U.S. President Joe Biden warned Thursday night that “equality and democracy are under assault” in the U.S. as he sounded an alarm about his predecessor, Donald Trump, and “MAGA Republican” adherents — labelling those who support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda an extremist threat to the nation and its future.
Aiming to reframe the November elections as part of a battle for the nation’s soul — “the work of my presidency” — Biden used a prime-time speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to argue that Trump and MAGA allies are a challenge to nation’s system of government, its standing abroad and its citizens’ way of life.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” Biden declared. He said they “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence.”
The explicit effort by Biden to marginalize Trump and his adherents marks a sharp turn for the president, who preached his desire to bring about national unity in his inaugural address. White House officials said it reflects his mounting concern about Trump allies’ ideological proposals and relentless denial of the nation’s 2020 election results.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” Biden said. “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.”
“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not,” Biden said. “We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”
‘I don’t respect MAGA Republicans’
Biden, who largely avoided even referring to “the former guy” by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally. Now, emboldened by his party’s recent legislative wins and wary of Trump’s return to the headlines, Biden is sharpening his attacks.
Trump has planned a rally this weekend in Scranton, Penn., Biden’s birthplace.
At a Democratic fundraiser last week, Biden likened the “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”
Biden allies stress that he is not rejecting the entirety of the Republican Party and is calling on traditional Republicans to join him in condemning Trump and his followers. It’s a balancing act, given that more than 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020.
“I respect conservative Republicans,” Biden said last week. “I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans.”
Delivering a preemptive rebuttal from Scranton Thursday evening, U.S, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accused Biden of trying to divide Americans and blasted the Democrats’ record in Washington, pointing to rising inflation, crime and government spending.
“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,” he 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 about McCarthy’s criticism, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “we understand we hit a nerve” with the Republican leader, and quoted the Republican’s prior statements saying Trump bore responsibility for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Larry Diamond, an expert on democracy and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said calling Trump out for attacks on democracy “can be manipulated or framed as being partisan. And if you don’t call it out, you are shrinking from an important challenge in the defence of democracy.”
Even this week, Trump was posting on his beleaguered social media platform about overturning the 2020 election results and holding a new presidential election, which would violate the constitution.
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University, said it’s not unusual for there to be tension between a president and his successor, but it’s “unprecedented for a former president to be actively trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution.”
“The challenge that President Biden faces is to get on with his agenda while still doing what he needs to uphold the constitution,” Naftali said. “That’s not easy.”
Biden’s appearance Thursday night was promoted as an official, taxpayer-funded event, a mark of how the president views defeating the Trump agenda as much as a policy aim as a political one. The major broadcast television networks did not carry the address live.