In an interview with Bryan Tyler Cohen broadcast over the weekend, Joe Biden said that he ran for president “to restore the soul of America, this idea of decency, honor, treating people with respect, literally, literally, treating people with respect.” For many Americans, after the presidency of Donald Trump, this was a task that needed doing. Biden added that “I had to unite the country. We can’t be a divided country. If we remain divided based on ethnicity, based on politics, it can’t work.” These are fine words. They are also unbelievable coming from Biden, given that he repeatedly uses specious accusations of racial hatred to defame his political opponents.
Take Biden’s speech on Jan. 6, 2022, the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot. The speech was designed to drum up support for the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation that would substantially diminish state control of elections and undermine the integrity of the vote in ways clearly intended to benefit Democrats. Noting that historic voting rights legislation emerged from “the brutality of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus bridge” in Selma, Alabama, Biden vowed that “I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation. And I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.” He proclaimed: “We are in a battle for the soul of America, a battle that, by the grace of God . . . we will win.” Biden was roundly criticized for these intemperate remarks, even by Democratic leaders. But a few days later, he took the battle to what a White House aide called “the belly of the beast”—Georgia. In Atlanta, he compared opponents of the legislation with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.
Since then, Biden has continued to use such formulations. In a press conference on January 19, he asserted that the 2022 midterm elections “easily could be—be illegitimate.” He added: “The prospect of [the elections] being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these—these [voting] reforms passed.” And in marking Black History Month at the White House yesterday, he claimed that his administration was protecting “the sacred right to vote, which I’ve never seen is [sic] under such attack.” Again calling on Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, he added “You know, it’s always made it harder for blacks to vote, but this is trying to be able to figure out how to keep the black vote when it occurs from even counting.”
Biden seems to be laying the groundwork for contesting the election in 2022, but he is playing with fire. Whatever he is thinking, this is demagogic rhetoric, not suited to a duly elected American president—but much to the liking of celebrated left-wing intellectuals, including bestselling “anti-racist” author and MacArthur Award winner Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi’s article “A Battle Between the Two Souls of America,” published days after the 2020 election, begins “A blue-suited Joe Biden knelt” and concludes with a rousing call for victory “once and for all” over the soul of “genocide, enslavement, inequality, voter suppression, bigotry, cheating, lies, individualism, exploitation, denial, and indifference to it all” that supposedly animates Republican voters. No still, small voice speaks here. Yet Biden channels such apocalyptic thinking with some of his own words.
Abraham Lincoln concluded his First Inaugural Address, delivered scarcely more than a month before the outbreak of the Civil War, by reminding Americans of the ties that united them.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Though they did not forestall national calamity in Lincoln’s time, such gracious words of leadership are badly needed today. But don’t expect to hear them at tonight’s State of the Union address. President Biden seems more intent on opening old national wounds than healing them.
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