President Biden and the Soul of the Nation
Last night President Joe Biden gave a 24 minute speech that warned about the current assault on American democracy. He directed his remarks at Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans who “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.” The concern of many is not so much a change in political policies. Rather it is the way the political process itself has become a part of their political agenda. While many mainstream candidates have campaigned on ways to increase voter turnout or make elections fairer, the current wave of reforms from the right seek to limit access to the ballot and empower openly partisan officials.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed Biden’s remarks before he even gave the speech. In fact, he went so far as to say Democrats were “dismantling Americans’ democracy before our very eyes.” It’s an odd remark, but merits some consideration. Republicans view the search into Trump’s residence as a political investigation. Moreover, many Republicans viewed Biden’s remarks as an attack on their supporters.
Both sides in this debate claim the mantle of democracy. However, McCarthy and many other Republicans use asymmetric attacks on Democrats. They use the idea of democracy as a shield against undemocratic behaviors of their own. They seem to say Trump may behave undemocratically, but it’s undemocratic to do anything about it. Moreover, voters might elect undemocratic candidates, but it’s undemocratic to say anything about it.
The great debate in American politics today is not about abortion or social welfare spending. Americans must grapple with the meaning of democracy. Both sides interpret the meaning of democracy differently. It’s a problem repeated in democracies throughout the world. Biden just made a case for his vision of democracy. It’s still incomplete. But it’s a necessary statement for this historical moment.