In what may be the most powerful speech of his presidency, Joe Biden commemorated the one-year anniversary of the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol not just by condemning the violence and defending democracy, but by calling Donald Trump a loser.
“He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president,” Biden said, twisting the knife in his conquered rival. “[B]ecause his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy, or our Constitution…he can’t accept he lost.”
Too harsh? I don’t think so. It was, to borrow a phrase from an American winner, “altogether fitting and proper,” since the Capitol insurrection was the result of Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election having been stolen. Give Biden credit for going straight to the root of the problem. Trump didn’t just incite the mob on Jan. 6, he did so after pouring gasoline for months with his bogus “Stop the Steal” rhetoric.
That’s not to say that Biden merely engaged in petty bullying or name calling (indeed, Biden never uttered the former’s president’s name) at the expense of his moral authority. In my estimation, he struck the perfect balance. To borrow a ridiculous line sometimes invoked about the previous guy, This is the day that Biden became president.
It was serious, but not whiny. And he didn’t just mock Trump for losing. "You can’t love your country only when you win. You can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies,” Biden said. "Those who stormed this Capitol, and those who instigated and incited, and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America.”
Liberals, of late, talk a lot about defending democracy, and this is a very valid and important thing to do. Unfortunately, in this environment, it can also come across as preachy, alarmist, and even weak (this was the same problem liberals faced in the 1930s, when they looked weak and impotent in the face of more dynamic and energetic fascist leaders).
That’s why it’s so important that Biden took the fight to Trump. Bill Clinton famously said that “strong and wrong beats weak and right.” Clinton was correct—and this lesson was especially important for liberals to learn. In this case, Biden has the benefit of being strong and right.
Of course, sometimes actions have unintended consequences, and we should acknowledge that possibility here. One potential downside of Biden’s tough talk could be baiting Trump into running again in 2024 (if he wasn’t already planning to do so). It was Barack Obama’s mockery at a White House Correspondents Dinner, after all, that apparently motivated Trump to run the first time.
But I think this is different. That was frivolous; Obama didn’t take Trump seriously. With Biden, this is a calculated decision, based on a realization that ignoring Trump will not cause him to go away, and ignoring Trump’s lies only gives them space to take root.
Let’s be honest. Biden did win. And I don’t just mean that Biden got the most votes, but also that he defeated Trump. That he prevailed. That he’s a winner. That he made Trump a loser.
And the fact that the very same people who fetishize winning and winners are willing to (with apologies to General Patton) “tolerate a loser” only makes sense in a world where the same people who call people “cucks” really are cucks.
The contrast between the winner and the loser was highlighted today in another way. As you might recall, Trump was going to speak today, then he decided not to, and then he issued a weak statement. Who looks stronger, the guy who gives a big speech at the Capitol or the guy who hems and haws before issuing a press release about it?
In his statement, Trump referred to the speech as “political theater” to distract from Biden’s failures as a president. Trump and I largely agree on Biden’s tenure as president. However, Biden is the president, and the sooner all Americans acknowledge this fact, the sooner we can all move on to criticizing Biden’s many failed policies.
Maybe Biden should have given a speech like this sooner, but I am sympathetic to why he didn’t. First off, end-zone dancing is unbecoming in a confident leader. After all, Trump was clearly defeated, and one might assume that the fact that this was self-evident would mean that Biden shouldn’t have to remind everyone.
Second, the rule about wrestling with a pig applies: It’s hard to win a gutter war against Trump, and even if you do you’ll be covered in filth.
This brings us to the final reason: Biden’s desire to be a uniter. Upon winning, you should govern “with malice toward none.” For a president who hopes to win re-election, this is both generous and politically necessary.
But here’s the thing: Trump’s fans see this as a war against an evil enemy, not an election among Americans. The MAGA forces lost at the polls in 2020, but they’re refusing to surrender.
Preserving liberal democracy is a daily battle, and, it turns out, so is establishing the fact that the 2020 election was decided legitimately. For now, at least, the two things go hand in hand. If you were hoping today was a day about bringing closure to a horrific event, think again.
To borrow another phrase from an American winner, it ain’t over till it’s over.