Analysis: Joe Biden regains his fighting spirit against Donald Trump

Biden’s speech Thursday – from where Donald Trump’s mob sullied America’s tradition of peaceful transfers of power a year ago – was by far his most authoritative moment as president. He redefined himself against the ex-president’s extremism after struggling to project control for brutal months when a resurgent pandemic and chaos in his own party wiped out any sense that he was in command of the political scene .

In generations to come, his speech can be seen either as the rallying cry that saved the American experience, or as a painful eulogy for the democracy his predecessor and future successor seems determined to destroy.

“We have to decide: what kind of nation are we going to be? Biden said, imploring his compatriots to fight for their democracy like a “great nation” should. “Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as the norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overthrow the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that does not live by the light of truth, but in the shadow of lies? “

“We cannot afford to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and live by it,” the president said.

That’s a high comparison, but Biden’s speech aimed to accomplish a similar task to President Abraham Lincoln’s much shorter speech at Gettysburg. The 16th president urged his nation in 1863 to rededicate itself, at a time when democracy was under existential threat, to the “unfinished business” of preserving government “of the people, for the people, by the people”. In early 2022, Biden – who noted he was speaking from the National Statuary Hall, where Lincoln sat in Office 191 when the space housed the House of Representatives – defined that same national quest as saving “the law. of vote, the right to govern ourselves, the right to determine our own destiny.

A shift in strategy and a collision course with Trump

Biden’s speech also represented a change in tone and strategy. Early in his presidency, Biden sought to relegate Trump to history by depriving him of the commodity the ex-president craves most: attention. In his inaugural address nearly a year ago, he sought not to wage old wars over elections, but rather to emphasize national unity – a concept difficult to imagine after the violence that has erupted. had unrolled on the steps beneath him a few weeks earlier. Later that year, he called Trump an “old guy” and urged Americans to take up arms together, literally, in a new challenge: the vaccination campaign which he hoped would end the worst pandemic in 100 years.

But Biden’s strategy has become untenable. Trump could have a tighter grip than ever on the Republican Party. He is making the 2022 midterm elections a platform for his dangerous lies that his second term has been stolen. And he’s building the infrastructure for a 2024 campaign for a return to the White House that would likely make his previous aberrant term a paragon of legality.

So while he didn’t mention the word “Trump” on Thursday, Biden lashed out at his rival. Showing cruelty absent from his leadership in recent months, he identified where he could hurt Trump the most and repeatedly threw a metaphorical sword. Time and time again, he reminded a predecessor who hates losers that he was ‘beaten’, that he ‘lost’ and that he was led by 7 million votes in an election during which he was beaten fairly and squarely. Turning the blade, Biden nailed down Trump’s core motivation: “He considers his own best interests to be more important than the best interests of his country and the best interests of America because his bruised ego means more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. “
Inside Trump’s gold-leafed private club Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., The chief insurgency was raging. Trump had canceled a press conference scheduled for Thursday – much to the relief of Republicans who should have answered for his certain tirade of new lies and demagoguery.

Instead, through his Twitter spokesperson, he released a series of savage statements that burned with resentment, were barely coherent, and renewed his illusions that the 2020 election was rigged – despite everything. possible authorities, from the courts to its own Justice Department, declaring the vote was clean.

But there was very little about Biden’s description of the horror that unfolded a year ago that wasn’t accurate. Trump’s reaction, likely to be fleshed out at an upcoming Arizona rally, has in fact provided more evidence for Biden’s larger point: than the outburst of truth, autocratic leanings and self-interest. obsession of his predecessor were not American.

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Slamming the Trump crowd, Biden accused, “They didn’t come here out of patriotism or out of principle; they came here with rage, not in the service of America, but rather in the service of one man.” Building on his theme, he argued that Trump’s behavior was contrary to founding American values. “This is not a land of kings, dictators or autocrats. We are a nation of law, order and not chaos, peace and not violence,” said the president. And he dismantled Trump’s argument that the “real insurgency” didn’t take place on January 6, but on Election Day.

“Was that what you were thinking when you voted that day? He asked the Americans. “Joining an insurgency, was that what you thought you were doing?” Or did you think you were doing your greatest civic duty and voting?

A political overhaul

Biden’s performance on Thursday was a return to the fundamentals on which he had built his successful presidential campaign – that he is waging a battle for the “soul” of the nation. His refocus came at the right time for a presidency that has stumbled for weeks.

Since the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the resurgence of Covid-19, a tightening of the supply chain and soaring inflation, Biden has struggled to control events. His authority has also been tarnished by internal Democratic struggles that have blocked the massive social spending and climate change bill that could cement his legacy as a historic Democratic president and reformer.

Every presidency needs a revival at some point. And while Republicans may have dramatically missed the moment they accused Biden of using the Jan. 6 commemorations for political reasons, they were not wrong that his performance could improve his prospects and those of his party. . If Thursday’s strong speech is followed by an equally powerful State of the Union speech in the weeks to come, the president could inject momentum into his stalled national agenda and give Democrats hope. of Congress in what is shaping up to be a gloomy midterm election year. On Thursday, when he had sworn: “I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation and I will not allow anyone to put a dagger in the throat of democracy,” he may have reminded some voters why they had chosen him to purge the nation of Trumpism in 2020.

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His promise seemed to accept that democracy, after a year in which Trump’s lies and conservative media propaganda convinced millions of Americans that the election was stolen, is in more danger than a year ago. This position appears antithetical to the organizing principle of the first months of his presidency, in which he constantly insisted on national unity.

But if there is to be a battle for democracy, that means taking the fight directly against Trump, his supporters, and the Republicans who have spent months passing laws in states, including several presidential battlegrounds, which make more difficult to vote, especially for minorities and Democrats in cities, and easier to steal power. And it will be a fierce battle in which more political violence cannot be ruled out. Trump has convinced millions of Americans of his fraudulent lies. Its political appeal lies in feeding the base of the GOP with ever more extremism. And Washington Republicans who don’t want to defend democracy are held hostage by conservative grassroots voters who readily accept Trump’s Jan. 6 call that they must “fight like hell” or they won’t. of country.

Biden’s credibility is now on the line

Biden also challenged himself.

In order for his words on Thursday to be delivered, he must find a way to pass two bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act – that are stranded in the Senate. But the same obstacles thwarting his social spending plan oppose voting reform: Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who oppose Senate filibuster reform that allows Republicans to block 50-50 Senate bills. The president will increase the pressure on these two senators when he delivers a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, which resonates with the symbolism of the civil rights era, and indicates an upcoming battle for a Senate seat and governor in a State that helped him get the presidency and the Democrats to take the Senate.

He has already given himself a task that will define how he will be remembered.

“We will ensure that the will of the people is heard; that the ballot prevails, not violence; that the authority of this nation will always be transferred peacefully,” Biden said in Statuary Hall.

The fact that that goal is even uncertain not only indicates the daunting mission that awaits the president, but also underscores how perilous this moment in American history is.