President Joe Biden issued a midterm-minded message on Thursday last week that America’s democratic values are at risk and that former President Trump and his most ardent backers are the chief reason why as his party seeks to continue momentum ahead of the November elections.
Biden charged in a prime-time address that the “extreme ideology” of Donald Trump and his adherents “threatens the very foundation of our republic,” as he summoned Americans of all stripes to help counter what he sketched as dark forces within the Republican Party trying to subvert democracy.
In his speech Thursday at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Biden unleashed the trappings of the presidency in an unusually strong and sweeping indictment of Trump and what he said has become the dominant strain of the opposition party. His broadside came barely two months before Americans head to the polls in bitterly contested midterm elections that Biden calls a crossroads for the nation.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” he said before an audience of hundreds, raising his voice over pro-Trump hecklers outside the building where the nation’s founding was debated. He said he wasn’t condemning the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020, but added, “There’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” using the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Biden, speaking during a prime-time address to the nation from the perch of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, namechecked his 2020 general election opponent frequently as he sought to up the stakes for voters heading into the stretch run of the political season. During the 24-minute address, the president said that Trump “represents an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”
But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” said Biden, who was flanked on stage by Marine guards. “And that is a threat to this country.”
White House officials insisted Thursday night’s speech would not be political in nature. However, that idea evaporated quickly as Biden levied multiple criticisms of his predecessor and Republicans, while rounding out the address by touting policy victories on issues such as on police funding and the pandemic.
The address came at a key time for Biden and Democrats. The party in power is on the upswing after a number of key wins over the past month — including two special election victories that have helped buoy the spirits of Democrats after spending much of the past year struggling to counter GOP messages on the economy and inflation.
Notably, the president has also grown more combative amid the Democratic resurgence. In recent weeks, he has called out “MAGA Republicans” on a number of occasions. The rhetoric hit a crescendo last week at a political rally in Maryland where he described the movement as akin to “semi-fascism” (The New York Times).
That remark has drawn rebukes from across the GOP spectrum. The latest came in a prebuttal speech on Thursday by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who said that the first line of Biden’s speech should have been an apology “for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists” (The Hill).
The explicit effort by Biden to marginalize Trump and his followers marks a sharp recent turn for the president, who preached his desire to bring about national unity in his Inaugural address.
Biden, who largely avoided even referring to “the former guy” by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally. Now, emboldened by his party’s summertime legislative wins and wary of Trump’s return to the headlines, he has sharpened his attacks, last week likening the “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”
Wading into risky political terrain, Biden strained to balance his criticism with an appeal to more traditional Republicans to make their voices heard. Meanwhile, GOP leaders swiftly accused him of only furthering political divisions.
President Biden has warned during a stump speech in Maryland that the country’s right-wing movement, which remains dominated by his predecessor, former president Donald Trump, has embraced “political violence” and no longer believes in democracy.
“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something — it’s like semi-fascism.”
Biden was gesturing to various ongoing Republican initiatives to restrict voting access as well as a slate of Republican midterm candidates who, to this day, deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election. There’s also the tacit support of some Republicans for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and the violent rhetoric that has emerged among some corners of the right in the wake of a publicized FBI investigation into classified documents Trump kept in his private Florida golf club residence.
The simple invocation of “fascism” elicited howls of outrage from Republicans and triggered a weekend of political chatter. A spokesman for the Republican National Committee described the president’s remarks as “despicable.” Gov. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) said on CNN that it was “horribly inappropriate” to brand a segment of the U.S. population as “semi-fascist” and called on Biden to apologize.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted that “communists have always called their enemies ‘fascists.’” One historian of Latin America responded to Cruz, noting that, while communists had other names for their opponents before the rise of fascist parties in the 1920s, fascists have always used anti-communist hysteria to “stir violence” and “augment their power.” (Never mind the relative absurdity of casting a figure with as centrist a record as Biden as a “communist.”)
For his part, Trump posted Monday on his personal social media website another complaint about the 2020 election having been stolen from him and an unconstitutional demand that he be declared its victor, two years later. Over the weekend, leading Republican lawmakers warned of violence in the streets should the Justice Department move to prosecute as a number of investigations into his activities go forward.
Biden and his allies did not back down from the message. “You look at the definition of fascism and you think about what they’re doing in attacking our democracy, what they’re doing and taking away our freedoms, wanting to take away our rights, our voting rights ― I mean, that is what that is,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday. “It is very clear.”
American democracy sits at a crucial crossroads, argues Darrell West, vice president of Governance Studies at Brookings and author of the new Brookings Press book, “Power Politics: Trump and the Assault on American Democracy.” The rise of extremism and a decline of confidence in trusted institutions have created the perfect storm for illiberalism and authoritarianism to take root. While it is easy to blame Donald Trump for the sad state of our democracy, Trumpism is almost certainly likely to outlast Trump himself.
Donald Trump’s presidency merely exposed existing cracks in our democracy that are built into the foundations of elections, political institutions, and information ecosystem. ”Power Politics” is filled with a clear delineation of the problems and possible remedies for the threats drawn from West’s extensive experience in the D.C. policy world. West urges us to act now to protect our democracy—and provides a roadmap for how to strengthen our political system and civil society.
Colorado’s secretary of state, Jena Griswold, has said the fate of free and fair elections in the United States hangs in the balance in this November’s midterm contests. In many of the most competitive races for offices with authority over US elections, Republicans nominated candidates who have embraced or echoed Donald Trump’s myth of a stolen election in 2020.
Griswold, who chairs the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (Dass) and is running for re-election, is urging Americans to pay attention to the once-sleepy down-ballot contests for secretary of state – lest they lose their democracy.
“What we can expect from the extreme Republicans running across this country is to undermine free and fair elections for the American people, strip Americans of the right to vote, refuse to address security breaches and, unfortunately, be more beholden to Mar-a-Lago than the American people,” Griswold, 37, said in an interview with the Guardian. She added: “For us, we are trying to save democracy.”
Having failed to overturn the 2020 vote, Trump and his loyalists are now strategically targeting positions that will play a critical role in supervising the next presidential election, turning many of the 27 secretary of state contests this year into expensive, partisan showdowns.
“In 2020, you and 81 million Americans voted to save our democracy,” he reminded the crowd. “That’s why Donald Trump isn’t just a former president. He is a defeated former president.” As for the midterms, Biden declared, “Your right to choose is on the ballot this year. The Social Security you paid for from the time you had a job is on the ballot. The safety of your kids from gun violence is on the ballot, and it’s not hyperbole, the very survival of our planet is on the ballot.” He added, “Your right to vote is on the ballot. Even the democracy. Are you ready to fight for these things now?”