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The road to unity is a two-way street

Recounts and legal challenges notwithstanding, it appears Joe Biden will be president on Jan. 20.

In declaring victory, the former vice president made the obligatory call for unity. That’s always a tall order, particularly in a deeply divided country after such a bitter campaign.

As the victor, it falls to Biden to reach across the divide. He has his work cut out for him.

Farmers and ranchers largely supported President Trump, but that support in rural areas was not unanimous or homogenous. Even among supporters it’s not uncommon to hear frank discussions of the president’s shortcomings — both in policy and manners.

The president delivered on his promise to reduce government regulation, most notably in reversing the controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rule. Farmers and ranchers have mostly benefited from the 2017 tax reforms.

His record on trade was a mixed bag. His on-again, off-again trade war with China had a huge impact on farmers, but eventually there came an agreement that at least in spirit benefits ag. His imposition of punitive tariffs on Mexico and Canada even as he announced a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement led to retaliatory duties on farm products. There are bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea.

Many in agriculture are wary that Biden’s election will signal a return to policies that gave them pause during the Obama administration. They have not been comforted by environmental and economic policies promoted by the more radical factions of his party.

What can the former vice president do to calm farmers and ranchers in the red interior? We have a couple of suggestions.

  • Show up. Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national convention three times during his term and addressed the FFA’s convention once. Three previous administrations had let surrogates handle these events. Whether the next gatherings are virtual events or live, farmers and ranchers will want to hear about policy proposals directly from President Biden.
  • Listen. Trump’s critics say he doesn’t listen to people with opposing views. During the Obama administration, farmers and ranchers didn’t think they had a seat at the table and didn’t think they were being heard. They did think they were being spoken down to. In such a deeply divided country, Biden can’t repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.
  • Reject the demonization of those with different views. It has become too easy to dismiss those with whom we disagree with pejorative and inflammatory labels — bigot, homophobe, socialist, commie, misogynist, Nazi. Most of us, right or left, hold no animus towards our fellow citizens. Name calling is no substitute for discussion.

Biden recently struck the right tone.

“To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” Biden said. “We are not enemies. We are Americans.”

We agree.

We urge Biden to deliver on his promise to bring the country together. But that will also require those who opposed his election to give him the benefit of the doubt. Judge his actions, not the campaign rhetoric.