OTHERS: A strikingly empty—and dangerous—speech!


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?


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?


  1. Somerby says that Biden did not define who he was talking about when he referred to MAGA Republicans. Then he quotes Biden:

    "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."

    This IS the definition of who Biden meant by the term MAGA Republican. The people who do this stuff are the people he means. That is very clear from Biden's speech. And yes, it does include a lot of people, but that is the problem and why Biden's speech was necessary. About 10% of our nation believes this stuff and is actively working toward it. And that is a major problem.

    1. How does this work? Laura Loomer has refused to accept the results of her election even though she lost by a wide margin. Does that fit the criterion of "They refuse to accept the results of a free election"? You bet it does and not coincidentally, she is a MAGA Republican, supporting Trump. Sarah Palin has claimed that the election she lost was fixed because of the ranked choice voting procedure, voted in by the people of Alaska. Does that make her someone who doesn't accept the result of an election? You betcha! She is a MAGA Republican, supporting Trump too. See how this works? These women are not MAGA because they are Republican. They are MAGA because they support Trump and do not accept the results of elections after the people have spoken, as our Constitution demands (following exhaustion of legal remedies such as recounts or lawsuits, which neither failed candidate has pursued). This is how behavior, not identity or even political affiliation, defines membership in Biden's clearly defined group.

      These people are also enamored of guns (Boebert and MTG have both posed with them), they try to take guns onto the floor of Congress and through airport checkpoints (Matt Gaetz). MTG has accused Biden, our president, of wanting her dead.

      What about those supporting the use of violence to achieve political goals?

      "Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress, a CNN KFile review of hundreds of posts and comments from Greene’s Facebook page shows.

      Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, frequently posted far-right extremist and debunked conspiracy theories on her page, including the baseless QAnon conspiracy which casts former President Donald Trump in an imagined battle against a sinister cabal of Democrats and celebrities who abuse children.

      In one post, from January 2019, Greene liked a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In other posts, Greene liked comments about executing FBI agents who, in her eyes, were part of the “deep state” working against Trump."

      And there are many other examples of behavior that defines the category of people who support the use of violence to achieve political goals. That is who Biden is referring to as MAGA Republicans. And yes, it includes the people who beat up non-Trump supporters in the parking lot at Trump rallies. And those who send death threats to school board members and poll workers.

      It isn't hard to define this group by their actions. Except for Somerby, who thinks those who vote Democratic are a "tribe," not a group of disparate people who share political views and make similar choices at the polls. And after idiotically calling Democrats a tribe, Somerby goes on to decry identity politics! But muddying the waters in support of Republicans is Somerby's job #1 here. And he is at it again today.

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  2. "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."

    This is false. Biden did make it clear who these people are. They are the people who do the things he enumerated, starting with Trump and continuing with all others who engage in that behavior. This is the best way to define a group -- by their words and deeds -- because it would make no sense to define a group by any other characteristic besides what they say and do.

  3. ""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. "

    It is grossly ridiculous to consider that the pronoun "they" is the sole definition of who Biden described. And this is not "tribal" because the word "they" doesn't necessarily delineate a tribe. For example, if we refer to adults versus children, are the adults a separate tribe from the kids? Of course not. They definition does not describe a tribe at all. Neither does Biden's definition, which singles out people based on their words and deeds, not membership in some group, such as those living in the South, those who are male, or those who read fiction for pleasure. Just creating a group or category does not create a tribe in any sense of the word tribe.

    tribe definition: "a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader."

    This is explicitly NOT what Biden was talking about when he referred to MAGA Republicans and described their behavior. Somerby is attempting to turn Biden's remarks into a form of prejudice when he is castigating those who do not live by our rule of law, do not respect the Constitution with their behavior, and those who engage in violence to achieve political ends. None of that fits the definition of tribe, nor does saying it make it so, as Somerby attempts to redefine Biden's careful words.

    1. Organized warfare is a relatively new development in history. For the bulk of our human history, people lived in small groups (15-30 people) and cooperated because their survival depended on group inclusion.

      Philosophy is not the only class in which Somerby paid little attention, assuming he ever took anthropology or even history courses at Harvard.

  4. "Patricia from Georgia went on to explain..."

    Somerby omits her explanation, referring us instead to the call itself. Not helpful. The most crucial part of the call, the part where she says the term refers to ALL Republicans is left out of Somerby's complaint. That is a huge thumb on Somerby's scale!

    But does Patricia represent President Biden? Does she represent all Democrats, simply by virtue of calling in on the Democratic line (as Republicans often do on that show)? Does she speak for any Democrat at all, except herself? And we don't know what she actually said because Somerby has not told us -- he only blames her, without repeating her explanation.

  5. "as part of a blood-red display,"

    Republicans jumped on this aspect of set design in their earliest comments on Biden's speech, with comparisons either to Hitler or Satan (choose your villain). It was all over the conservative twitter and blog comments.

    And here is Somerby echoing the conservative noise machine with an empty complaint that has nothing to do with the substance of Biden's speech and nothing to do with his personal decorating taste either. An empty, fatuous, negative comment designed to prejudice a reader against Biden by likening him to other hated and feared individuals who may or may not have used red lighting on a stage at a dim point in the past. And this is what passes for musing on the press corps?

    Phooey, this is a bald attack on Biden made by a man who pretends to be liberal but only repeats Republican talking points, including this stupid one about red lighting. Somerby should be ashamed of himself, but when he wants to stick up for the Republican right to engage in insurrection after losing an election, he repeats the wise words of Priscilla from Georgia, as if she were Biden himself, trying to explain past Republican perfidy, but cut off by Somerby without inclusion of the substantive part of her explanation, where she perhaps even walked back her "All Republicans" statement, for all anyone is allowed to know here.

  6. ""They" is a dangerous four-letter word!"

    Yes, clearly the solution is to prevent all people from congregating in groups of two or more. That will solve everything.


  7. "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."

    Why, yes, dear Bob, your liberal-globalist tribe's fascist activities in the last six years surely are a consequence of The Commander's pro-American presidency and general advocacy.

    We're happy that we can agree with you on this.

  8. "They" has not been a dangerous word all through the sweep of human history. The word "they" has existed for less than a thousand years.

    1. By your reasoning, the word "they" doesn't exist in Germany either or any other language except English. All clans and family groups going back to the beginning of human history have a word that distinguishes us from them, but that is not a bad thing. We also have always had words distinguishing up from down and left vs right (spatially not politically), and wet from dry. So what? It is Somerby who wants to turn natural distinctions into politically loaded terms. Anthropologists do not attach Somerby's meaning to the word tribe either.

      Somerby is channeling Wittgenstein and thinks he can confuse his readers by redefining words until they mean exactly what HE wants them to, and nothing else. It is a game to him and this is how he earns his rubles.

    2. "They" is an English word. Its closest equivalent in German is "sie."

    3. Concepts can and do exist even without words to name them.

    4. "Before civilization, all humans were tribal and at least somewhat nomadic. It was only after we developed agriculture and settled down that we could build the resources needed for war."

      Agriculture was invented about 12,000 years ago. Humanity has been around for about 300,000 years based on the fossil record. That makes organized conflict such as war a very recent development in human history.

      The English language has been around for about 1000 (Middle English) to 1500 (Old English) years. Not all languages have a word for "they," nor do they necessarily use it the same way if they do have an equivalent. English is partially derived from German, so there is an equivalent "sie" but Japanese, for example, is different, more likely to use a noun to refer to a group that is not I or You.

  9. I haved listened to Patricia from Georgia. When asked why MAGA applied to all Republicans (a statement the moderator put into her mouth, but she agreed to), she returned to the actions and words of Donald Trump, explaining how he hurt farmers and displayed hate toward immigrants, "violated women," and so on. She was clearly addressing Trump's beliefs and actions, not saying anything about all Republican voters, and then the moderator went on to another call. She was ONLY focused on Trump, not the so-called Red Tribe other than as being the hypocrites who went to church while black people were lynched in the South.

    Somerby is misrepresenting the content of Patricia from Georgia's call -- which is about Trumpism, not red tribers as a group. She said Trump was about hate and an extension of racial hatred in Georgia. MAGA to her was the attempts to roll back social security and other measures that hurt people. Nothing at all about Republicans in general. Generalization was the moderator's agenda. Listen for yourself, to the end of her call.

  10. The Right hates political correctness with every bone in their body, right up to the point you tell them the truth about them.

  11. Somerby is repeating the conservative talking point that Biden was referring to ALL Republicans and not singled out a subset of them who are MAGA diehards engaging in political violence and failing to uphold the Constitution. Somerby too generalizes from some Republicans to all Republicans, when Biden clearly delineated the group he was calling out. This is the same manoeuver used when Hillary called out the deplorables, again carefully distinguishing them from all Republicans.

    Why is Somerby doing the right's dirty work for them? Is he such a muddled thinker that he cannot tell the difference between SOME and ALL, logically speaking? When the teacher says "Those of you who failed the test need to study more!" and a kid shouts "Hey, classmates, teacher is calling us all slackers!" Why is a supposedly liberal blogger presenting Republican talking points here?

    1. "Why is a supposedly liberal blogger presenting Republican talking points here?"

      Maybe he simply believes that condemning not only MAGA leaders but also MAGA followers might harm liberals in November.

      And guess what: He may be right.

    2. The point of many of the comments here is that Biden did not condemn rank and file Republicans but only those who were actively engaged in undermining our democracy. Somerby is not right because he ignored the portion of Biden's speech where he explicitly said he was not condemning all Republican voters.

    3. 1;23,
      Bob is concern trolling the Left for condemning MAGA leaders. That's a "go to" move for Right-wingers.

      Here's the question again: 'Why is a supposedly liberal blogger presenting Republican talking points here?"

    4. For Bob, Biden doesn’t get to qualify his view.. While he ALWAYS justified Trump, no matter how venal, if he inserted a minor, throwaway qualifier.
      If only Biden was mentally unstable, I guess.

  12. Tiffany Smiley is an example of a MAGA candidate. From Politicus:

    "BASH: You said that President Biden is our president. Was he fairly elected, legitimately elected?

    SMILEY: Yes, Joe Biden is our president.

    And, look, my campaign has been so successful because, from day one, I am focused on the endorsement of the voters of Washington state and delivering results. I care about the people of Washington state. That’s who I’m fighting for….

    BASH: OK. You didn’t say that he was legitimately elected. I just want to give you one chance to say that, or — and if you are comfortable with your answer, we will move on.

    SMILEY: Yes, I think I made it clear.

    Republican candidates know that being an election denier does not play well in general elections, so they have invented a dodge where they acknowledge the Biden presidency but will not say that he was legitimately elected.

    It would significantly change the tone of Smiley’s campaign if her slogan was I’m just a new mom who believes the 2020 election was stolen.

    Each time a Republican refuses to acknowledge that Biden was legitimately elected, they attempt to delegitimize the election process.

    Sen. Patty Murray (D) is likely to win the Washington Senate election, but Smiley is an example of another bad MAGA candidate that is ruining the GOP’s hopes of winning back the Senate majority."

    See, you don't have to use the pronoun THEY in order to identify who MAGA Republicans are. You can tell them by their words and deeds. Highlighting the word THEY in Biden's speech doesn't prove he was creating a red tribe consisting of all Republicans. It is just a pronoun and it can refer to from 2 to 2 bazillion people.

  13. Here is why Somerby formulation of what Biden said is wrong:

    “Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology,” Biden said during a primetime address in Philadelphia on Thursday.

    “But there’s 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,” he added."

    Somerby's account of Biden's speech is dishonest because he omits this part of it.

  14. Biden is right. Republicans are either standing by and doing nothing or they are part of the MAGA crowd. so, yes, I indict the whole party.

  15. The comments here are so stupid it's hard to believe they are real.

    1. If a blogger says the word “they” has been dangerous throughout history, is he likely to attract intelligent comments?

    2. You don't understand what he means by that?

    3. 2:35, you seem to want to top everyone.

  16. Megan McArdle has been described as a right-leaning libertarian journalist. Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog discusses her analysis of the election prospects of Trump and the Republicans in the upcoming midterms. He says:

    "McArdle says that the GOP is at risk of becoming "a rump party optimized for flattering [Trump's] vanity rather than winning elections." But the party continues to have a strategy for winning: endless appeals to tribalism and the careful maintenance of multiple narratives of demonization. (The IRS is hiring 87,000 armed agents waiting to kick down your door and point an AR-15 at you! Yesterday's undocumented border crossers are being registered to vote Democratic today! Transsexuals want to molest your daughter and then beat her in a swim meet!) Maybe they're finally pushing it too far this year, but we still don't know that, and if they are, the fault lies primarily with anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, and pro-assault-weapon movements, and only secondarily with Trump. "

    In other words, McArdle views the Republican party as a whole as optimized to support Trump. She says about Trump:

    "Reality check, friends. Donald Trump isn’t going away unless you make him. And unless you make him, he will continue sullying the party with his scandals, sacrificing its standards and, increasingly, its electoral chances on the altar of his rapacious ego. However temporarily expedient cooperation might seem, in the long run, it’s the most dangerous course."

    Notice her failure to differentiate between Trump and the Republican party, and between the party and those supporting Trump. Notice also the reference to Trump's Republican Party using appeals to red tribalism to motivate their base, and the use of single issues such as guns or anti-abortion to mobilize voters. McArdle urges the Republicans to separate themselves from Trump, but the party is clearly unwilling or unable to do so. That makes Republicans stuck with Trump, even when he is embarrassing or threatens democracy or undermines the constitution or urges violence to settle his scores.

    When Republicans do not see an ability to separate themselves from Trump, why are Democrats being blamed for pointing out that the party and Trump are intertwined for better or worse? It is the Republicans who are casting out those who reject Trump's violence, rejection of the constitution and his demands for loyalty. That makes those same Republican complicit in Trump's excesses. Not Biden, but the Republicans who just cannot quit Trump.

  17. GOP is 1000% MAGA since 1980. Nothing has changed.

  18. We should start by noticing: President Biden is not a journalist. Bob and his defenders often claim the point of
    the blog is to critique the media. Back in his useful days,
    Bob stuck to "the Press Corps." He could point out failings
    on both sides. Look ago, he became a center right
    PARTISAN, and so you get stuff like that.

  19. President Biden is, rather desperately, trying to draw a
    distinction between socially responsible right wingers and
    hapless, hateful fruitcakes like Mao. Bob's overriding
    contention is that Trump is blameless because he is
    mentally unstable (indeed, it is the left's press fault for
    not pointing that out often enough) and his followers are
    blameless because, well, they are following Trump.
    Bob is part of the prevalent media take, oddly
    enough. It's an outgrowth of the right's iron thumb on
    the scale that defines the political press in our lifetimes.
    It continues to split everything down the middle
    as if it were a religious commitment. At this late date,
    we must ask these both siderists several questions.
    Why is only one side ever asked to consider the
    position of the other? Why is raw talk from only
    one side considered dangerous? Bob never had a
    problem throwing "our side" or "tribal" around,
    why is now is he now in pearl clutch over "they?"
    If we ever get out of this, it will not be because
    only one side was asked to compromise.
    President Obama asked EVERYONE to consider
    the opposite side of the isle. He went on Fox News
    (and was rather manhandled) with Bill O"Reilly.
    His reward for this was Trump. Our reward was
    more incivility, and downright criminality on a
    massive scale, it is demanded we ignore it and
    just move on.
    When Bob plays Solomon, he demands the
    baby from the liberal Mother. It is returned with both
    ears and and nose cut off.

  20. The best thing about Trump is his contempt for Republican voters.