Biden's Challenge: Will We Choose Despotism Or Democracy? (VIDEO)

Biden's Challenge: Will We Choose Despotism Or Democracy? (VIDEO)

President Joe Biden

Ever since Donald Trump declared that he would run for president again, his attempt to seize illegitimate power by overturning the last election has loomed as a central issue in 2024. That is why the president he attempted to usurp squarely confronted the would-be dictator to mark the beginning of the campaign.

On the eve of the second anniversary of Trump's insurrection, President Joe Biden spoke near the Revolutionary War campgrounds of Valley Forge — where George Washington and his Continental Army troops spent a winter of privation and illness before pulling together to rid the new nation of monarchy and despotism. Biden sought to remind us of our connection to that history, of our responsibility to uphold and extend the democracy those freezing, hungry soldiers secured, and of the continuing threat to American values embodied by Trump.



In recent years, the president has mostly avoided speaking his opponent's name, but on this occasion he uttered it more than 40 times as he invoked the criminal conduct committed by Trump during his vain attempt to remain in office. Biden publicly arraigned Trump for Jan. 6, recalling how he had invited the armed mob to the Capitol and then did nothing to prevent or stop their violent assault on Congress as it prepared to certify the 2020 election, which he described as "the worst dereliction of duty by a president in American history."

To this day, Trump has never even attempted to justify his bizarre passive aggression during the hours of deadly violence, watching television and abandoning his role as commander in chief while his eldest son and others pleaded with him to act. But the reason for his inaction is surely obvious: He wanted death and destruction, possibly even the assassination of Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that would allow him to nullify the election he lost and declare martial law. It was a day when "we nearly lost America," as Biden noted in his speech.

But the events preceding that dark day, as we now understand them, show that the "Capitol riot" was the culmination of a plot against democracy that had started to unfold on election night 2020. As predicted a week earlier by his fascist aide Steve Bannon, Trump tried to claim victory before all the votes were counted. When the tally turned against him, he initiated a series of crimes — including attempts to intimidate election officials in several states and a conspiracy to subvert the Electoral College with fake elector certificates.

Those nefarious maneuvers told us everything about Trump and his cohort, including most elected officials of the Republican Party — who either overcame their initial horror at the Capitol assault or joined eagerly in the plot (even as they ran like cowards from the action). They have humiliated themselves without limit in the years since, inventing an incredible series of conspiracy theories, tall tales and outright lies to excuse the insurrection and protect their Fuhrer Trump. You can still hear them spout nonsense blaming antifascists dressed up in MAGA gear, alleged FBI informants, and even the brave police officers who defended Congress, some of whom lost their lives. It is frankly impossible to imagine that any elected official believes such garbage — although it is also clear that there are many deranged Republican voters who will literally believe anything.

Biden faces a daunting challenge in his effort to preserve democracy from the authoritarian machinations of Trump and his minions. And he is aware that too many Americans no longer recall accurately the convulsive Republican attempt to end this country's history of peaceful political transition. And he knows that if Trump loses, he will try to grab power again.

"When the attacks of Jan. 6 happened, there was no doubt about the truth," said the president. "But now as time has gone on, politics, fear, money have all intervened. And those MAGA voices who know the truth about Trump and Jan. 6 have abandoned the truth and abandoned our democracy. They've made their choice. Now the rest of us — Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans — we have to make our choice."

Will we be the generation that forfeits our democratic heritage to a modern despot? Biden is asking and only we can answer.

Joe Conason is editor-in-chief of The National Memo and editor-at-large of Type Investigations. He is a bestselling author whose next book,The Longest Con: How Grifters, Swindlers, and Frauds Hijacked American Conservatism, will be published in 2024.

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