PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Joe Biden charged in a prime-time address that the “extreme ideology” of Donald Trump and his adherents “threatens the very foundation of our republic,” as he summoned Americans of all stripes to help counter what he sketched as dark forces within the Republican Party trying to subvert democracy.
In his speech Thursday night (Sept. 1) at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Biden unleashed the trappings of the presidency in an indictment of Trump and what he said has become the dominant strain of the opposition party. His broadside came barely two months before Americans head to the polls in bitterly contested midterm elections that Biden calls a crossroads for the nation.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” he said before an audience of hundreds, raising his voice over pro-Trump protesters outside the building where the nation’s founding was debated. He said he wasn’t condemning the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 but added, “There’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” using the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The explicit effort by Biden to marginalize Trump and his followers marks a sharp recent turn for the president, who preached his desire to bring about national unity in his inaugural address.
“President Biden’s speech to the nation last night was more inflammatory than healing,” said Daniel Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an email to Baptist Press. “For a President who campaigned on unity and healing the country, he continues to govern in a way that is deeply polarizing. It was a campaign speech disguised as an official word from the commander-in-chief.”
Delivering a preemptive rebuttal from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said it is the Democratic president, not Republicans, trying to divide Americans.
“In the past two years, Joe Biden has launched an assault on the soul of America, on its people, on its laws, on its most sacred values,” McCarthy said. “He has launched an assault on our democracy. His policies have severely wounded America’s soul, diminished America’s spirit and betrayed America’s trust.”
Asked on Friday if he considered all Trump supporters a threat to the country, Biden said, “I don’t consider any Trump supporter a threat to the country.”
He added: “I do think anyone who calls for the use of violence, fails to condemn violence when it’s used, refuses to acknowledge when an election has been won, insists on changing the way in which the rules to count votes, that is a threat to democracy.”
He said that when people voted for Trump, “they weren’t voting for attacking the Capitol. They weren’t voting for overruling the election. They were voting for a philosophy he put forward.” Last week, he compared the “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”
“Equality and democracy are under assault” in the U.S., Biden charged in the speech, casting Trump and his backers in the GOP as a menace to the nation’s system of government, its standing abroad and its citizens’ way of life.
Trump and his supporters “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence,” he said. They “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,” he said.
Red lights illuminated the brick of Independence Hall, as the Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief” and a pair of Marine sentries stood at parade rest in the backdrop. Still, the major broadcast television networks did not carry the address live.
“His use of the symbols of the American military, his attempt to portray half the country as irredeemable fascists, and the bizarre red backdrop did not convey a leader wishing to heal but divide,” Darling said. “It was especially appalling to see the pro-life movement–of which the President used to be a member–portrayed as enemies of democracy.
“What America needs in this moment is a president willing to help heal our deep divides, to resist the election-year urge to consider his ideological adversaries as enemies of the state, and to ratchet down the rhetoric coming from the White House. We are at a dangerous moment, where the incentives on all sides are toward demonization, where partisans seem increasingly eager to engage in political violence. Preserving democracy requires cool heads and warm hearts, not cheap campaign rhetoric.
“For Christians, this is a moment of opportunity, to both display courage in advocating for transcendent truths and civility in seeing even those who disagree with us as image-bearers of the Almighty. And should pray for leaders willing to do the same.”
Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufman said in a statement that Biden was using the tactics of an authoritarian regime, “trying to turn his political opponents into an enemy of the state.”