In a prime-time televised speech Thursday evening in Philadelphia, U.S. President Joe Biden is to speak about what White House officials characterize as “the battle for the soul of the nation.”
In the address outside Independence Hall, where the country’s Declaration of Independence was debated and adopted, and the Constitution was written by the Founding Fathers, the 46th U.S. president will discuss “how our rights and freedoms are still under attack. And he will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms, and fighting for our democracy,” according to the White House.
“It is striking President Biden is going to go there and give a speech, which is kind of an attempt to paint a big-picture view of where we are as a nation,” said prominent neoconservative political analyst Bill Kristol.
Biden should make the address — with midterm elections about two months away amid a highly polarized political environment — “not just a political stump speech, but really a more profound speech to all Americans,” Kristol said in a VOA interview. “I think it's appropriate for the president to say, ‘Let's step back here, and let's be cautious about what we're risking. And let's be thoughtful about the way in which we conduct our politics.’”
Dartmouth University professor of government Brendan Nyhan predicts Biden will use the speech to “rally his party in advance of midterm elections that Democrats fear could go quite poorly for their side. But he's also calling for Americans to reject the anti-democratic forces that have challenged the political system in this country.
“One of those approaches is partisan. The other one is in keeping with his role as president, as head of one of the three branches of government. I hope he can make a sober-minded case for the preservation of our democratic system.”
In recent days, Biden has been rhetorically battling Republican lawmakers, as well his predecessor, Donald Trump, and has sharply attacked the opposition party’s philosophy as “semi-fascism.”
In a speech Monday in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which was mainly about gun violence, the president criticized Republican lawmakers who he said have been warning of “blood in the street” if Trump is prosecuted.
Should the former president be prosecuted for mishandling classified information, “there’ll be riots in the streets,” U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham predicted on a Fox News program on Sunday.
But Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said Wednesday on Twitter, “If Trump doesn’t get prosecuted, it will mean the government thinks a former president is above the law, because you or I would absolutely be prosecuted for doing what he did.”
Trump, who lost to Biden in the 2020 election, is the subject of a federal investigation. He could face charges for retaining highly classified documents after he left office in January 2021 and related obstruction of justice charges, according to legal filings made by the Department of Justice.
A search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and private club in Florida by the Federal Bureau of Investigation prompted threats against the bureau’s agents. One man tried to breach the FBI’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 11 before being fatally shot after an hourslong standoff with police.
“It's sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job,” Biden said in Monday’s speech in Pennsylvania.
Trump, who is considering another presidential run in 2024, has accused the Biden administration and the FBI of targeting him for political reasons. Before that, Republicans are hoping in this November’s midterm elections to wrest control of Congress from Democrats, who control the Senate and the House.
It is unclear if Biden in the Thursday evening address will mention Trump by name. He has accused the former president and his supporters of following an “extreme MAGA philosophy,” choosing “to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division."
MAGA refers to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan Trump popularized in his successful 2016 bid for president.
The stakes are high for Biden’s speech, according to Nyhan, who is also co-founder of Bright Line Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the status of American democracy.
“I believe U.S. democracy faces the greatest threat it has seen since we became a full-fledged democracy after the Civil Rights Movement [of the 1960s]. We've seen a violent insurrection that attempted to overturn a presidential election, and now we're seeing threats of violence in response to efforts to enforce the rule of law,” Nyhan told VOA on Wednesday.
“Americans would be very clear-eyed about what they were seeing if they saw it in another country. And I think we need to recognize that the threat we see here at home is significant,” he said.
Trump, on his own online media platform, Truth Social, this week has continued to falsely insist he was the real winner of the 2020 election, demanding “immediately” a new presidential election — something that is not possible under the U.S. Constitution.
“What former President Trump is calling for would be an extra-constitutional step that would undermine the system of government we have in place, especially given that he was defeated in a free and fair election that has been shown to be free of the widespread fraud that he and his allies have falsely claimed,” explained Nyhan. “It is very worrisome to have a defeated president calling to be illegally reinstated in power.”
Kristol agreed, stating “it is revealing that Trump’s overheated rhetoric tosses aside one of our most basic constitutional norms.”
Unlike countries with parliamentary systems, the United States does not have snap elections.
“We don't have votes of confidence where governments fall, presidencies fall,” noted Kristol, who was chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. “We have a presidential system with a four-year term.”
Trump contended this is justified because the FBI allegedly thwarted its own investigation into compromising information contained on a laptop of the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
A whistleblower claims FBI officials instructed agents not to investigate the laptop ahead of the 2020 election, saying the bureau was “not going to change the outcome of the election again,” according to Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican senator, who this week sent a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general demanding immediate steps be taken to investigate the FBI’s actions or lack of them regarding the computer.
“Every credible review, including by numerous judges — many of whom were appointed by Trump himself — repeatedly and emphatically rejected the claims of the Trump campaign,” Nyhan said. “There simply is no credible case against Joe Biden's victory.”