When Americans are in harm’s way, government officials and agencies have a responsibility to step up and warn the public. When a hurricane threatens landfall, for example, the National Weather Service and FEMA will offer potentially lifesaving guidance to communities. When there’s an active shooter on the loose, law enforcement will alert the public with shelter-in-place orders, urging people to steer clear.
And when a group of political radicals put the American experiment in jeopardy, taking deliberate steps to undermine our democracy, and even eyeing violence as a legitimate political tool, that’s also a threat the citizenry needs to be warned about. Last night, President Joe Biden decided it was time to ring the alarm. NBC News reported:
President Joe Biden accused former President Donald Trump and his supporters of promoting an extreme ideology that threatens democracy in rare prime-time remarks Thursday as he stepped up attacks on conservatives ahead of the midterm elections.
There were a variety of words and phrases the Democrat used several times, including “democracy,” “MAGA” and “threat,” but the word that stood out most for me was “normal.”
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic. Now, I want to be very clear upfront: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
“But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans were not pleased. Some condemned the remarks as “divisive.” Others said the incumbent president was being “political.” His immediate predecessor raised the possibility that Biden is “insane.” A surprising number of GOP voices seemed preoccupied overnight with stagecraft and the background colors used in Philadelphia.
But amid the whining and partisan complaints, few were willing to make a serious case that Biden’s remarks were wrong. It was as if, for some media figures and GOP critics, it mattered less that the president was telling the truth, and more that his remarks might hurt some Republicans’ feelings.
Part of effective leadership, however, is about telling uncomfortable truths — and as Biden made painfully clear, the truth is the threat posed by Trumpism is real.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” the president argued. “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.
“MAGA forces 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. They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.
“They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots. And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections. They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.”
This was likely a speech Biden didn’t want to give. All things being equal, he probably would’ve preferred to talk about his legislative successes, record job growth, and his substantive policy goals. Ideally, remarks like these would’ve been entirely unnecessary.
But he said more than once last night that he believed he had a “duty to level with” the public about a legitimate and escalating danger.
To see far too much of the Republican Party embrace authoritarian tactics, while dismissing democratic norms and institutions, and nevertheless conclude that the real problem is with Biden’s “divisive” rhetoric, is to look at the American landscape and get our collective reality backward.