In a fiery and blunt speech slamming the tenor, tone and words of President Trump as the nation reels from white nationalist domestic terrorism, former vice president Joe Biden reminded all of us of what a presidential president sounds like. His words were stirring. His delivery was passionate. And they were befitting a man who kicked off his campaign with a video decrying Trump’s shameful response to Charlottesville.
This is no knock on the other Democratic presidential candidates, particularly Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who gave his own speech on Wednesday at the historic Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, S.C., where a white supremacist murdered nine African American parishoners in 2015. All of the candidates have a moral core and fundamental senses of decency and empathy that Trump never possessed. Yet, unlike teleprompter Trump’s hollow remarks about the carnage in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Biden came at his speech in Iowa with an authority that is hard to match.
Sure, some of that authority has to do with Biden having served side-by-side with the still-popular former president Barack Obama. His voice providing comfort for those of us who long for the days when a grown-up was president of the United States, acted accordingly and wielded the bully pulpit of the Oval Office with moral authority. Instead, in Trump, we have a bully with a pulpit and no moral compass.
“Days before the mid-terms,” Biden said of Trump, “he fomented fears of a caravan heading to the United States, creating hysteria. saying ‘look at what is marching up, that is an invasion…An invasion’.” The Democratic front-runner continued through a litany of examples of Trump hurling red meat to his supporters. “At a rally in Florida, when he asked a crowd, ‘How do we stop these people?,’ meaning immigrants, and someone yelled back, ‘Shoot them.’ He smiled,” Biden recounted. And then Biden drew a straight line from Trump’s embrace of white supremacy to the hate-inspired violence we’ve endured.
How far is it from Trump’s saying this “is an invasion” to the shooter in El Paso declaring, quote, “this attack is in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”? How far apart are those comments?How far is it from white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville -- Trump’s “very fine people” -- chanting “You will [not] replace us” – to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh saying, “we're committing genocide" -- Jews are committing genocide -- on his people. I don't think it's that far at all.It’s both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.
What gave Biden’s address more power was that it wasn’t just a harangue against Trump. It was a reminder of who we are as a nation, “the soul of America,” as he called it.
What this president doesn’t understand is that unlike every other nation on earth, we're unable to define what constitutes "American" by religion, by ethnicity, or by tribe; you can't do it.America is an idea. An idea stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth….The most powerful idea in the history of the world I think beats in the hearts of the people of this country. And it beats in all of us. No matter your race, your ethnicity. No matter your gender identity, your sexual orientation. No matter your faith. It beats in the heart of rich and poor alike. It unites America -- whether your ancestors were Native to these shores or they were brought here forcibly and enslaved, whether they were immigrants generations back, like my family from Ireland, or those coming today looking to build a better life for your family.The American creed – that we are all created equal –was written long-ago. But the genius of every generation of Americans has opened it wider and wider and wider, to include those who have been excluded in a previous generation. That’s why it has never gathered dust in the history books.
Biden wasn’t blind to the shortcomings of our nation and the men who formed it. He talked about them. But he demonstrated that the vision of America was perpetuated by Democratic and Republican presidents alike throughout its history. Ending his speech, Biden slipped off his prepared remarks in an emphatic way. “This is the United States of America! Period! May God protect our troops,” Biden said pounding the podium, ending a speech that everyone knows he believes in his bones.
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