President Joe Biden spoke for over an hour Wednesday in his first address to a joint session of Congress, raising urgent issues from the need to get Americans vaccinated to the jobs that will be created fighting climate change to the key role immigration has always played in the American story.
But 10 words the president said early in his speech were particularly accurate and alarming, when he referred to the Jan. 6 insurrection as ”the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
It had to be said plainly because the bulk of the Republican Party, deformed and unrecognizable after five years of rolling like puppies at the feet of Donald Trump, still does not accept reality. Polls show 70% of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the election was stolen, despite a complete lack of evidence. Half believe the Jan. 6 insurrection against our democracy was committed not by Trump supporters whipped into a frenzy, but by Democrats — Black Lives Matter activists in whiteface, perhaps — ”trying to make Trump look bad.” As if he needs help.
”The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” It must be repeated because of the shocking resilience of right-wing extremism. Indeed, Trump apologists zeroed in on these specific words for their typical hoots of incomprehension and ridicule. Yet it is literally a matter of life or death, our nation’s and theirs. Trump’s toxic distortion of masculinity that allowed him to grope women and pretend he is always right and always wins also made him reject wearing masks and vaccines — he got his in secret. Millions of Americans listened to him, causing hundreds of thousands to die. Millions still listen, meaning hundreds of thousands more will die. Following him into their graves, literally.
No one can be glad of that. It’s tragic and horrible. But I’m not writing to try and jar them from their error. That’s futile. Those who do not form their positions through reason cannot be argued out of them by reason.
Rather I’m writing this to steel Democrats, and what few Republicans stand by the principles they once claimed, for the challenge ahead. This is a long fight and not close to over. Democracy is recent and fragile; despotism is ancient and endures. Look at Russia: its flirtation with democracy came and went. Now they have Putin, and most Russians revere Stalin.
Trump is coming back, or one of his surrogates. We must be ready. The other crucial thing Biden said Wednesday is that the “sacred right to vote” is under attack all across the country, as Trumpites try to ensure the American people don’t defeat them again at the ballot box, undercutting the mechanics of elections while calling it security.
Democrats must see this clearly and rally around the values we cherish: free and fair elections, an unfettered press, the rule of law. We need to accept that most Republicans — some otherwise good people, mumbling rationalizations for betraying America — would rather hurt our country and themselves than join together to address our common problems.
It is hard to understand.
Maybe the trouble is a lifetime of movies where the tyrant is vanquished by the plucky band of rebels and the scales instantly fall from the eyes of the monster’s minions. They reform on the spot. The Wicked Witch of the West goes melting, melting, melting into a puddle of beautiful wickedness.
”You’ve melted her!” one of her bearskin-hatted henchmen says, kneeling before the pool of liquid witch. His comrades drop to their knees and chant in unison, “Hail Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!”
Only in the movies. In the real world, half the castle guard would take their pikes to Dorothy and her friends, while the other half go sit in the courtyard, eyes skyward, a cargo cult waiting for the return of their beloved master, singing his praises to pass the time.
President Biden obviously has hope, and is leaving the door open for them to find their true American nature again. Some will accept his offer, and at this moment of crisis, our nation needs every true and stout heart we can get. Remember, during the American Revolution, a third of colonists were Tories, and remained loyal to King George III. That craven third, hungry for a king, is with us still, and always will be.