It was not simply his slurred speech (Trump also mangled the pronunciation of Ulysses Grant, as if he had never seen in print the first name of the Union general who clobbered the Confederate generals Trump still tries to venerate) that conveyed the impression there is something just not right with the 45th president. It was not merely Trump’s sweaty, oddly colored pallor; his squinting to read the teleprompter; or the uneven pacing of his reading, which at times threatened (promised?) to grind to a halt. No, it was the darkly aggressive and fascistic substance of his speech: positing that his enemies want to destroy America and eradicate its history.
This was a bookend (and, one hopes, the final chapter) speech to the “carnage” inauguration speech, which former president George W. Bush aptly called “some weird s---.” This one was even weirder. It was more in the vein of Infowars’ Alex Jones than adviser Stephen Miller: “The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society,” Trump said, perhaps in reference to the Black Lives Matter protests that seek an end to systemic racism. “It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance and turn our free society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.” I actually have no idea what he is talking about. It is all froth, anger and white resentment at this point. His enemies are other Americans; his understanding of American greatness is utterly defective. Reform, progress and inclusion are threats to his base, oozing with white grievance.
Somehow, in Trump’s view, the people who want to stop the veneration of traitorous white nationalists who took up arms against the United States harbor a “radical view of American history [that] is a web of lies.” The president who calls the media the enemy of the people says others (fellow Americans) are trying to silence “us” (his voters? whites?). Left unmentioned were the roughly 130,000 Americans dead of covid-19, although he thanked first responders. He had nothing to say about the victims of a pandemic he ignored and then mishandled. (He surely did not mention his son Donald Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who tested positive for covid-19, a reminder that reality doesn’t heed insane rhetoric.)
When all a president has to offer is paranoia and a statuary garden (Note: Washington, D.C., is home to statues of many of the people Trump listed, so perhaps he needs to get out more) directed at the hard-core cultists who buy into his blood-and-soil nationalism and his contempt for anything that sounds like social justice, you have to wonder if he even knows how to win the general election. This surely was not designed to win back voters he desperately needs in November.
Now, if you were looking for normalcy, sanity, actual patriotism and something uplifting, you could have read former vice president Joe Biden’s July 4 op-ed. His vision of America is one of ever-expanding freedom:
Our democracy rose up from the ground when we ended slavery and ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. It rose higher when women fought for suffrage — and won. It was fortified when a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down “separate but equal” and blaze a trail for opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education. And when our nation opened its eyes to the viciousness of Bull Connor and the righteousness of the Freedom Riders — and responded with outrage, and a new Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act — we built it stronger still.
In Biden’s view, there is not “them” and “us” but one country seeking to fulfill its promise, however imperfectly, in each generation. “Title IX. The Indian Self-Determination Act. The Americans With Disabilities Act. Marriage equality. DACA. Black Lives Matter. Brick by brick — and, all too often, against long odds and violent opposition — the American people have labored to expand the scope, strength and meaning of American democracy,” Biden wrote. He called Independence Day “a celebration of our persistent march toward greater justice — the natural expansion of our founding notion from ‘all men are created equal’ to ‘all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.’”
Biden does not want to go to war with fellow Americans. He does not spew venom nor ignore the all-encompassing national crisis in which we find ourselves. “Rebuilding and expanding our democracy are essential to the long-term vitality of our nation,” he vowed. “That’s why, as president, I will take immediate action to reverse the damage Donald Trump has done to our core democratic rights and institutions.” He promised to restore and protect voting rights as well as to set about “immediately reversing Trump’s cruel and counterproductive asylum, travel ban, and family separation policies — and reaffirming our innate identity, reflected in our Constitution and emblazoned in the Statue of Liberty, as a nation of immigrants.” Pledging to undo racism and root out inequities (“from unfairly administered COVID-19 recovery funds, to laws that perpetuate racial wealth gaps, to health disparities, to housing policy, to policing, to our justice system and everywhere in between”), Biden offers a vision of a country that stands “ready to lead again, not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
You can have that guy or the raving, paranoid one peddling hate and dystopia. The choice is not even close.