Back in the state where he launched his candidacy – and the one that won him the White House in 2020 – President Joe Biden last Thursday called on Americans to join him in a fight to preserve democracy and push back against the forces of extremism.
The 30-minute address was equal parts tribute to the nation’s resilience and a wartime call to arms from a president who based his candidacy on restoring the soul of a nation shaken by the pandemic and four years of domestic unrest.
“For a long time, we have taken comfort in the fact that American democracy is guaranteed,” Biden said, addressing a national audience in Philadelphia with Independence Hall as a backdrop. “But it’s not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Defend yourself. All of us.”
With two months to go until November’s midterm elections, Biden has drawn a stark contrast between Democrats, independents, and “mainstream Republicans,” who support and defend Democratic norms, and “MAGA Republicans,” who embrace political violence. because they can’t accept that they’ve lost an election.
“Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said. “[Former President] Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the foundations of our democracy.
Biden’s speech came even as Trump, who faces the very real prospect of a federal indictment over top-secret documents found at his Florida residence, said he would not rule out pardoning rioters from the January 6 that ransacked the US Capitol and violently attacked law enforcement officers. if he returns to the White House in 2024.
The optics of Biden’s speech were hard to miss. More than two centuries ago, the Founders, with bloody revolution barely in the rearview mirror, gathered in Philadelphia to forge the framework for a new nation.
Then, as now, the future was hardly assured. Then, as now, deliberate choices had to be made about what kind of country the new United States of America would become.
What emerged was a nation forged in compromise, with branches of government designed to counter and temper each other; a system designed to curb the tyranny of majority and minority.
It was a breakthrough, but it wasn’t perfect. The promises of the new nation were guaranteed only to a privileged few. Women were denied the right to vote. And millions remained in bondage.
It was then, and still is, a work in progress. And he remains as fragile as ever.
The nation is, as Biden noted, at a similar inflection point. November voters will choose more than candidates.
They will once again decide what kind of nation we will become: will they choose candidates who will uphold liberal democratic standards? Will they choose candidates who will protect the rights of people who might get pregnant? Will they choose candidates who will speak on behalf of those whose voices have been absent from the table of power for too long?
Or will they choose candidates who believe that political violence is the only way to resolve the great debates of our time? Will they choose candidates who will trample the right to vote? Will they choose candidates who believe only the voices and rights of certain Americans — white and Christian — are the ones that matter? Will they lead us down the path of authoritarianism?
Elections, they say, are always about choices. This year, at this point, those choices have never been clearer.
From book bans and efforts to restrict voting rights to the ahistorical insistence that America is a Christian nation (which condemns millions of our fellow citizens to second- and third-class status), these extremists and nationalists seek to turn back the clock on “faith, liberty and reason”, as historian Jon Meacham describes, that the revolutionary generation (imperfect as they are) fought so hard to usher in the ‘existence.
In Philadelphia last Thursday night, Biden drew similar parallels, saying “MAGA forces are determined to roll this country back. Back to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry whoever you love.
But even as he made clear the scale of the threat the nation now faces and the consequences of acquiescing to it, Biden said it was still possible for the country to commune with its better angels, to present himself as “a beacon”. to the rest of the world, as it has done for decades.
But, he added, it had to be a collective effort.
“That’s why tonight, I’m asking our nation to come together to unite for the sole purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology,” he said, later adding, “We, the people, have to say, ‘That’s not who we are.’ We can’t be pro-insurgent and pro-American.
In these dark times, it’s easy to give in to cynicism, to dismiss Biden’s speech as a political pep talk, delivered in a political season, that was designed to energize the grassroots, and likely wouldn’t win him new ones. converted.
But as he urged Americans, in classic Biden fashion, to stand up, get involved, and “vote, vote, vote,” it was hard not to feel a cautious optimism that his message would cut through the noise. and would hit its destined mark, uniting the country in a common goal.
In his closing speech, Biden made it clear he believed that was the case.
“There is nothing more important, nothing more sacred, nothing more American. It is our soul. It’s who we really are. And that’s what we should always be. I have no doubt – none – that this is what we will be and what we will come together as a nation. And we will secure our democracy,” Biden said, adding, “We just have to remember who we are.
Whether the passion behind Biden’s advocacy will work will only be known on Election Day. But the gauntlet has been thrown down.
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