An American President Warns Darkly Of The Perils Of Political Violence

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PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 01: U.S. President Joe Biden comes out from the Independence Hall with first lady Jill Biden prior to delivering a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park Sept... PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 01: U.S. President Joe Biden comes out from the Independence Hall with first lady Jill Biden prior to delivering a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park September 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. President Biden spoke on “the continued battle for the Soul of the Nation.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS

A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo.

The Specter Of Political Violence

What will be long remembered from Joe Biden’s speech last night outside Independence Hall is not what he said but that it had to be said at all.

Not since the Civil War has an American president so directly confronted the specter of political violence at home.

While Biden did call out Trump and “MAGA Republicans” – for fanning the flames of violence, for embracing anger, and for the threat they pose to the Republic – the heart of the speech was an extraordinary beseeching of Americans to eschew political violence.

A president whose own rise to power was nearly blocked by an attempted coup by the man he defeated stood at the cradle of the founding of the Republic, itself forged in a spasm of revolutionary upheaval, and warned his countrymen of the perils of political violence:

Today, there are dangers around us we cannot allow to prevail. We hear – you’ve heard it – more and more talk about violence as an acceptable political tool in this country. It’s not. It can never be an acceptable tool. So, I want to say this plain and simple: There is no place for political violence in America, period, none, ever.

… history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

On top of that, there are public figures today, yesterday and the day before predicting and all but calling for mass violence and rioting in the streets. This is inflammatory. It’s dangerous. It’s against the rule of law. And we, the people, must say this is not who we are.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t be pro-insurrectionist and pro-American. They’re incompatible. We can’t allow violence to be normalized in this country. It’s wrong. We each have to reject political violence with all the moral clarity and conviction this nation can muster now.

Joe Biden is not the American one may have envisioned to lead at this crossroads, with political violence a real threat, with a slide to authoritarianism already underway, with the upcoming election and the one after it so plainly under threat. But here we are.

I fear that we will look back on this speech and with the benefit of sober hindsight realize the Republic was already lost, the threshold already crossed, the die already cast. But the optimistic view might be that this speech marked the first time Biden so completely embraced his role to stop Trump and Trumpism. At least the fight is now fully engaged.

The Threat Is Trump And MAGA Republicans

Joe Biden was explicit in targeting Donald Trump and what he calls the MAGA Republicans. He pulled no punches, and fully embraced the midterms election as a verdict on the future of America.

Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.

But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.

MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution.

They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fanned the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.

MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live, not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies. 

And MAGA Republicans are destroying American democracy.

If this was the opening salvo in the fall election campaign, delivered on the Thursday before Labor Day, which marks the start of general election season, it leaves no question what Democrats should make this election is about.

The Old Biden Still Wants To Believe

If this was the new Joe Biden, ready to throw his lot with the defeat of Trump and Trumpism, the old Joe Biden couldn’t completely let go of the quaint and antiquated notion that there is still a good, loyal, reasonable Republican Party out there with which he can do business.

Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.

I’m inclined to toss Joe a bone on this one. He still overestimates what’s left of the non-Trump Republican Party (is there even such a thing?), but to the extent deradicalization requires offering betrayed Republicans some kind of permission structure to return to the constitutional fold, I’m fine with Joe Biden being the one to give it to them.

Watch The Whole Speech

Biden’s Big Month

New Yorker (before the speech): “Biden … seems to have rekindled his spirit, and recentered his message, by reaffirming that his historic role is to defeat Trump and Trumpism.”

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