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‘A threat to the country’: Biden warns of Trump and GOP extremism threatening ‘the very foundations of our republic’

‘For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not’

Eric Garcia
Washington, DC
,Andrew Feinberg
Friday 02 September 2022 01:48 BST
Heckler repeatedly yells ‘Let’s go Brandon’ as Biden denounces political violence in primetime address

President Joe Biden on Thursday used a dramatic primetime address to the nation to warn of the danger to American democracy posed by acolytes of former president Donald Trump and other GOP candidates who want to strip citizens of their most basic rights.

Standing on what he called the “sacred ground” of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia — the place where America’s founding documents were debated and drafted — Mr Biden called the ideas embodied in that document, “equality and democracy” the “rock” on which the US was built.

The president warned that those ideas were now under attack.

“We do ourselves no favours to pretend otherwise,” he said. “I've come to this place where it all began to speak as plainly as I can to the nation about the threats we face, the power we have in our own hands to meet these threats, [and] about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it”.

Mr Biden said Americans must “be honest with each other and ourselves” about the agenda being pushed by an extreme element of the Republican Party.

“Too much of what's happening in our country today is not normal,” he said, adding that the man he defeated nearly two years ago — former president Donald Trump — and his “Maga Republican” allies “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic”.

Mr Biden stressed that “not every Republican” subscribes to the “extreme ideology” of Mr Trump and his acolytes, but he warned that the GOP today is largely “dominated, driven and intimidated” by Mr Trump and “the Maga Republicans,” referring to Mr Trump’s and his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

“That is a threat to this country,” he said.

The president warned that “Maga forces” want to take the country “backward” to a time when American women could not choose whether or not to carry an unwanted pregnancy or legally purchase contraception, before any concept of a right to privacy was enshrined in American jurisprudence, and to a time when LGBT+ Americans could not marry the person of their choice.

The president’s remarks, which the White House has described as part of an official event and not as a campaign stump speech, also zeroed in the threats to democracy posed by Mr Trump’s followers, many of whom are running for office with the intent of refusing to certify any future electoral victories by Democrats.

“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not,” Mr Biden said before exhorting Americans to “defend it,” “protect it,” and “stand up for it” against Mr Trump’s allies.

“They promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence,” he said, calling such behaviour “a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, for the rule of law, to the very soul of this country”

Turning to the false claims of election fraud perpetuated by Mr Trump and his favoured candidates in the nearly two years since he defeated the former president in the 2020 election, Mr Biden said the US is still a nation that “honours our constitution,” “believes in the rule of law,” and “rejects violence as a political tool”.

“It can never be an acceptable tool, so I want to say this plain and simple: There is no place for political violence in America period,” Mr Biden said. He called on the American people to instead “reject political violence with with all the moral clarity and conviction this nation can muster”.

He said the US cannot let “the integrity of our elections be undermined” by lies such as those told by Mr Trump and his compatriots, which he called “a path to chaos”.

“Democracy endures only if we the people respect the guardrails of the Republic, only if we the people accept the results of free and fair elections, only if we the people see politics not as total war, but mediation of our differences,” he said.

“Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election — either they win, or they were cheated — and that's where the Maga Republicans are today”.

Continuing, Mr Biden said he would “not stand by and watch” the American people’s will “be overturned by wild conspiracy theories and baseless evidence free claims of fraud,” nor would he watch future elections be “stolen by people who simply refused to accept that they lost”.

“I will not stand by and watch the most fundamental freedom in this country the freedom to vote and have your vote counted and be taken from you and the American people,” he said.

Biden arrives with the first lady, Jill Biden, to make his televised address to the nation (AP)

While Thursday’s speech was not officially part of any political campaign, the subject matter and the timing have obvious political undertones.

Mr Biden’s remarks come with just over two months remaining before voters will decide whether to keep the Democratic Party in control of the House and Senate or return one or both chambers to a Republican Party that is as much under Mr Trump’s sway as it was the day he left the White House.

The president’s speech also comes just over five years to the day The Atlantic published an op-ed under his byline in which he said Americans were “living through a battle for the soul of this nation”.

Written not long after the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the then-former vice-president warned that the “giant steps forward” Americans had taken to deliver expanded civil rights to racial minorities, women, and LGBT+ people were being “met by a ferocious pushback from the oldest and darkest forces in America”.

Two years before he announced his 2020 presidential campaign, Mr Biden then castigated Mr Trump as “an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate” and accused him of having “emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support”.

Now, nearly two years after he vanquished Mr Trump in the 2020 election, Mr Biden took his predecessor to task in the strongest possible terms he’s used since taking office.

His decision to speak publicly about the threats posed by Mr Trump’s political movement come as federal agents face increasing threats from the ex-president’s supporters as a result of the ongoing probe into his retention of sensitive national defence information at his Palm Beach, Florida home, and on the same day Mr Trump promised to offer full pardons and apologies to each of the rioters who’ve been convicted of crimes stemming from the violent attack on the Capitol on the day Mr Biden’s victory was certified by Congress.

Despite the bleak picture he painted of what faces Americans if Mr Trump or his ideological fellow travelers are returned to power, the president closed on an optimistic note by referring back to what he called the theme of his successful 2020 campaign — the “battle for the soul” of America he frequently described on the stump.

He said that he’d “made a bet” on the American people, and that the bet had been a winning one.

“That bet is paying off, proving that from darkness of Charlottesville, of Covid, of gun violence, of insurrection, we can see the light,” he said. “Even in this moment, with all the challenges we face, I give you my word as a Biden: I've never been more optimistic about America's future”.

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