MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2022
The president's four-letter word: Over the weekend, we watched Joe Biden's speech.
He delivered the speech last Thursday night at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Two Marines, in dress uniform, stood on blood-red display behind him.
We thought that display was notably odd. Beyond that, we're not sure we've ever seen an emptier, more fatuous political speech.
The speech struck us as remarkably empty. We regard that fact as deeply unfortunate, because the president made some important and accurate statements that night, including this early remark:
We must be honest with each other and with ourselves. Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal.
That's true! A great deal of what is happening today is profoundly abnormal. In our view, vast amounts of that abnormal behavior—of those abnormal statements and beliefs—track back to the disordered behavior of former president Donald J. Trump.
We've long regarded Donald J. Trump as being profoundly disordered. In our view, a great deal of abnormal behavior and belief tracks back to the aggressive influence he has exercised over the past seven years.
That said, we can't ignore President Biden's unfortunate speech. In our view, his speech was strongly given to a dangerous form of otherization. The process worked like this:
Biden defined a group of Others without taking care to explain exactly who he was talking about. He kept describing the views and ambitions of "MAGA Republicans"—but who did he mean by that?
Was he talking about Republican leadership cadres? Was he talking about the Republican rank and file? Biden made little attempt to define who he was talking about before denouncing such Others in passages like this:
BIDEN (9/1/22): MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law.
They do not recognize the will of the people. 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.
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.
Those are potent indictments. In our view, a person could easily justify such claims if he was talking about a wide array of Republican leadership cadres—if he was talking about many Republican office-holders, many Republican party officials, many Trump-aligned high-profile propagandists.
That said, who was Biden talking about? He made little attempt to explain who those "MAGA Republicans" actually are—and then, as he continued his assault, he repeatedly used one of our most dangerous four-letter words:
BIDEN (continuing directly): They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.
They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th—brutally attacking law enforcement—not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.
And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.
They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they are determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.
They they they they they they they, the president unwisely said.
The president listed many things "They" are determined to do. Dangerously, he hadn't made a significant effort to be clear about who these demonized evil-doers actually are.
He was willing to name only one name—that of Donald J. Trump. Aside from that, the target of his sweeping indictment was left almost wholly unclear.
"They" is an extremely dangerous four-letter word. (It's right up there with "You people.") It has been a dangerous word all through the sweep of human history.
"They" is a dangerous word! It leads directly to "Us and Them," then onward to the tribal warfare which has driven the bulk of our human history.
Biden made a cursory attempt to define his target, then plowed roughly ahead. In our view, he was feeding the "Us Against Them" impulse.
That impulse is deeply bred in the bone. It has proven deadly, again and again, all over the face of the globe.
We thought Biden's speech was poorly articulated, and therefore deeply unwise. That said, also this:
This Sunday morning, roughly similar thinking was remarkably widespread from callers to C-Span's Washington Journal. We refer to sweeping claims which were made by callers on the Democratic line.
Callers were asked to explain what a "MAGA Republican" is. Below, you see part of the penultimate call during the 7 A.M. hour:
PATRICIA FROM GEORGIA (9/4/22): You know, you—you're the same people that were leaving church with Bible in your hands and going to the square and lynching black folks. You are the same people that hung pregnant women—hung pregnant women, cut their baby out of the womb—
C-SPAN MODERATOR: Wait! You're applying that to all Republicans?
PATRICIA FROM GEORGIA: Yes, sir.
C-SPAN: How so?
PATRICIA FROM GEORGIA: Let me tell you why...
Patricia from Georgia went on to explain You can hear her entire call by clicking this link, then moving ahead to the 57-minute mark.
Calls like that were remarkably widespread on Sunday morning's Washington Journal, from the first phone call on. The otherization was general, even more aggressively than had been the case in Biden's poorly articulated speech.
As a general matter, Biden's speech struck us as remarkably empty. Beyond that, we thought he kept using a very dangerous word.
We'll discuss that speech, and those phone calls to C-Span, all through the course of the week. For today, we'll quit on this point:
"They" is a dangerous four-letter word! We thought President Biden was careless—unhelpful—in its use when he spoke, as part of a blood-red display, from what he described as "sacred ground" in Philly last Thursday night.
Tomorrow: To whom did he refer?