Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It was a dark day for Charleston in late February 1993 when U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings learned early that the Navy base in Charleston would be closed. The official announcement wouldn’t come for two weeks, but Hollings immediately called a press conference.  

The people, he told me, deserved to know the truth as soon as possible. Despite hard work by the community to keep the base off of the Navy’s closure list, he believed in the core of his being that his duty was more than just to share good news. He had to deliver the bad, too, when it was bad.  That, he said, would let people prepare sooner for what was to come.

And so it is now with a Thursday speech by President Joe Biden in Philadelphia. He delivered a major prime time address to the nation to let Americans know their democracy was under threat from people who live here who want to take away freedom and the fundamental power to vote.  

We’ve known it for a while. We felt it as authoritarian rhetoric increased and dominated the political culture during the term of former President Donald Trump, an enabler in chief. We saw the results of the single-minded pursuit of his quest to keep power in the terrible hours of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And now we see how Trump continues to thumb his nose at the peaceful transition of power and rule of law with the seizure of hundreds of top secret documents that he wasn’t supposed to have taken from the White House. 

And now, the current president is calling Trump and Make America Great Again Republicans to task for being a threat to freedom and democracy. Biden’s done it nimbly before, dancing around the subject in his talk over the soul of America, but Thursday’s speech just as the 2022 election cycle ramps up was a one-two punch to the nose. He couldn’t have been clearer.  And it’s about time:

“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our republic,” Biden said. “Now I want to be very, clear, very clear up front.  Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans are MAGA Republicans.  Not every Republican embraces the extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.”

But the former president and his diehard followers, Biden said, dominate and intimidate the leadership of the party.  

And in echoes of the kind of language his old friend Hollings used 29 years ago Biden said, “These are hard things, but I’m an American president, not a president of red America or blue America, but of all America. And I believe it’s my duty, my duty, to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.

“And here, in my view, is what is true: 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.”

Extremists who want authoritarians in power want to take the country backwards. They wanted to nullify votes of 81 million Americans, Biden said. They are a clear and present danger to the unifying democracy always enjoyed in the nation.

Biden urged Americans to unify and shed the hate and division of extremists in the November midterm elections. We are not powerless. We should not be bystanders.  

Challenge authoritarianism. Rise above fear. And take off those embarrassing red hats that reflect division. In fact, throw them in the trash. Instead, register a neighbor to vote and head to the polls in November to elect reasonable Republicans and Democrats.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report.  Have a comment? Send to:

This story also appeared in Statehouse Report.

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