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"The soul of our nation."
September 2, 2022
On the day President Joe Biden urged Americans to defend “the flame of liberty” against extremism, Donald Trump said that if he is reelected, he will pardon and issue a government apology to hundreds of domestic terrorists who assaulted the Capitol on January 6th. There can be no greater illustration of the struggle for the soul of our nation—one leader who seeks to defend democracy and another who seeks to reward those who resorted to violence to overturn the Constitution.
The full text of the speech is here: Remarks by President Biden on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation.
Biden spoke plainly in targeting Trump and “MAGA Republicans.” He set out his thesis in his opening lines:
Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.
Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans. But there’s no question that the Republican party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.
In tones reminiscent of John F. Kennedy, Biden asked Americans to join in common cause to defend democracy:
For a long time, we told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed.
But it’s not. We have to defend it, protect it, and stand up for it — each and every one of us. That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together and unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy, regardless of your ideology.
Republican commentators criticized Biden for “impugning half the country” when he described MAGA Republicans as “threats to the republic.” That criticism isn’t entirely accurate—because Biden impugned only the 35% of Americans who exalt extremist MAGA politics over democracy. Otherwise, Biden was right to call Trump and MAGA Republicans a “threat to democracy.” As Dan Rather wrote,
We face a moment of inflection that threatens the continuation of our republic. As with destructive forces of the past, it is essential to name the threat. And Biden wanted to do just that.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered a “prebuttal” speech in which he demanded that Biden apologize for calling MAGA Republicans “semi-fascists”. Biden should issue such an apology—when MAGA Republicans do the following:
Stop treating the reproductive liberty of women as a felony.
Eliminate the “bounty” on pregnant women who do not carry a pregnancy to term.
Allow schools to teach students about the true history of the United States.
Stop banning books that do not align with white Christian theology.
Stop their culture war on LGBTQ people.
Stop efforts to suppress the votes of Black Americans.
Condemn white nationalism, neo-Nazism, and the conspiracy theories of QAnon.
Stop efforts to overturn free and fair elections.
End their campaign to undermine public trust in elections.
Concede when they lose elections rather than claiming fraud.
Recognize that Donald Trump is not above the law and that efforts to hold him accountable for his crimes are not “an assault on democracy.”
Denounce violence against poll workers, elected officials, judges, and government employees.
Condemn the assault on the Capitol and Congress on January 6th as an instance of domestic terrorism which should be punished to the full extent of the law.
The above is a partial list, but you get the point. Until then, “semi-fascist” is a polite description of MAGA Republicans and Biden’s use of the term is appropriate.
Biden’s speech on Thursday was a superb effort but is just the beginning. Biden must continue with his newfound energy and aggressiveness on the campaign trail through November. And he must continue to call the threat to democracy by its name: fascism.
Strong words, I know. But as Trump’s promise to pardon the January 6th defendants illustrates, the threat is metastasizing. If we intend to stop it, we must drop all pretense and describe the threat in words Americans understand. Joe Biden’s speech on Thursday advanced that cause. Let’s hope he continues to lead the way.
The midterms as a referendum on Trump and Dobbs.
Republicans hope the upcoming midterms are a referendum on the economy and crime. Instead, the midterms are becoming a referendum on Trump and Republican extremism, especially regarding reproductive liberty. That is the worst-case scenario for Republicans. See Axios, Top Republicans privately fear midterms will become Trump referendum. Per Axios,
GOP midterm candidates — who want to talk solely about the prices of gas and groceries — now must contend with background music that once again is Trump, Trump, Trump.
The fear of “top Republicans” is well-founded—but it shouldn’t stop with the drag created by the Thief-in-Chief. The political backlash over the reactionary Dobbs decision has exceeded Republicans’ worst fears. In Texas, the epicenter of laws that criminalize reproductive liberty, sixty percent (!) of voters support abortion in “all or most” cases, and only eleven percent (!) say they favor a total ban on abortion—the current state of the law in Texas. See NPR, Poll shows a majority of Texans support abortion rights. The survey was conducted shortly before the Court issued its decision in Dobbs.
When state law is wildly out-of-step with the will of the people, that is a bad situation for the party defending the state law. Add to Republican worries the fact that registration of women voters has surged after the Dobbs decision. See Bloomberg, After Abortion Ruling, Women Voter Sign-Ups Surge, Buoying Democrats in Election. (“Democrats reap gains as focus turns away from Biden’s record.”)
As I have noted before, it is too early to rely on polling to predict outcomes in November. The point is not that Democrats should assume victory, but that the electorate is in flux and open to persuasion. That opportunity should encourage Democrats to work harder than ever!
The “declassification” lie.
Trump has repeatedly asserted on his vanity media platform that he “declassified” the national defense secrets he stole when departing office. Notably, Trump’s attorneys have not made that argument in court filings or during hearings. The failure to make that argument is a clear signal that Trump’s attorneys do not believe he declassified the stolen documents.
Here’s the reason Trump’s lawyers have not made the argument: When lawyers file a pleading or motion in federal court, they make a representation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 that “the factual contentions have evidentiary support.” If a court determines that a lawyer asserted a fact as true without having evidentiary support for the contention, the court can punish the attorney by imposing monetary sanctions against the attorney and their firm.
Even Trump’s clueless lawyers are smart enough not to repeat Trump’s “declassification” lie in court. We should, therefore, stop discussing a lie so obvious that Trump’s own lawyers don’t believe it. But if you are interested in the federal regulations relating to classification and declassification, see Executive Order 13526- Classified National Security Information.
Section 3.1 of the Order describes how declassification occurs. Subsections 3.3(b)-(c) impose special requirements for declassification of material of the type stolen by Trump. Suffice it to say that no part of Executive Order 13526 authorizes “declassification by telepathy.”
Joe Biden decided to run for president in 2020 after he saw torch-carrying neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville chanting, “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” His presidency was born of a desire to stop the radicalization of the Republican Party into a white nationalist threat to democracy. On Thursday, he returned to those roots in his speech from Independence Hall, the birthplace of our democracy.
On the campaign trail in 2020, Biden’s transcendent purpose allowed him to inspire the majority of Americans to unite against the messages of hate and division that have become the Republican platform. In returning to the raison d’être of his presidency, Biden is coming home to his sweet spot and his strength. This fight may be the culmination and crowning achievement of a half-century of service to democracy for Biden.
In stepping to the head of the column, Biden is volunteering to take the heat from a vicious right-wing press. In doing so, he is providing cover to other Democrats who follow in his wake—even if they do not want Biden to make campaign appearances for them. Biden’s actions are selfless and exemplary—the very model of leadership.
As we head into Labor Day weekend, we have much to be grateful for—not the least of which is a plain-spoken man who stepped into the breach when our nation needed him the most. He is not perfect or polished—which makes him perfect for the role of speaking to Americans who are looking for a leader like them.
I hope to take a three-day weekend. If all goes to plan, the next newsletter will arrive in your inbox late Monday evening / Tuesday morning.
Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!