President Joe Biden says his ‘battle for the soul of the nation’ will continue

Joe Biden warned that American democracy was in grave peril by Republican forces loyal to Donald Trump who “fan the flames” of political violence in pursuit of power at any cost.

In a primetime address from Philadelphia, the city where American democracy was born, Biden said the United States was in a continued battle for the “soul of the nation” with just eight weeks to go before bitterly contested midterm elections.

It was reprising a theme that animated his campaign for the White House in 2020 to frame the stakes of the November elections as an existential choice between his party’s agenda and Republicans’ “extreme Maga ideology.”

“Donald Trump and the Maga Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” said Biden, speaking at Independence Hall.

Maga is shorthand for “Make America great again” – Trump’s campaign slogan.

Biden emphasized that not all, not even most, Republicans are “Maga extremists” but there was not a question, he said, that the party was “dominated, driven and intimidated” by his White House predecessor – and perhaps would-be successor.

These Trump Republicans, he said, “thrive on chaos” and “don’t respect the Constitution” or the rule of law. They “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence”, he continued, adding that they believe there are only two possible outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated.

“You can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden said to thundering applause.

The unsparing speech was part of a newly aggressive line of attack Biden has unleashed on Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, as his party enjoys a brightening political outlook helped by a string of significant legislative wins and building public backlash to the supreme court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion.

It also comes as Trump, once again at the center of a criminal investigation – this one involving classified documents – lays the groundwork for a potential 2024 presidential run.

“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.”

Afterward, the president emphasized at an event at the White House that he did not regard all Trump supporters as threats to the US.

But he added: “Anyone who calls for the use of violence, fails to condemn violence when it’s used, refuses to acknowledge an election that’s been won, insists upon changing the rules upon which you count votes – that is a threat to democracy.”

In his speech, Biden also lashed Republicans for amplifying violent political rhetoric, including language targeting federal agents after the FBI seized boxes of classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month.

The protection of democracy has been a consistent theme of Biden’s road to the White House, which he has attributed to the racist violence in Charlottesville, an incident that Trump defended neo-Nazis as “some very fine people.”

Trump defended the white nationalists, klansmen and neo-Nazis who protested against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, after the melee in central Virginia resulted in the death of one woman and injuries to dozens of others participating in a counter-demonstration.

Though he pledged to build national unity as president, the forces unleashed by Trump’s lie of a stolen 2020 election have only gained strength in the nearly two years that Biden has been in office.

Polls suggest that a majority of Republicans do not believe Biden is the legitimately elected president.

Many election deniers are running for office, securing the nominations for crucial posts with power over how future elections will be conducted. State and local elections officials have become targets of harassment and threats.

“History tells us blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy,” Biden said, vowing to defend the nation’s system of government with “every fiber of my being.”

The primetime speech was the second of Biden’s three visits to battleground Pennsylvania, which will play host to several consequential races this election season.

Among the most concerning, democracy experts warn, is the nomination of Doug Mastriano, the far-right Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania who was a leading figure in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state and helped shuttle people to Trump’s rally in Washington that preceded the attack on the US Capitol launched as part of a failed coup d’etat attempt.

In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state, who has enormous sway over how the 2024 presidential election will be conducted there.

Without mentioning any candidates by name, Biden said the election deniers running for office saw their failure to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in 2020 as “preparation” for future elections.

Biden sought to avoid casting this fight as a partisan call to action as he urged all Americans not to be “bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy.”

“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.”

“Ever since the U.S. Senate failed to convict Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection and disqualify him from running for president again, a lot of people, myself included, have been warning that a second Trump term could bring about the extinction of American democracy,” said Jonathan Rauch is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Essential features of the system, including the rule of law, honest vote tallies, and orderly succession, would be at risk.”

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