What exactly is American unity supposed to look like?

Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex on January 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

This was excerpted from the January 26 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)President Joe Biden had it right last week in his inaugural address, when he anticipated how his effort to bridge America's catastrophic political divides would go down in the tumult of post-Trump Washington.

Biden's dream of recreating an idealized era when lawmakers and presidents worked across partisan lines to benefit everyone is popular with voters -- but nearly impossible to implement.
Even moderate Republicans people like Utah's Sen. Mitt Romney and Maine's Sen. Susan Collins are worried about the size and speed of Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid rescue plan. Other Republicans, who are intimidated by Donald Trump's hold on their party base or have future presidential ambitions, are already accusing the President of forgetting his idealistic aspirations.
"President Biden sounded a lot of notes of unity in his inaugural address. But unfortunately when he got back to the White House, he implemented a bunch of far-left policies," Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told Fox News last week.
    The disingenuous logic of such arguments is that if Biden actually carries out the policies on which he campaigned (rejoining the Paris climate accord or investigating police violence, for example) he will be a hypocrite on unity -- because Republicans disagree with him. Donald Trump's looming impeachment trial is not doing much for the mood between parties either.
    But Biden's naive-sounding hopes for compromise and cooperation are often misunderstood. The President does not believe in some pie in the sky world where bitter rivals drop their differences. He just thinks the disagreements should not spark endless political warfare. In a news conference on Monday, Biden defined unity as simply the absence of "vitriol" and personal attacks from politics.
    It still seems a bit of a long shot in bitter Washington. But it's hard to argue that it wouldn't be better for everyone.

    Déjà vu

    Democratic House impeachment managers were led through the Capitol on Monday to deliver an article of impeachment against Trump.
    By now, it's a familiar scene for most Americans -- just over a year ago, Democratic impeachment managers did the same thing ahead of the former President's first impeachment trial.

    'Win-win cooperation' vs 'Strategic patience'

    In his first speech since Trump left office, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday pointedly called for more global cooperation, multilateralism and free trade following years of trade tensions with the previous US administration.
    "We should reject the outdated Cold War and zero-sum game mentality, adhere to mutual respect and accommodation, and enhance political trust through strategic communication," Xi told a (virtual) gathering of global elites at the World Economic Forum's Davos event. "It is important that we stick to the cooperation concept based on mutual benefit, say no to narrow-minded, selfish beggar-thy-neighbor policies, and stop the unilateral practice of keeping advantages in development all to oneself."
    If only some countries would "abandon ideological prejudice" (the West's nagging of China on human rights comes to mind) a path of peaceful coexistence and "win-win cooperation" awaits, he added.
    But while Biden spent the weekend phoning world leaders to assure them America is back, he is in no hurry to reconcile with China, and especially not on Xi's terms.
      A few hours after Xi spoke, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki threw cold water on the idea of "win-win." "We're in a serious competition with China, strategic competition with China is the defining feature of the 21st century. China's engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations," Psaki told reporters at the White House's daily press briefing.
      "What we've seen over the last few years is that China's growing more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad and Beijing is now challenging our security, prosperity and values in significant ways that require a new US approach. ... We want to approach this with some strategic patience," she said.