OTHERS: What we heard when Biden spoke!


The strains of a very old tune: In this morning's New York Times, Bret Stephens says he's writing "as someone who has long thought that [Donald J.] Trump represents a unique threat to democracy."

We agree with that assessment, and we'd raise Stephens a tad. Beyond that, though, let it be said:

In the course of this morning's column, Stephens places an array of other pro-Trump cadres within the "threat to democracy" camp. 

He lists "violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys," along with "the antisemites who marched at Charlottesville." 

He cites "election deniers like lawyers Sidney Powell and John Eastman," along with the "conspiracy theorists" who have "schemed" with Trump to let him "remain in power." 

He cites the "mob" which conducted "an assault on Congress" on January 6, thereby "put[ting] the life of his vice president in jeopardy."  

Stephens mentions all those pro-Trump cadres along with Trump himself. He doesn't mention the long list of Republican senators and congressmen who have refused to come forward and state the blindingly obvious.

We refer to the many elected officials who have refused to say that there is exactly zero evidence that the 2020 election was stolen—who have refused to say that Donald J. Trump is deceiving millions of voters when he persistently makes this claim in the total absence of any relevant evidence.

For our money, that was a large omission. But Stephens restates his long-standing claim that Trump is a "threat to democracy," and he says that other cadres also form part of that threat.

Stephens cites Trump and many pro-Trump cadres. But alas, it isn't enough! 

Stephens goes on to say that Joe Biden's recent speech about "these extremist MAGA Republicans"—actually, his recent set of speeches—painted with too broad a brush. In Stephens' view, Biden "claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them." 

Our own reaction to the president's speeches has been somewhat different from that. But we'd have to say that Stephens has a perfectly decent point in what he says in this column.

Stephens condemns Donald J. Trump as a deeply dangerous threat. He lists an array of other cadres who fit in the same category.

Needless to say, this wasn't enough! Let us quote again from Stephens column as we state our own long-standing point:

At times like these, "the 'mobocratic spirit' that Lincoln warned against in his first major address" tends to manifest itself on all sides, from all warring tribes and factions. 

In accord with that mobocratic spirit, all the Others must be denounced. To see that spirit seizing the soul of our own increasingly mobocratic blue tribe, you need only read through the many comments to Stephens' column.

Stephens is denounced, again and again, because he suggests that Biden's denunciations of the MAGA Republicans was too "capacious"—too broad. 

He didn't criticize everyone who isn't as brilliant and moral as We are. For that reason, by ancient logic, his column must be denounced.

An eternal impulse drives the vast bulk of these comments. The very first commenter of the day voices a (very rare) agreement with Stephens. For that reason, in line with ancient law, this sub-comment appears:

COMMENTER FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE (9/6/22): Most people in the U.S. disagree with you and Stephens. Trump lost and the continue$ attempts at fulminating autocracy will never work.  Best if you move to Hungary and let Orban think for you.

Most people disagree with you. So it would be best if you left!

America—Love it or leave it! Back in the street-fighting 1960s, this was frequently the voice of the angry, prowar right. 

Just like that, this ancient impulse is stated again, this time representing the voice of our own blue tribe.

We largely agree with Stephens' assessments of Biden's speeches. In his initial speeches about "the MAGA Republicans," we think he cast far too wide a net—and we think this was unwise.

We note that, as of this Monday afternoon, Biden had begun to change his rhetoric, putting the emphasis where we think it more wisely belongs—on "these extremist MAGA Republicans in Congress."

Tomorrow, we'll run you through that change in the president's language and tone. Incomparably, we'll charge no consultant's fee for the president's narrowed focus, which rather plainly came in reaction to our earlier posts.

That said, our reaction to Biden's first three speeches was somewhat different from Stephens'. Just this once, we're going to let you ask us about what we heard when Biden spoke, starting back in August.

We were troubled by what we heard on August 25, when the president made the first of his speeches about "these extremist MAGA Republicans." 

It was partly the words he spoke—but more than that, it was the tenor and tone, the sound of his address. We thought we heard the voice of an old catastrophe—a very familiar catastrophe, as experienced, not long ago, in catastrophized Rwanda.

What happened in that sacred land? For one thing, very rough language! Title included, here's the start  of Kennedy Ndahiro's recollection, for The Atlantic, of what happened in 1994 in his profoundly unfortunate land:

In Rwanda, We Know All About Dehumanizing Language

In Rwanda, we know what can happen when political leaders and media outlets single out certain groups of people as less than human.

Twenty-five years ago this month, all hell broke loose in my country, which is tucked away in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Hordes of members of the Hutu ethnic majority, armed with machetes, spears, nail-studded clubs, and other rudimentary weapons, moved house to house in villages, hunting for Tutsis, the second largest of Rwanda’s three ethnic groups. The radio station RTLM, allied with leaders of the government, had been inciting Hutus against the Tutsi minority, repeatedly describing the latter as inyenzi, or “cockroaches,” and as inzoka, or “snakes.” The station, unfortunately, had many listeners.

Within the past year, we'd once again watched Hotel Rwanda, the Oscar-nominated 2004 film. That film includes some of the audiotape of those radio broadcasts.

In those broadcasts, one group heard a group of deeply despised Others described as "cockroaches." 

What happened next is human history. And no—that isn't going to happen here, at least not in the same cultural trappings.

Also, President Biden didn't refer to "the extremist MAGA Republicans" as "cockroaches." Nor, we feel completely certain, would he ever do any such thing. 

Joe Biden would never do that. But behind his words, we heard a tone, and we flashed on Hotel Rwanda and on what happened there.

Back on August 25, President Biden didn't use such ugly language, nor would he ever do so. That said, we heard the tenor and tone of that familiar disastrous conduct in the remarks he offered that day. 

We thought his conduct was very unwise. We thought his conduct was dangerous.

The catastrophe which occurred in Rwanda is a very old catastrophe. That catastrophe has happened all over the world. It has happened right here in this country.

The impulse toward such behavior is bred quite deep in the bone. For that reason, very important public figures should stay away from the sorts of remarks which encourage such ancient reactions. 

Through his relentlessly ugly remarks, Donald J. Trump invites such catastrophes on a nearly daily basis. Decent people like President Biden should avoid such behavior, in part because human nature remains unchanged all over the world.

Love it or leave it, one commenter says in the New York Times. For what it's worth, the bulk of many such comments to Stephens' column strike us as highly recognizable in human terms, but also as highly unintelligent.

That said, this is the way we humans are wired to react at times like these. Such reactions have led to catastrophe all through history, and all around the world.

President Biden didn't call anyone a cockroach, and he never would. Having said that, let us also say this:

Last Sunday, the third caller to C-Span's Washington Journal offered the remarks shown below. In no way did Biden cause these remarks, but in no way have his recent speeches helped:

EDDIE FROM GEORGIA (9/4/22): You know what? When I woke up this morning and listened to C-Span, woke up and turned to C-Span and saw Donald Trump on there this morning with that, that, that KKK, KKK rally that he's [INDECIPHERABLE]—

He's a maggot. That's what it is to me! There's a bunch of maggots out there, standing out there, listening to him complaining and crying and talking about people...

To hear the full comment, just click here, then move ahead to the 11-minute mark. And yes, the caller was saying "maggots," presumably a play on "MAGA."

When he woke up this Sunday morning, this caller had seen "a bunch of maggots standing out there," listening to Donald J. Trump. We'd thought of Rwanda back in late August, but we thought of Rwanda again.

This Monday afternoon, Biden began to adjust his language. We won't be charging a consultant's fee, but we think his adjustment was (insufficient but) wise.

Tomorrow: Biden adjusts


  1. tl;dr
    "We agree with that assessment"

    We too agree, dear Bob.

    ...because 'democracy' translated from Liberal is 'a rule by global financial oligarchy'.

    ...and thank God that The Commander represents a unique threat to it. Hallelujah!

    1. And our resident troll again offers comment on an essay he admits he did not read (too long, he says).


  2. "We refer to the many elected officials who have refused to say that there is exactly zero evidence that the 2020 election was stolen..."

    Tsk. You know, dear Bob, if you kept your eyes closed, then there would be exactly zero evidence -- to you -- that the sky exists.

    ...and then you would be able to denounce everyone who says it does -- as a "threat to democracy"! Or something.

    Wouldn't it be great, eh?

  3. "In Stephens' view, Biden "claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them." "

    No, the conflating has been done by Republicans, not by Biden.

    Who is Bret Stephens? Wikipedia says:

    "From 2002 to 2004, he was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2013. Stephens is known for his neoconservative foreign policy opinions and for being part of the right-of-center opposition to Donald Trump."

    This is who Somerby is approvingly quoting these days as he parrots the view that Biden conflated the extreme MAGA Republicans with the rest of the Republican party, something Biden very carefully DID NOT DO.

  4. Somerby's evidence that Biden was too capacious in condemning Republicans supposedly is contained in the comments to Stephens column. But Biden didn't write those comments.

    Somerby claims that both sides are mobocratic, because some liberals wrote some comments to Stephens' article that Somerby disagrees with, considers intemperate. And somehow that makes Biden wrong? How does that reasoning work?

    On Monday, Biden put the focus more on MAGA members of Congress. Somerby now claims that Biden has changed his tone. Unless Biden walked back what he said about the MAGA extremists last Thursday, focusing more on the MAGA congress members is not a change in tone, but a narrowing of focus to talk specifically about a subset of those he identified previously. That doesn't mean that Biden has CHANGED anything about his definition of the threat to democracy.

    Stephens tries to broaden what Biden said, while Somerby tries to narrow it. Neither of them is Biden and neither of them seems to be willing to accept who Biden thinks is the threat, a group he clearly defined.

    But ultimately, this is a game. Both are refusing to accept Biden's own words and definitions and both have ulterior motives for redefining what our Democratic president said. But the right does not define our president's views, any more than the letter writers responding to Stephens do. And why on earth is Somerby taking his views from a neo-con right of center columnist brought onto the NY Times for balance when Trump won his election, a man who is not only NOT liberal and not representative of what Democrats think, but is also a climate denier and bothsiderist? Is this what Somerby now takes as wisdom? Apparently so.

  5. I hear Steve Bannon is being charged with “defrauding only $25 million” from suckers (I.e. Republican voters).
    That’s what he gets for thinking small.

  6. "Also, President Biden didn't refer to "the extremist MAGA Republicans" as "cockroaches." Nor, we feel completely certain, would he ever do any such thing. "

    And then Somerby goes on to claim that Biden did exactly that! He says:

    "Back on August 25, President Biden didn't use such ugly language, nor would he ever do so. That said, we heard the tenor and tone of that familiar disastrous conduct in the remarks he offered that day. "

    So, Biden didn't behave like a Rwandan, and yet he did? And Somerby doesn't tell you, but the Rwandan radio did a greal deal more than call Tutsis cockroaches. It urged citizens to kill them, and they did because of a long campaign attributing all of societies ills to that minority, as occurred in Germany when Hitler stigmatized Jews (blaming them for all problems) and then killed them with tacit approval of German citizens.

    It is wrong to call people any kind of animal, because it dehumanizes them and makes it easier to target them for other kinds of mistreatment. It isn't the word cockroach, but the dehumanization that is the problem. But Biden did not do that, even in tone and tenor (whatever that means -- Somerby gives no examples, although he gives a Rwandan sample). Biden did nothing else urging people to target any minority. The law will take care of MAGA Republican wrongdoing and they will get due process, as they have been doing. Biden has legally and appropriately asked citizens to vote out MAGA Republicans in a speech that Republicans also complained was too political (as if the president is not allowed to campaign or support Democratic Party candidates).

    Somerby is the one conflating things with other things -- in this case conflating Biden's warning of a threat to our democracy via the ACTIONS of certain MAGA Republicans with a call to kill minority group members (based on their identity as Tutsis) by the Rwandan majority. If Somerby cannot see the difference between these two, there is something majorly wrong with him. He is being as histrionic as Tucker and spreading disinformation as surely as the right does via its various media.

    Any illusion that Somerby is in any way liberal should be gone by now.

  7. "He's a maggot. That's what it is to me! There's a bunch of maggots out there, standing out there, listening to him complaining and crying and talking about people..."

    Somerby repeats the words of a caller via telephone to C-Span's call-in show. How then does he know that the caller said maggot (an insect larva) and not MAGAt, the name for MAGA Republican followers of Trump? An adjective turned into a noun by adding a t to the end of it.

    And since when did random callers on a call-in show come to represent any of us? I can find random Republicans who not only used unacceptable language to refer to minorities but also shot them while they were out jogging, tied them to the back of a pickup truck and dragged them until dead, targeted them in a grocery store trying to kill as many as possible before ammo ran out. Shall I hold all Republicans responsible for the actions of those bigoted extremists with guns? Shall I hold Somerby responsible because of his tenor and tone, when he has said nothing to provoke or condone such actions? Why not? This is what Somerby has done today with Biden and those of us who believe the right extremist MAGA Republicans are a threat to democracy. And they are a threat because THEY, NOT US, have advocated political violence, rejected the results of elections they have lost, and do not support the Constitution. And we oppose them at the polls and urge our government to prosecute them for their crimes, giving them due process, not urging vigilante violence as some Republicans have done.

    It is outrageous that Somerby would write a column like this. It is also ironic that he rails against the growing gulf between left and right and then equates the left with the right, in the name of temperance he does not show towards his own political enemies, liberals.

  8. "This Monday afternoon, Biden began to adjust his language. We won't be charging a consultant's fee, but we think his adjustment was (insufficient but) wise."

    It is wishful thinking to assume that Biden or any of the Democrats are backing off our opposition to MAGA Republican extremism, whether it comes from elected officials or rank and file Trump supporters who have committed crimes in Trump's service.

  9. Extremists on both sides.
    Republican Congressional members on the Right, and some rando who called into a TV show on the “Left”.

    1. And somehow Biden has morphed into a Rwandan calling for genocide!

    2. Modern day Mengeles at "children's hospitals" sterilizing and castrating youngsters not to mention millions more killed at baby butcher clinics, with the entire Democrat party endorsing them.

    3. Please supply any evidence at all that this has ever happened at a Children's Hospital in the USA. Please also supply any evidence that a child who has been born has been butchered at a clinic. Please also supply evidence that any Democrat has endorsed killing children after birth or sterilizing or castrating children, other than due to cancer or other threatening disease necessitating removal of a diseased organ.

      Calling any medical practice or practitioner "Mengele" is a propaganda tactic because of the strong feelings attached to Nazi atrocities in WWII.

  10. Corrupt decrepit Biden was a gift to the GOP heading into the midterms.

    MAGA voters aren't going away, they're multiplying in number. The secret to their growing appeal isn't Trump, it's Democrats. Normal people can't relate to Democrat stupidity and depravity.

    1. Except they aren't multiplying in number. They are decreasing and even the MAGA candidates are scrubbing MAGA identifiers from their webpages and campaign materials, recognizing that it may be the kiss of death to their prospects of winning in Nov.

      It has been a long time since a Democrat has done anything as stupid as taking home classified documents at the end of his term of office. And a long time since one was depraved enough to brag about grabbing women by the p*ssy. But you keep dreaming...

    2. Agreed that MAGAs aren’t going away. But they do need their 100% daily allowance of bigotry to survive.

    3. They’re multiplying by a factor less than 1.

  11. Somerby says: "But behind his words, we heard a tone, and we flashed on Hotel Rwanda and on what happened there."

    Then Somerby complains because a caller, Eddie from Georgia, flashed on the KKK when he heard Trump speak.

    Is Biden any more responsible for Somerby's flashes than Trump is for Eddie's?

    Shouldn't Somerby acknowledge that those who have been the target of racial and other violence by the right may be sensitive to such tones when our current MAGA elected officials speak, that they may flash on their own past trauma and fear that those days are returning? But today, Somerby is inclined to blame the victim, calling out random C-Span callers for their violence-inspired fears while giving his own flashes pride-of-place in today's essay.

    Somerby has truly gone off the rails.

  12. There's nothing new about Dems dehumanizing Republicans by tarring them as "racists". IMO liberals learned from Joseph McCarthy that fear and dehumanizing work. They adapted the technique, using "racist" in place of "Communist sympathizer."

    These are convenient labels, because they can't be disproved. Jean Pierre and others have now expanded the label to "enemies of the state". This is ugly business.

    1. The only person calling anyone racist today is Somerby, who equates Biden and Eddie from Georgia with Rwandan genocide.

      If liberals learned this from McCarthy (a Republican), who did McCarthy learn it from?

      I would say that attempting to overthrow a valid election via armed insurrection would make someone an "enemy of the state," wouldn't you? When someone takes hundreds of highly classified documents out of secure storage, without any legitimate purpose, doesn't that make him a potential enemy of the state? These are ugly acts, David.

      In the past, there were some actual Communists and Communist sympathizers, just not as many as McCarthy accused in his politically motivated witch hunts. In the past and today, there are still racial bigots who are racists in their behavior and treatment of minority group members. Racists understandably don't like being called out for being racist, but why does that mean anyone should stop using the word? And such words can certainly be proved with evidence, as the Communists were convicted of their crimes against our nation and jailed or even executed when caught spying.

      Somerby would like us to think that all labeling is bad, but labeling can be appropriate when it is an accurate description of someone's behavior, such as when a person steals something and is called a thief, or tells a lie and is called a liar.

      Also, you are confused about what the word dehumanizing means. A racist is still a human being. Calling someone a dog is dehumanizing because a dog is not a human being. The reason for opposing dehumanization of humans is that we reserve different treatment for animals than for people. If I called someone a racist dog, you might have a point about dehumanizing them, but not if I use a term reserved for humans, such as racist or communist. Only people can be racist or communist, so that cannot be dehumanizing. See the difference?

    2. Please do not call Republicans “racists”. It hurts David’s feelings that don’t mean anything to Republicans, like David.


    3. @David: "...dehumanizing..."

      Hmm, 'demonizing', perhaps?

      Neither "racist" nor "communist sympathizer" sound dehumanizing to us.

      ...and both are certainly better characterizations than 'liberal', which, come to think of it, is a bit dehumanizing...

    4. anon 11:38 (f/k/a Ivan Pisov), you assert that "the only person calling anyone racist today is Somerby, who equates Biden and Eddie from Georgia with Ruandan genocide." Are you just stupid, or do you intentionally distort TDH's post. Simply put, TDH doesn't say here that anyone is "racist" nor does he equate Biden or "Eddie" with Ruandan genocide.

    5. No, I didn't say that at all. Are you stupid or do you intentionally distort MY words? I was referring to the commenter, to whom I replied, David in Cal. And yes, Somerby does equate Biden's speech with Rwandan genocide (note proper spelling of Rwanda). He says Biden's tone causes him to flash back to the film Hotel Rwanda. That means he considers them similar in some way, because that's how memory works. He wasn't thinking of Biden and Hotel Rwanda because he thinks they are opposites, not based on what else he said in his essay.

      Belligerance doesn't suit you. You might try a different tone yourself.

      /Ivan has left the building

    6. Regulatory policy rarely helps ordinary Americans in the money-driven US political system as millions of homeowners discovered when the housing bubble burst. After the crash, no major financiers went to jail, while first the Republicans and then the Democrats bailed out Wall Street but not Main Street.

      Of course these industry-captured parties are going to do everything they can to divide the vast majority of Americans so as to prevent them from uniting against the fraud playing out right in front of their eyes.

    7. The only current fraud I see is cryptocurrency. What fraud are you talking about?

    8. Greg, I think some people say that the 'establishment' that powers that be who set the narrative in the media, are happy to focus so much on woke issues, race, gender etc, because it averts the public's attention from the economic issues that lead to the status quo of the 1% controlling 50% percent of the wealth, advanced by both major parties. I think it's a possibly valid hypotheses, at least to some extent. What's your take?

    9. anon 1:27 - my comment about your post addressed the first sentence of the post. In that post you said "the only person calling anyone racist today is Somerby." that's a direct quote. How is that "distorting" what you said, whether your were addressing D in C or not? I grant that you have chutzpah accusing someone else of distorting what some said. TDH makes it explicitly plain that he is not accusing Biden's remarks with the radio station in Ruanda. His thing is that it isn't in the best interest of liberals to demonize everyone who voted for Trump, and if that's not what they are saying, to make it clear it's not. You constantly distort what TDH says.

  13. Meanwhile, there is an important opinion piece in the NY Times today about the value of education in upward social mobility (increased income), especially for poor children.

    "But what is new is the torrent of research studies using “big data” to show the power of education for shaping children’s trajectories, especially over the long term. In one study, for example, my co-authors and I found that students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms earned substantially more 20 years later, about $320,000 over their lifetimes. And it’s not only the early grades that matter; research suggests the quality of education in later grades may be even more important for long-term outcomes, as children’s brains don’t lock in key neural pathways for advanced reasoning skills until well into their teenage years.

    Education changes lives in ways that go far beyond economic gains. The data show clearly that children who get better schooling are healthier and happier adults, more civically engaged and less likely to commit crimes. Schools not only teach students academic skills but also noncognitive skills, like grit and teamwork, which are increasingly important for generating social mobility. Even the friendships that students form at school can be life-altering forces for social mobility, because children who grow up in more socially connected communities are much more likely to rise up out of poverty."


  14. Oh I don't know I think Democrats are onto something with their platform of encouraging everyone to buy electric cars they can't charge because Democrats decided to back and prolong wars that plunged the western world into chaos. Real outside-the-box stuff.

    1. It’s 2022. If you are too stupid to realize public transportation is the way to go, don’t blame anyone but yourself.

    2. My apologies. That should read “…don’t blame anyone but your ignorant self.”
      I apologize again for the error.

    3. 12:06,
      As far as you know, those are the reasons you’ll vote Republican, and not because you are turned-on by bigotry.

    4. Don't confuse rationalizations with actual motivations. It is all about the bigotry.

  15. While Somerby obsesses over Rwanda, the news reported that the highly classified documents Trump retained include nuclear secrets. This may be related to orders Trump gave during the last weeks of his presidency directing the US to develop microreactors for military use and space travel. This includes reporting about Flynn and microreactor technology transferred to Saudi Arabia:

    "[Whistleblowers] claimed Trump secretly authorized the sale of nuclear technology, made by a company called IP3, to Saudi Arabia. The deal was intensely negotiated by Trump’s fired and disgraced advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had close ties to IP3.

    The deal Flynn negotiated didn’t require the Saudis to agree they wouldn’t use the technology to make nuclear weapons.

    These whistleblowers went to Congress — and the reaction there was a rare bipartisan alarm.

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) teamed up with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) of New Jersey to request the GAO investigate. The GAO noted that Congress and the State Department were left out of the loop in the negotiations. State diplomats would have been savvier about how Saudi Arabia’s shifting, complicated and secret alliances might put America at risk.

    Interestingly, conservative think tanks recently issued reports detailing how entrenched anti-American Wahhabi extremists were inside the enormous Saudi royal family."

    1. https://www.alternet.org/2022/09/donald-trump-nuclear-reactor-moon/

  16. I missed the part of Biden's speech where he called for us to grab our machetes and go after those Republican maggots who are responsible for our crops failing and our cattle dying.

  17. Obama says nice things about modern-day Rwandans in his Emmy-winning performance about the world's national parks. Mountain gorillas were targets of the genocide, not just the Tutsis. They killed them just because they could, but now the gorillas are being protected, Meanwhile, Somerby grabs the part of the Rwandan tragedy that is politically useful to him and ignores the complexities of that society and its history, reduced to a movie about one hotel manager, for viewing convenience.

    This is not the way to think about the world and its complexities.

  18. So Biden “didn't use such ugly language, nor would he ever do so.”

    He didn’t use words to try to dehumanize all Republicans and Trump votes, nor did he mean that.

    And yet, Somerby (as did many conservatives, at least purportedly) “heard a tone.”

    That is an impossible standard for anyone to live up to, if I neither mean nor say a thing but you feel as if I did.

    1. Basically this shows Trump's theft of classified material is as Bad as it seems to be, and Bob wants to write about something else.

    2. Yet another misreading. The language he is referring to is "cockroaches".