Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, beginning to venture out on the campaign trail, went to Pittsburgh on Monday to deliver a searing rebuke to President Trump. “This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can’t stop the violence — because for years he has fomented it,” Biden declared. “You know, he may believe mouthing the words ‘law and order’ makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.”

The former vice president began with an explicit, extensive and emphatic condemnation of all violence, something Trump has not done. His tone was pugnacious as he ticked off the calamities — covid-19, unemployment, racial unrest — and made clear these horrors are in “Donald Trump’s America.” He asked after listing each calamity whether we would really would feel safe under Trump. He also blasted Trump for inciting violence and using “LAW & ORDER!” to distract from the pandemic disaster. “He failed to protect America so he is trying to scare America.”

Anticipating Trump’s planned visit to Wisconsin, Biden called the president out for not deploring violence from white militia and from police using unreasonable force. Given the White House news conference in which press secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to condemn the killing of two protesters in Wisconsin allegedly by a White teenager, the shooting of Jacob Blake or far-right militias traveling to other cities, Trump is obviously seeking to pander to white supremacists. Each time the White House speaks — or doesn’t — Trump seems to reaffirm his intent is to encourage violent Whites and to provoke a violent response.

Trump has been posing as a helpless observer of the death and destruction. Biden asked: “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected? We need justice in America. And we need safety in America. We are facing multiple crises — crises that, under Donald Trump, keep multiplying.” The thing that ties them all together, he argued, is an “incumbent president who makes things worse, not better . . . [and] who sows chaos rather than providing order.”

At a time when Trump is trying to ignore the casualty count from covid-19 and incite white supremacists, Biden wants to remind people who is supposed to be in charge. He presents Trump with a dilemma: The president can either insist everything is great in an ongoing effort to gaslight the public, or he can argue — again — that he alone can fix it.

Americans are not going to forget that more than 180,000 are dead, that kids cannot go to school and that — as Trump keeps reminding them — racial division is deepening. Arguing that he is better equipped to fix what he broke is a more difficult argument. The right’s accusations that Biden is a socialist, or that he will be hypnotized by socialists, falls flat. Biden wisecracked, “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?”

Biden condemned Trump’s obnoxious reference to “Democrat Cities,” declaring they are all American cities. He also pilloried Trump for playing “such a subservient role” to Vladimir Putin in refusing to address bounties the Russian government placed on U.S. troops. “It’s not only dangerous. It’s humiliating and embarrassing for the rest of the world to see,” he said. “It weakens us.”

Trump has tried to characterize the Obama-Biden years as a disaster but, in fact, the economy was stronger under President Barack Obama than the pre-pandemic economy under Trump. We did not have Americans dying at the rate of 1,000 a day, nor did we have to shelter in place; indeed, many of us critical of some Obama policies look back fondly on the relative calm and prosperity we were enjoying as Obama left office.

Biden is going to do everything to make this a referendum on Trump — the Trump pandemic, the Trump recession, the Trump violence. If that is the aim, he got off to a solid start in Pittsburgh.

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Historian Carol Anderson traces the evolution of voter suppression tactics — from poll taxes to poll closures — and argues they are all rooted in White rage. (The Washington Post)

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