Biden must clarify anti-Trump comments and set out a united vision for all Americans
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As he kicked off his 2019 campaign in Philadelphia, Joe Biden promised he would fight to « restore the soul of America ». I was there and remember being struck by precisely those words.
On September 1, the 46th President of the United States will return to the City of Brotherly Love to deliver a prime-time address to the nation on the very themes he raised in his campaign announcement: unity , democracy and the restoration of America’s soul. For a nation on the precipice – where division and disunity seem to have replaced our national motto of E Pluribus Unum – this speech will allow him to re-state his vision to be a president for us all.
In these times, we desperately need to be reminded of what brings us together as Americans. Now, I’m not fooled about our position as a nation divided, especially with less than 70 days to go until the midterm elections, but I believe the president has a real opportunity to play with our « best angels, » and it starts by addressing the comments he made last Thursday when he called former President Donald Trump and his « extreme MAGA philosophy » semi-fascism.
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There is no doubt that what Trump did in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 and in the nearly two years since has been not only unconstitutional but anti-democratic extremism. In his failed efforts to cling to power after the 2020 election and his continued delegitimization of the very notion of American democracy, Trump has shaken the very foundations of our republic.
Elections are about contrasting visions for America and fight like hell for your beliefs and values. It is this same competition of ideals in a free society that has made American democracy, even sometimes messy, the envy of the world. It is essential that Democrats and Republicans do not lose each other in this fight. Trump probably didn’t win any Democratic votes when he called us socialists and communists in 2020. Likewise, President Joe Biden probably didn’t add many Republicans to our column when he called the MAGA movement a semi-fascist.
With that in mind, Biden can use Thursday’s speech to clarify his comments and focus his criticism directly on his predecessor and the hundreds of enablers of Trump’s campaign lies who currently hold elected office. In the same breath the president uses to condemn these anti-democratic leaders, he must also clarify that most Americans who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020 are not fascists, semi-fascists or not. Most of the people who have supported Trump from time to time are patriotic Americans who simply believe differently than I do.
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Biden won the Democratic primary and beat Trump because of his character and commitment to reaffirming our nation’s founding ideals. In the United States Senate and later as Vice President, he befriended some of the most ardent conservatives. He even eulogized a handful of them at their funerals; not because he endorsed their political beliefs, but because he took the time to get to know their hearts.
Since taking office, the president has secured incredible bipartisan legislative victories on infrastructure, gun control, veterans and global competitiveness — the latest bills guaranteed to pass in the last few months alone. As Biden said repeatedly during the campaign trail: A president’s words matter, but a president’s actions and ability to deliver victories for the American people matter more.
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On Thursday night, Biden can once again call on the best angels in our nature, even as our partisan passions may have strained our affections. It must begin by denouncing the anti-democratic words and deeds of our compatriots, but not by painting both sides with a broad brush. America is still that « shining city on the hill » as President Ronald Reagan described it to us. We just need to be reminded in Philadelphia – the perfect backdrop for this message.
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