In the first moments of his presidency, Joe Biden called on Americans to put aside their deep divisions inflamed by a predecessor who he intentionally ignored. He stressed national unity and called on Americans to come together to “end this uncivil war.”
Almost a year later, as a divided nation reflects on the first anniversary of the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, the uncivil war he sought to extinguish continues, stronger than ever. In a scorching speech Thursday, Biden took a different tone.
He said he was “crystal clear” on the dangers facing the nation and accused Donald Trump and his political allies of having “a knife to the throat of America, in American democracy.” Over the course of the 21-minute speech from the US Capitol, Biden offered himself as an advocate for democracy in the “battle for America’s soul.”
“I will stay in this gap,” he promised. “I will defend this nation.”
That moment of visceral speech marked a shift in strategy from how Biden chose to engage Trump, whose name he never spoke, but instead mocked him as the “defeated former president.”
The decision to break his silence on Trump comes at a challenging time in Biden’s presidency, with his Build Back Better agenda stalled, the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread economic malaise. It also reflected the reality that, far from being rejected, Trump remains the most powerful force in the Republican Party and a potential rival to Biden in 2024.
Facing Trump was a calculated risk. Trump took the opportunity to launch all kinds of insults and accusations against his successor, whose statements, he said, were “very hurtful to many people.”
But Biden’s speech was an acknowledgment that there was a danger of continuing to ignore Trump and what Biden called his “web of lies.” Recent vote suggests that the vast majority of Republicans believe Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud, while a growing percentage of Americans are willing to tolerate political violence in some cases.
Republican-controlled states are implementing a series of new voting restrictions, motivated in part by doubts they cast about the results of the 2020 elections. At the same time, Republicans are passing laws that inject partisanship into the administration of the elections. elections and the counting of votes while taking power and propelling it to election officials who resisted pressure to cast votes or revoke elections in their state.
“It was essential to be specific about the problem and the source of the crisis,” said Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University. “Otherwise, the vague, agencyless rhetoric we hear about polarization overlooks how Trump and the Republican Party are the source of so much instability.”
But he cautioned that one speech can only do so much. “Without holding people accountable for January 6 and the campaign against the 2020 elections, and without real legislation to protect voting rights and the electoral process, the ‘dagger to the throat of democracy’ will not go away.”
In his comments, Biden argued that protecting voting rights was critical to safeguarding American democracy. He tried to connect the dots between Trump’s promotion that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud and the coordinated effort by Republicans to “subvert” and undermine the electoral process in states where they control the levers of power.
“Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written, not to protect the vote, but to deny it; not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it; not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former president lost, ”he said.
Biden will follow up on the issue Tuesday when he delivers another landmark speech on voting rights. In Atlanta, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will call for passage of two voting rights bills that face enormous odds in the United States Senate: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Voting Rights Promotion Act. Lewis.
The issue of voting rights has taken center stage after hopes of passing Biden’s broad domestic policy agenda were dashed by opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia. So far, the Republican opposition has blocked passage of the legislation in the evenly divided chamber, where Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to overcome an obstructionism.
Manchin once again has the keys to the legislation on the right to vote, which he widely supports. But his opposition to removing obstructionism has forced Democrats to seek other avenues, such as creating a rule exception for certain laws. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would schedule a vote to loosen the obstruction rules no later than January 17, which is Martin Luther King Day.
Biden has faced immense pressure from civil rights leaders and voting rights advocates frustrated with his handling of the issue, seen as central to the president’s legacy. In fact, a Georgia-based coalition of voting rights groups warned Biden and Harris shouldn’t bother coming to the state unless they deliver a concrete plan for moving forward, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters this week that Biden planned to emphasize the “urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections.”
Spencer Overton, an election law expert and president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, hopes Biden will use his intimidation pulpit to explain why passing federal legislation on the right to vote is so essential to combating pernicious lies and conspiracies. that undermine faith in the nation. government system.
“Those lies have real consequences,” he said. “Sometimes they are graphic, as we saw a year ago on January 6, but sometimes they quietly erode democracy by preventing average citizens from participating in our democracy and exercising their freedom to vote.”
“This is the most important legislation in Congress right now,” he added. “There is simply no benefit in waiting. The moment is now “.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism