President Joe Biden warned Americans on Thursday that democracy is under attack by former President Donald Trump and his “MAGA Republican” supporters who he said are foisting unprecedented threats upon the ability of the United States to remain a democratic republic.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our republic,” Biden said during a rare 24-minute primetime speech delivered from Philadelphia.
The address was unusually personal for Biden, who rarely refers to Trump by name, instead often referencing “the former guy.” It marked a newly aggressive style from Biden, who in recent weeks has taken to calling out Trump supporters and the former president himself in clear and combative terms, earlier in the week employing the term “semi-fascist” to characterize far-right Trump supporters.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election and they are working right now as I speak, in state after state, to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself,” he said.
The primetime speech just two months ahead of the midterm elections revived Biden’s “battle for the soul of the nation” – the phrase that defined his 2020 campaign against Trump and one that’s become his administration’s trademarked rallying cry throughout its early tenure.
“Tonight I have come here to the place where it all began to speak plainly to the nation about the threats we face,” Biden said, delivering his address from outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the very place where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was written, “about the power we have in our own hands to meet those threats and about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it.”
Biden used the speech to trace an arc from the night five years ago when neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia campus with torches chanting of “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” – an event that Biden has said shook his moral compass and moved him to run for president – to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, where Trump’s most ardent supporters punched, pepper-sprayed and pillaged their way into the rotunda in an effort to halt the certification of the election, to present day, as those still committed to the former president now threaten the lives of law enforcement agents involved in a Justice Department investigation concerning Trump’s mishandling of hundreds of classified documents.
“I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican – not even a majority of Republicans – are MAGA Republicans,” Biden said. “But there is 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.”
“They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6th, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger at the throat of our democracy but as patriots,” he said. “They see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and the 2024 election. They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time they are determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.”
The speech was briefly interrupted by protesters shouting through a megaphone, but Biden didn’t falter and instead acknowledged their presence and reinforced their right to protest while urging them and the nation simultaneously not to let disagreements become disrespectful.
Biden lamented the decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade – a decision made possible by the three justices confirmed under Trump, who swore before the Senate Judiciary Committee that they wouldn’t overturn the long-standing precedent that protected women’s access to the procedure. And he cautioned that other long-standing precedents now hang in the balance amid an alarming push among Republicans obsessed with states’ rights.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” he 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.”
Coming just 10 weeks ahead of the November midterms, the speech served to isolate Trump and his “Make America Great Again” evangelists, conservative ideologues and those dedicated to election denialism.
“Democracy endures only if we the people respect the guardrails of the republic, only if we the people accept the results of free and fair elections, only if we the people see politics not as total war but mediation of our differences,” Biden said. “Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election – either they win or they were cheated. And that’s where the MAGA Republicans are today. They don’t understand what every patriotic American knows: You can’t love your country only when you win.”
Notably, the speech comes as new details emerge about the hundreds of classified documents Trump took from the White House and had stored in his personal residence at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, on which the FBI executed a search warrant last month. While the event initially had Republicans crying foul, it’s now posing a new test of loyalty to Trump as the ongoing investigation continues turning up more damning evidence.
But beyond the partisanship, the evening also marked an inflection point in Biden’s presidency – and perhaps the country – one in which he urged Americans to “stand up” to defend democracy and push back against political extremism and threats of political violence.
“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed,” Biden said. “But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”
“Now Americans must choose to move forward or to move backward,” he said. “To build a future or obsess about the past. To be a nation of hope and unity and optimism, or a nation of fear, division and of darkness. 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”