong anti-Israel positions, is nowhere to be found in the Democrats' draft platform. Biden has rejected militant responses to police brutality and opposes "defunding" the police. In the shadow of ongoing protests and unrest, he has met with Black faith leaders and evangelicals alike, and vowed to take on systemic racism. This is certainly a far cry from the approach of President Trump, who has dug in on national divisions as a re-election strategy.

Thanks to the Founders' fear of parties and other self-interested factions, the Constitution offers remedies for divisions. Our federal system, in which powers are shared, is meant to check centralized power by giving voice to people from all quarters and stations. We have checks and balances to further distribute power and contain rivalry.

But in the end, it is up to people—not the institutions they embody—to reach out and grow. To that end, even principled conservatives are showing their desire for healing. Groups like the Lincoln Project and Republican leaders like former Ohio Governor John Kasich are endorsing Biden in the avowed interest of protecting democracy. Polls show evangelical support—Trump won 81 percent of white evangelical voters in 2016—is in play for Biden. This is a good sign for America and our unending quest to be a "more perfect union."

Injury to the nation, like COVID-19, requires unity to overcome. Injustice within the nation requires unity to stamp it out. Biden can, and must, heal the nation if we are in fact to remain a nation–indivisible.

Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress. The views in this piece exclusively reflect the opinions of the author and not any organization or group.