Biden on the offensive

Khaled Dawoud , Tuesday 6 Sep 2022

Two months ahead of the US mid-term elections, US President Joe Biden has given up the rhetoric on seeking to unite Americans and gone on the offensive against former president Donald Trump, reports Khaled Dawoud

Biden on  the offensive

 

When US President Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the last US presidential elections on 6 January 2021 amid unprecedented violence instigated by supporters of his rival Donald Trump, the veteran politician vowed to bridge divides and unite Americans.

Less than two years later, that unity has proved to be an illusion. Biden has now decided to go on the offensive and beat hard against Trump and the so-called “MAGA” Republicans employing Trump’s election slogan of “Make America Great Again.”

After disappointment at just how enduring his predecessor’s grip on the Republican Party has been, Biden charged in a prime-time address on 1 September that the “extreme ideology” of Trump and his adherents “threatens the very foundation of our republic”.

He summoned Americans of all stripes to help counter what he sketched as dark forces within the Republican Party trying to subvert democracy.

In his speech last Thursday night at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Biden unleashed the trappings of the presidency in an unusually strong and sweeping indictment of Trump and what he said had become the dominant strain of the opposition party.

“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said before an audience of hundreds, raising his voice over pro-Trump hecklers outside the building where the nation’s founding was debated.

“Equality and democracy are under assault” in the US, he charged, casting Trump and his backers in the Republican Party as a menace to the nation’s system of government, its standing abroad, and its citizens’ way of life.

Trump and the MAGA Republicans “promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence,” Biden said. They “are determined to take this country backwards.”

“Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love,” he said, referencing the social issues that Democrats have looked to place front-and-centre for voters this autumn.

He said he was not condemning the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 but added that “there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans.”

Asked on Friday if he considered all Trump supporters to be a threat to the country, Biden said that “I don’t consider any Trump supporter a threat to the country.”

“I do think anyone who calls for the use of violence, fails to condemn violence when it’s used, refuses to acknowledge when an election has been won, insists on changing the way in which the rules are used to count votes, that is a threat to democracy.”

Biden, who has largely avoided referring to “the former guy” by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally. Now, emboldened by his party’s summertime legislative wins and wary of Trump’s return to the headlines, he has sharpened his attacks, last week likening the “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”

Instead of bringing Americans together, the US president’s goal has now essentially evolved into making sure that Trump opponents are fully aware of the threat that the former president still poses and are energised or scared enough to do something about it, most immediately in the upcoming midterm elections.

The Republicans’ reaction to Biden’s speech was remarkable. For years, they stood quietly by as Trump vilified and demonised anyone who disagreed with him. But they rose up after Biden’s speech to charge that the current US president was the one being divisive.

“It’s unthinkable that a president would speak about half of Americans that way,” said Nikki Haley, formerly Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Leaders protect the Constitution,” added Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state. “They don’t declare half of America to be enemies of the state like Joe Biden did.”

In his first rally since his home was searched by the FBI on 8 August, Trump lashed out against the US president. He described Biden’s address as “the most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president.”

“You’re all enemies of the state,” Trump told thousands of supporters at his rally, where he was campaigning for Pennsylvania Republicans. “He’s an enemy of the state, you want to know the truth,” he said of Biden.

“It was not just my home that was raided last month. It was the hopes and dreams of every citizen who I’ve been fighting for.” Trump described America as a nation in decline, a theme that has become a staple of his post-White House campaign rallies.

In his aggrieved and combative speech, Trump also led a sharp attack against the FBI, disregarding rising threats to its agents from his supporters who believe that the “deep state” is conspiring to prevent him from running against Biden in 2024.

“The shameful raid and breaking of my home Mar-a-Lago was a travesty of justice. The FBI and the justice department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers and the media who tell them what to do, you people right there, and when to do it,” he told the crowd.

On Sunday, Tiffany Smiley, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Washington State, was asked on CNN’s State of the Union programme if she believed Biden won the 2020 election fairly and legitimately, a question now asked of most Republican candidates for state and national office.

Smiley said she did. But she also said she was “extremely disappointed” with the speech Biden delivered in Philadelphia “because unity is not conformity. And I think President Biden got that really, really mixed up.”

Since leaving office, Trump has continued to demand that the election results be reversed and has even suggested that he be reinstated as president.

When Trump supporters express fears for democracy with pollsters, it is not about those actions but about what Trump has told them about the election’s integrity, even if what he says is wrong.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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