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A collection of warnings from Joe Biden on threats to American democracy

When it comes to democracy, Americans should pay close attention to Joe Biden’s words and heed his warnings. From Charlottesville, to January 6th, to the 2022 midterm elections, Biden has clearly articulated the threats facing American democracy from the increasingly radical political right. He has been careful to distinguish between traditional Republicans, of which only a handful remain in elected office, and MAGA Republicans, who he has described as “semi-fascist.” Biden understands his legacy will be determined based on his ability to successfully lead the United States through an incredibly difficult moment in our nation’s history. Acknowledging this reality in his inaugural address, he declared: “We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.”

As a candidate for president, Biden carried with him the 2018 book “How Democracies Die” which makes clear the threat posed by the emerging authoritarian right to American democracy. As president, when asked by a member of the foreign press in Brussels what he would say to Europeans who fear someone like Trump may be elected in 2024 and dismantle any progress made, Biden began talking about Charlottesville where White nationalists were “carrying Nazi banners and singing the same vile rhyme that they used in Germany in the early ‘30s,” going on to say: 

Nothing, no election is worth my not doing exactly what I think is the right thing. I’m too long in the tooth to fool with this any longer. 

Since being elected, Biden has used the presidency to highlight broad threats to American democracy by the far right, despite some Democratic strategists worrying this messaging was too complicated for voters and not particularly helpful, especially given his (lack of) popularity. The media analysis of these warnings often focused on inconsequential details like the lighting behind him, small gaffes or errors made during the speech, or the (obvious) negative reception from Republicans. 

Like any American president, Joe Biden deserves criticism. A lot of it. As you are well aware, he remains generally unpopular and most Democrats are hoping he won’t seek re-election, despite several major progressive policy achievements relative to other recent Democratic presidents. Regardless of your opinion of Joe Biden, when it comes to democracy, we should listen to his warnings and take them seriously. 

Here is a collection of warnings from Joe Biden on threats to American democracy: 

‘We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation,’ by Joe Biden, following the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville
AUGUST 27, 2017

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.

The giant forward steps we have taken in recent years on civil liberties and civil rights and human rights are being met by a ferocious pushback from the oldest and darkest forces in America. Are we really surprised they rose up? Are we really surprised they lashed back? Did we really think they would be extinguished with a whimper rather than a fight?

Did we think the charlatans and the con-men and the false prophets who have long dotted our history wouldn’t revisit us, once again prop up the immigrant as the source of all our troubles, and look to prey on the hopelessness and despair that has grown up in the hollowed-out cities and towns of Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and the long-forgotten rural stretches of West Virginia and Kentucky?

President-Elect Biden Speech During 1/6 Capitol Attack
JANUARY 6, 2021

Watching the scenes in the Capitol, I was reminded as I prepared other speeches in the past, I was reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln in his annual message to Congress, whose work has today been interrupted by chaos.

Here’s what Lincoln said. He said, ‘We shall nobly save or merely lose the last, best hope on Earth.’

He went on to say: ‘The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just. A way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.’

The way is plain here, too. That’s who we are. It’s the way of democracy, of respect, of decency, of honor. And commitment as patriots to this nation.

Notwithstanding what I saw today, we’re seeing today, I remain optimistic about the incredible opportunities. There’s never been anything we can’t do, when we do it together.

And this godawful display today, let’s bring it home to every Republican and Democrat and Independent in the nation, that we must step up. This is the United States of America. There’s never, ever, ever, ever, ever been a thing we’ve tried to do that when we’ve done it together, we’ve not been able to do it.

President Biden Inaugural Address
JANUARY 20, 2021

Now we must step up.

All of us.

It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do.

And, this is certain.

We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.

Will we rise to the occasion?

Will we master this rare and difficult hour?

Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?

I believe we must and I believe we will.

And when we do, we will write the next chapter in the American story.

Fourth Anniversary of the Events at Charlottesville, Virginia
AUGUST 12, 2021

The forces of hate and violence were summoned from the shadows as Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists descended on a historic American city. With torches in their hands and veins bulging from their necks, they spewed the same antisemitic bile that was heard in Germany in the 1930s and with the same beatings and bigotry we saw in Jim Crow America for nearly a century.

Remarks By President Biden To Mark One Year Since The January 6th Deadly Assault On The U.S. Capitol
JANUARY 6, 2022

Don’t kid yourself: The pain and scars from that day run deep.

I said it many times and it’s no more true or real than when we think about the events of January 6th: We are in a battle for the soul of America.  A battle that, by the grace of God and the goodness and gracious — and greatness of this nation, we will win.

Believe me, I know how difficult democracy is.  And I’m crystal clear about the threats America faces.  But I also know that our darkest days can lead to light and hope.

From the death and destruction, as the Vice President referenced, in Pearl Harbor came the triumph over the forces of fascism.

From the brutality of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge came historic voting rights legislation.

So, now let us step up, write the next chapter in American history where January 6th marks not the end of democracy, but the beginning of a renaissance of liberty and fair play.

I did not seek this fight brought to this Capitol one year ago today, but I will not shrink from it either.

I will stand in this breach.  I will defend this nation.  And I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy. 

We will make sure the will of the people is heard; that the ballot prevails, not violence; that authority in this nation will always be peacefully transferred.

Remarks by President Biden on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation

But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault.  We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.

History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

For a long time, we’ve told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed, but it’s not.

We have to defend it, protect it, stand up for it — each and every one of us.

That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology.  (Applause.)

We’re all called, by duty and conscience, to confront extremists who will put their own pursuit of power above all else. 

Remarks by President Biden on Standing up for Democracy
NOVEMBER 2, 2022

We have to be honest with ourselves though.  We have to face this problem.  We cannot turn away from it.  We can’t pretend it’s just going to solve itself. 

There is an alarming rise in the number of our people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent because silence is complicity.  The disturbing rise in voter intimidation.  The pernicious tendency to excuse political violence or at least — at least trying to explain it away.

We can’t allow this sentiment to grow.  We must confront it head on now.  It has to stop now. 

Joe Biden tweet after former president Donald Trump had dinner with a neo-Nazi:

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Seamus Heaney

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