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Biden stresses the risk Trump represents for US democracy

In a speech in Arizona, the president warned of the danger to American institutions and the U.S. Constitution posed by the former president and his ‘extremist movement’

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden during his speech on Thursday in Tempe, Arizona.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez

The United States lives in an almost permanent electoral campaign. With races every two years (between presidential and midterm elections) and a long process of primaries, the race for the White House that will culminate in the vote on November 5, 2024, is already underway. U.S. President Joe Biden, who is up for re-election, and his likely rival, Donald Trump, have entered the melee ahead of the re-run of their duel. Both have been in Michigan this week, one of the crucial swing states, vying for the vote of industrial workers. And on Thursday in Arizona, Biden accused Trump and his supporters of being a danger to democracy and the Constitution. “There is something dangerous happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA Movement,” he said in reference to the Make America Great Again initials, Trump’s slogan.

“Not every Republican — not even the majority of Republicans — adhere to the extremist MAGA ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with Republicans my whole career. But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists. Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American Democracy as we know it,” he insisted in his appearance in Tempe, Arizona, in which he was interrupted at a certain point by someone in the crowd.

President Biden presented himself as a protective wall against the threats on a democracy “at risk”: “I have made the defense, the protection, and the preservation of American Democracy the central cause of my presidency,” he stated, standing in front of an enormous American flag with two smaller ones at the sides. The message is not a new one. Biden raised it at his possession and has given three speeches over the last year with similar argument. This time, however, he wanted to reiterate his warning in an act in honor of his friend the deceased Republican senator John McCain, who challenged Trump and represents a way of doing politics diametrically opposed to the former president’s.

Along with personal anecdotes of his relationship with McCain, Biden decided to emphasize the dangers of Trumpist extremism for the institutions. He did so, moreover, on the same day that the House of Representatives held the first session of the formal investigation for a possible impeachment of Biden, a case brought by the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, to appease the hard wing of the Republican Party.

“From Gettysburg to my Inaugural Address, to the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Union Station in Washington, I’ve spoken about the danger of election denialism and political violence and the battle for the soul of America,” Biden recalled.

“I have come to honor the McCain Institute and Library because they are home to a proud Republican who put country first. Our commitment should be no less because democracy should unite all Americans — regardless of political affiliation,” said the president. “As I’ve always been clear, democracy is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue,” he added.

Closing wounds

“Now today in Phoenix, Arizona, at an institute devoted to the defense of democracy named in honor of a true patriot, I’m here to speak about another threat to our democracy that we too often ignore: the threat to our institutions, to our Constitution itself, and the very character of our nation,” he said, preparing the terrain.

In contrast to other occasions, Biden has openly quoted Trump: “This is a dangerous notion, this president is above the law, no limits on power. Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, the right to do whatever he wants as president, end of quote. I never heard a president say that in jest. Not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans but by vengeance and vindictiveness.”

“Seizing power, concentrating power, attempting to abuse power, purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep Americans safe, weaponizing against the very soul of who we are as Americans,” Biden said.

Biden came to the White House with the purpose of healing wounds and uniting the country after a turbulent period marked by the divisive figure of Trump, but polarization has not only not relented, it has increased. Trump has used his indictment for 91 crimes in four different cases to present himself as the victim of political persecution and to attack the Justice Department, the FBI, judges and prosecutors. In his party very few have dared to disagree with him and raise their voice against him. Biden also recalled on Thursday the threats of revenge from Trump and his party if they win the election.

With his tribute to McCain, Biden wanted to show that it is possible to heal wounds. If the roles were reversed, it is unlikely that Trump would be able to speak at a memorial for a high-profile Democrat. In this climate of confrontation, Trump accuses Biden in his speeches of being a puppet manipulated by the “radical left” and “environmental extremists.” The former president also promotes from a distance the impeachment of Biden and the partial government shutdown due to lack of funding.

Opposition to Trump

Following the November 2022 midterm elections, many saw Trump’s prominence during the campaign — and the extremist candidates he promoted — as the cause of the Republican Party’s disappointing results. Trump drove away moderate voters and mobilized Democrats. In spite of this, the Republican base blindly supports him, and he leads the presidential primary polls by more than 40 points over Ron DeSantis.

Biden’s popularity in the polls is very low, and although he tries to show off the achievements of his administration, the role of opposition to Trump may be electorally more profitable for him than his own performance. It worked for him in the 2020 presidential and 2022 legislative elections. The Trumpist threat has not disappeared, so the president is back on the charge, although the question remains as to whether his message will be somewhat worn out.

“As I’ve said before, we’re at an inflection point in our history — one of those moments that only happens once every few generations. Where the decisions we make today will determine the course of this country — and the world — for decades to come,” the president insisted, who already said that the previous elections, the midterms in 2022, were that same inflection point.

“So, you, me, and every American who is committed to preserving our democracy carry a special responsibility. We have to stand up for America’s values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t. We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t. History is watching. The world is watching. Most important, our children and grandchildren are watching,” he added.

Accompanied by diplomat Cindy McCain, widow of John McCain, the McCain family, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs and Arizona congresspeople, he announced funding from the American Rescue Plan to build the McCain Library in partnership with the McCain Institute and Arizona State University. It will be a new multipurpose facility that will provide education, employment, and health monitoring programs to the state’s disadvantaged communities.

House of Representatives inquiry against Biden gets underway

Biden's speech in defense of democracy coincided with the first session of a House of Representatives committee to formally investigate him as a preliminary step to impeachment. Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, for years for his business dealings during his father's time as vice president. Some of those business dealings appear questionable, but they have found no evidence that Joe Biden, in his current or former position, abused his office or took bribes. The investigation is a concession to hardliners in the Republican Party, but a conviction and impeachment of Biden is unfeasible.

Republican James Comer, chairman of the committee where the hearing was being held, has argued that Hunter Biden took advantage of access to Joe Biden. Republicans insinuate that the then-vice president's son was well aware of his father's power and status when doing business and that if he was hired it was to gain access to his father.

Republicans have called Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley to appear as an expert. He once argued in favor of impeachment against President Bill Clinton in 1998 and against the first of two cases against President Donald Trump. Turley has said he does not believe the evidence so far supports bringing impeachment charges against Biden, but that there is reason to launch an investigation into “demonstrably false” statements by Biden about his son's business dealings and the multimillion-dollar movement of funds under suspicion of influence peddling.

Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor called to appear by Democrats, said he had heard no evidence to bring impeachment charges against the president. “Any further investigation is being done to make sure that Mr. Biden has to prove his innocence, rather than the committee being able to connect the dots in a compelling and persuasive way,” Gerhardt said in his opening statement.

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