What was the real objective of Biden’s speech targeting ‘MAGA Republicans’?
PARIS — It’s impossible to recall the last time an American president addressed the entire nation in order to denounce U.S. citizens as a threat to democracy. When President Joe Biden took to the stage in Pennsylvania last week to brand “MAGA Republicans” as nothing less than a threat to democracy, it sounded like the kind of speech that his predecessors typically made about foreign threats or nations that represent competitive threats to America’s political or economic interests abroad. So what exactly are these speeches typically meant to accomplish? And what might it tell us about this latest version?
Typically, such addresses are given by presidents prior to launching military action with the purpose of mobilizing popular support by convincing Americans that it’s necessary in the interests of either their own safety, the spread or preservation of democracy, or humanitarian grounds. Here’s the formula: “I, President X, have authorized military action against group/leader/country Y, as they threaten our safety/democracy/allies/lifestyle. Our common resolve and patriotism will be crucial in the coming times. I also have a message for the people of country Y. Our beef isn’t with you.” The idea behind that line is always to attempt to win the hearts and minds of one part of the targeted group by separating them out from the bad guys being targeted, in the hope that they’ll either join the fight against the targets or sit on their hands and rescind any support.
Biden adopted a similar approach by separating out “MAGA Republicans” from Republicans whom he appreciates. “Now, I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans,” Biden said. “But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.”
Biden is rhetorically splitting Republicans into two camps: populists who support Trump, and more traditional establishment Republicans who don’t. At no point did Biden attempt to acknowledge the concerns of Republicans angry with establishment corruption and mismanagement — including within their own party — who support many of the populist and anti-neoconservative ideals on which Trump campaigned, but who don’t particularly appreciate the man himself. The fact that Biden didn’t make any efforts to parse out and legitimize the concerns of populists effectively results in the conflation of populists with more radical elements when, in reality, the number of individuals who were involved in the events of Jan. 6th on Capitol Hill is minuscule.
It’s an insult to the intelligence of the American people to attempt to conflate a handful of rioters with the tens of millions of voters who cast a ballot for Trump in 2016 for the sole reason that they were fed up with establishment cronies in both parties. Yet that’s exactly what Biden did. “They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself,” Biden said. Hear that, America? Be very afraid. Your neighborhood populist, who is a “MAGA Republican,” if he isn’t an avowed supporter of the friendly establishment Republicans whom I back slap in the halls of Washington, is lurking in the weeds and waiting for the chance to wrest the levers of power away from someone who has our stamp of approval — and destroy our fragile democracy.
Biden continued his caricature of the enemy: “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — 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.” In reality, a large number of populists favor free markets and limited government, and their mileage may vary greatly on issues like abortion, marriage, and birth control. But that fact doesn’t help to define the enemy as being of maximum danger or to incite the requisite fear to sell Biden’s narrative.
President Biden accuses these non-establishment Republicans of “promot[ing] authoritarian leaders,” when in reality Republicans who supported Trump’s ideals merely backed his distaste for ginning up foreign wars to spark failed regime change of a targeted “authoritarian.”
Speaking of which, how many authoritarians has Biden’s beloved Washington establishment promoted or propped up as long as they work for U.S. interests? As for extremists, from the Ukraine Azov fighters and the “Syrian rebels” to the Mujahideen and the Nicaraguan Contras, there’s no shortage of extremists who have been supported and celebrated by Biden and his cronies. It’s precisely this kind of hypocrisy that has caused populism to surge in America and elsewhere.
Biden’s address was an attempt to delegitimize populist apprehensions by presenting them to America through the prism of a fun-house mirror — all in defense of the broken Washington establishment that he insists on defending to the detriment of the average American.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of independently produced talk shows in French and English. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)
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