Come, my friends, and let us tighten our pearls together, for the President of the United States – saying the right thing to say years ago, identifying the rot that is eroding our institutions, echoing the warnings increasingly democracy scholars about the illiberal, authoritarian movement that has consumed conservative politics – could have hurt the feelings of the damn crowd.
The speech delivered last week at Independence Hall in Philadelphia – billed as a major “battle for the soul of the nation” speech – is likely to be remembered for its eerily ominous optics, as the communications team of the President Joe Biden leaned a little too hard for Dark Brandon memes, with red spotlights and a Navy honor guard looming behind him. Or, as Tucker Carlson called it, a “blood red Nazi background.”
But that shouldn’t be the case. It was by far the most important speech of Biden’s presidency and one of the most important presidential speeches in a generation. It also marked a pronounced shift from the Biden who thought he could break the MAGA fever to one who, two years later, realized that the Republican Party he knew was just a distant memory.
“I believe it’s my duty, my duty to level you up, to tell the truth no matter how hard it is painful,” Biden said.
“And here is, in my opinion, what is true: the MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They don’t believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of free elections, and they are working as I speak, state after state, to give power to decide elections in America to supporters and cronies, empowering Holocaust deniers to undermine democracy itself.
Every word of this paragraph is correct.
Same with this one: “They look at the crowd that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, brutally attacking law enforcement, not like insurgents who put a dagger to their throats of our democracy, but they see them as patriots. And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 elections as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.”
Earlier today, in fact, former President Donald Trump promised forgiveness for those who participated in the Capitol riot if he is re-elected.
The reaction from the right was pretty much what you would expect. Before Biden spoke, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanded that Biden apologize for “slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists.” Subsequently, Senator Rick Scott called Biden “berserk.” Dan McLaughlin of the National Review called the speech “clumsy” and “insincere”. Perfectly Normal MP Marjorie Taylor Greene posted a deepfake video of Biden-as-Hitler giving the speech, with swastikas in the background. “Did Joe Biden just declare war on Red State America?” Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, tweeted.
Beltway’s pundits were no less predictable, many wringing their pants over the Marines in the background – as if they’d forgotten about Trump’s military fetish or the time George W. Bush landed a plane on an aircraft carrier to celebrate a mission. it has not been accomplished.
The Washington Post editorial board wept over Biden’s alleged call for partisanship instead of patriotism. “You don’t persuade people by berating them or humiliating them, but that’s how the president’s speech landed for many well-meaning conservatives,” the editorial board chided.
The Post specifically objected to a line about “MAGA forces” pulling the country “back to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry whomever you love» – all this, of course, happens.
But in the Post’s view, just because the far right wants to roll back half a century of civil rights guarantees so that Gerrymandated state legislatures can disempower women doesn’t mean they’re against democracy.
Also, because the columnists can’t help it, they chastised Biden for not slamming his own party for “his cynical efforts to elevate some of the same ‘MAGA’ Republicans he now warns will destroy. democracy if they win the general election.”
I have already addressed the myopia of Democrats to support Republicans who they believe will be easier to defeat. But let’s be realistic. In the pantheon of sins against democracy, it ranks quite low. Bilateralism is one hell of a drug.
And it’s not like Biden didn’t call for unity and a common goal. He simply did not claim that Trump loyalists would be among them.
“For a long time, we thought that American democracy was guaranteed, but that is not the case. We have to defend it, protect it, defend it, each one of us,” Biden said. “That’s why tonight, I’m asking our nation to come together, to unite behind the sole purpose of defending our democracy, whatever your ideology.
“We are all called by duty and conscience to confront extremists who place their own quest for power above all else. Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans, we must be stronger, more determined and more committed to saving American democracy. And MAGA Republicans are destroying American democracy.
Biden — against his friendlier instincts — has decided to see American politics for what it is, not what he wants it to be. There is an extremist, authoritarian right – “semi-fascist” is an accurate descriptor, according to one expert on fascism – that is taking over the Republican Party. Its growth jeopardizes the rule of law, fundamental civil liberties and democratic pluralism. We can’t act like it’s normal.
And of course the semi-fascists will get angry. They will project. They will call Biden Hitler or say he is as bad as Trump. A killer dog howls.
But what the WaPo editorial board failed to understand was that Biden’s speech was not intended to persuade the MAGA crowd.
You are not going to reform the MAGA movement. You have to crush it.