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Three Takeaways from Biden's Speech on How to Preserve American Democracy
"What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure"
On Wednesday night President Biden delivered a 22-minute address that was reminiscent of Lincoln’s 1858 “House Divided Speech” in its tone and sense of urgency. Six days before the midterm elections—and two days before definitive news broke that Trump will run for president again in 2024—Biden said that “we must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can’t take democracy for granted any longer.” Instead, “we are all called to defend it now. Now.”
“Every generation has had to defend it,” the Democratic president said, “protect it, preserve it, choose it, for that’s what democracy is: It’s a choice—a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The speech was not a get-out-the-vote pep rally. It was not political theater. Biden, in his sometimes clumsy manner, speaking from the heart, called upon Americans to rise to the challenge of arresting the slide of our democracy into corruption, authoritarianism, and political violence.
“We have to be honest with ourselves,” he entreated. “We have to face this problem. We cannot turn away from it. We can’t pretend it’s just going to solve itself.”
Because the time for action and solutions is indeed “Now,” as Biden said, I am sharing three core takeaways from the speech that point the way toward a successful defense of American democracy from the lies and deceptions of Trump and his political allies.
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Hold Trump Accountable for Today’s Political Violence and Corruption
At last, in this speech, Biden took a page from the January 6 Committee’s clear and concrete approach to political violence and election corruption in the United States. He declared in no uncertain terms that former President Donald Trump is directly responsible for the attack that day and for the “Big Lie” that continues to poison the nation and spur violence.
Did you ever once hear a member of the Select Committee explain the catastrophe of Jan. 6 this way: “Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the problems of American democracy today.” I hear this exculpatory sophistry in political conversation frequently, and I was glad to see Biden hit hard, stating the truth forcibly:
You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former President of the United States refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election.
It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a President repeating over and over again the Big Lie that the election of 2020 had been stolen.
He has abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he’s made a Big Lie an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party.
Find the Courage to Stand Up and Speak Out
The problem of American democracy today, Biden said, boils down to “lies.” Conspiratorial falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election and the upcoming midterms are fueling voter intimidation and political violence, like that perpetuated a week ago against Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The first duty of every citizen in a democracy, the president shouted from the rooftops, is to get off the sidelines when it comes to the triad of lies, political violence, and voter intimidation. He did not mince words. He said to stand up in dissent. He said to get involved:
We must, with an overwhelming voice, stand against political violence and voter intimidation. Period. Stand up and speak against it.
In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it.
We must—with one overwhelming, unified voice—speak as a country and say there is no place—no place—for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.
Put the Restoration of American Democracy Before All Else
In his speech, Biden told Americans to set their partisan differences aside in the coming midterm elections. Issues like the economy, healthcare, Social Security, and Medicare are of fundamental importance, he said, but something vastly more crucial to the well-being of the nation is at stake:
We must vote, knowing what’s at stake is not just the policy of the moment, but institutions that have held us together.
He counseled citizens to ask one crucial question about candidates when they cast votes in the midterm elections:
Will that person accept the legitimate will of the American people and the people voting in his district or her district? Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?
A Call to Action
Biden’s speech was a call to action. It was a reminder that the easy days of American democracy—where citizens vote, when convenient, and otherwise watch and complain passively—are over.
It’s worth repeating the central mandate Biden issued on Wednesday night: “We must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can’t take democracy for granted any longer.” Instead, “we are all called to defend it now. Now.”
Biden’s call to action was general, not specific. Here are five resources that outline concrete steps Americans can take to fulfill the mandate to defeat demagoguery, corruption, and authoritarianism: