On Thursday, Joe Biden gave one of the most important speeches of his presidency. But because it didn’t include bitter complaints about low-flow toilets, his secret plan to avoid World War II, or stream-of-consciousness musings on perennial kitchen table issues like whale-murdering windmills, the legacy media largely gave it a pass.
And though the speech at times focused on the honor and heroism of Biden’s late friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain, at no point did Biden get confused and forget that he never ran against him.
What Biden did do was give a fierce defense of democracy, the Constitution, and American values—all while name-checking Donald Trump and the extreme MAGA movement that threatens the basic foundations of our republic. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it while falling over on his bike, so most Americans still don’t know about it.
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You’d think the current president (rightly) calling out his top political rival for being a power-mad, wannabe tinpot dictator who disdains the Constitution would merit searing, front-page coverage across the legacy media. But you’d be wrong.
Biden’s speech failed to make the front page of either The Washington Post or The New York Times, proving once again that these venerable leading lights of our fourth estate—and the herds of pundits and reporters who follow their lead—are still not taking the clear and present danger a plainly fascist Trump poses seriously enough. On the bright side, there's nothing on the Times’ front page about Hillary's emails today.
So because American newspapers are tending to shoehorn Biden’s rhetorical triumphs somewhere between The Jumble and “Marmaduke”—if not in “Marmaduke”—these days, we in the non-legacy media are forced to take up the slack.
You can watch the speech yourself or read the full transcript, but there are some takeaways that simply need to be repeated here verbatim, because to quote the guy who’s doing his level best to save democracy from a largely somnambulant media, “This is a big fucking deal.”
At one point, Biden lends some outside perspective to the MAGA stew we currently find ourselves swimming in. As frogs in boiling water, we may no longer experience the right’s resurgent fascism as the four-alarm fire it is, but the rest of the world sees what’s happening in America very clearly.
For centuries, the American Constitution has been a model for the world, with other countries adopting “We the People” as their North Star as well. But as we know, we know how damaged our institutions of democracy—the judiciary, the legislature, the executive—have become in the eyes of the American people, even the world, from attacks from within the past few years.
I know virtually every major world leader. That’s what I did when I was a senator, as vice president, and now. Everywhere I go in the world—I’ve met now with over a hundred heads of state of the nations of the world—everywhere I go, they look and they ask the question, “Is it going to be okay?”
Think about this: The first meeting I attended of the G7—the seven wealthiest nations in the world—in Europe, the NATO meeting, I sat down—it was in ... January, after being elected—so late January, early February—and it was in England. And I sat down, and I said, “America is back.” And Macron looked at me, and he said, “Mr. President, for how long—for how long?”
And then, the chancellor of Germany said, “Mr. President, what would you think if you picked up the paper tomorrow—tomorrow, the London Times—and it said a thousand people broke down the doors of Parliament, marched, and killed two bobbies in order to overthrow an election of the new prime minister? What would you think then? What would America think?”
What would America think? We’d think the fish and chip shops were using lead-based newsprint to wrap their wares again. But beyond that, we’d rightly be horrified.
But that wasn’t even the biggest takeaway from the speech. Our current president also directly confronted his predecessor—and, by extension, the entire MAGA movement—over his ongoing attempts to remake this country into something more like Vladimir Putin’s Russia than LBJ’s Great Society or Ronald Reagan’s shining city on a hill.
They’re pushing a notion the defeated former President expressed when he was in office and believes applies only to him. And this is a dangerous notion: This president is above the law, with no limits on power.
Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, “the right to do whatever he wants as President,” end of quote. I’ve never even heard a president say that in jest. Not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans but by vengeance and vindictiveness.
We see the headlines. Quote, “sweeping expansion of presidential power.” Their goal to, quote, “alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government,” end of quote.
What do they intend to do once they erode the constitutional order of checks and balances and separation of powers? Limit the independence of federal agencies and put them under the thumb of a president? Give the President the power to refuse to spend money that Congress has appropriated if he doesn’t like what it’s being spent for? ... Get rid of longstanding protections for civil servants?
Just consider these as actual quotes from MAGA—the MAGA movement. Quote, “I am your retribution.” “Slitting throats” of civil servants, replacing them with extreme political cronies. MAGA extremists proclaim support for law enforcement only to say, “We …”—quote, “We must destroy the FBI.”
It’s not one person. It’s the controlling element of the House Republican Party.
Whitewash attacks of Jan. 6 by calling the spearing and stomping of police a ... quote, a “legitimate political discourse.”
Did you ever think you’d hear leaders of political parties in the United States of America speak like that? Seizing power, concentrating power, attempting to abuse power, purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep America safe, weaponizing against the very soul of who we are as Americans.
This MAGA threat is the threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions. But it’s also a threat to the character of our nation … that gives our Constitution life, that binds us together as Americans in common cause.
Biden also happened to notice another story that should have generated screaming front-page headlines in every major newspaper in the country as well as blanket condemnations from every sitting lawmaker, regardless of party:
Tomorrow, I have the honor of overseeing the change of responsibilities of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States military from one genuine hero and patriot, Gen. Mark Milley, to another, Gen. CQ Brown—both defining leaders of our time.
And yet, here is what you hear from MAGA extremists about the retiring patriot general honoring his oath to the Constitution: quote, he’s “a traitor,” end of quote. “In times gone by, the punishment…”—quote, “In times gone by, the punishment would’ve been death,” end of quote.
This is the United States of America. This is the United States of America.
And although I don’t believe even a majority of Republicans think that, the silence is deafening.
In case you somehow missed it (you could be forgiven, because the media didn’t cover it with nearly the urgency it deserved), the quote Biden references about Milley deserving the death penalty came from Trump, who was upset that Milley failed to show him the abject loyalty he thought he deserved.
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Seems like a really important story, but then the nation’s biggest outlets can’t thoroughly cover all of a fascist presidential candidate’s fascist statements, can they? You need to balance them with horse race coverage about the advanced age of the man who stands as our sole remaining bulwark against the return of an avowedly authoritarian former president. It’s just basic fairness.
In short, Biden’s speech was clear, forceful, urgent, at times funny—Biden is a charming, witty guy, despite all the chatter about his age—and most importantly, grounded in the reality of our current fraught political climate. He also showed genuine emotion when talking about the cancer that claimed the lives of both his friend McCain and his son Beau. And he was funny and gracious when responding to a group of hecklers who tried to interrupt his speech, offering to speak with them after his address instead of, say, urging members of the audience to “knock the crap out of them.”
As Biden stated in his address, “We’re at an inflection point in our history. One of those moments that not only happens once every several generations, it happens once every eight or nine generations, where the decisions made in the short period of time we’re in now are going to determine the course of this country and the world for the next six or seven decades. So you, me, every American who is committed to preserving our democracy and our constitutional protections, we carry a special responsibility. We have to stand up for American values embedded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, because we know the MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t.”
Clearly, Biden knows what time it is. If only legacy media—which stands to lose the most under a second Trump term—would take a side. It’s okay to take a side if that side is pro-democracy and anti-fascist. No, really. Preserving our ever-fragile democracy is actually that important.
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This recent commentary from MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan on “Donald Trump’s Extremely Fascist Week” is a must-watch. Though maybe you’re not the one who needs to watch it—unless, of course, you happen to be one of the key decision-makers at The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.