Speaking to a predominantly Black audience on Monday at the site of the worst white supremacist terror attack in recent U.S. history, President Joe Biden compared the people who falsely assert that the 2020 election was stolen to defeated members of the Confederacy making spurious claims about the Civil War.
Biden’s remarks from the pulpit at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, showed how the president hopes to use former President Donald Trump’s role in fomenting the U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, to excite the Black voters in his base, as well as retain the support of suburban swing voters.
To make his point on Monday, Biden laid out the historical analogy in some detail. Following the South’s loss, he noted, many Confederates and their sympathizers promoted a “Lost Cause” theory of the Civil War: that the South had fought nobly to protect states’ rights, rather than to uphold slavery. The Confederates’ “self-serving lie” created the cultural basis for the implementation of the anti-Black caste system in the Jim Crow era, Biden said.
“So let me be clear for those who don’t seem to know: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War,” Biden said, taking an apparent swipe at Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor-turned-Republican presidential candidate who omitted slavery as a cause of the Civil War when asked about it in late December. “There’s no negotiation about that.”
“Now we’re living in an era of a second ‘Lost Cause.’ Once again, there are some in this country trying to turn a loss into a lie ― a lie which, if allowed to live, will once again bring terrible damage to this country,” he continued. “This time, the lie is about the 2020 election ― the election in which you made your voices heard and your power known.”
Notwithstanding the veiled jab at Haley, Biden’s latest speeches continue to treat Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee in all but name. Trump is ahead of his nearest opponent in Iowa by more than 30 percentage points, but by less than 20 points in New Hampshire.
Biden also paid a visit to the Revolutionary War site at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and delivered a speech about democracy on Friday.
The bookended campaign appearances ― respectively a day before, and two days after, the third anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021 ― make up two complementary parts of Biden’s case that the country’s democratic character is at stake in the upcoming November election.
“Every stride forward has often been met with ferocious backlashes from those who fear the progress, from those who exploit that fear for their own personal gain, from those who traffic in lies told for profit and power.”
– President Joe Biden
The speech on Friday, at a community college outside of Philadelphia, connected the George Washington-led battles for independence from the British to the effort to safeguard U.S. democracy against figures like Trump in the present. Trump is “willing to sacrifice our democracy to put himself in power,” Biden declared.
Days later, at Mother Emanuel, Biden effectively argued that Trump’s election would also threaten the progress toward racial equality achieved since the Civil War. That is especially true given Trump’s efforts to overturn the electoral outcome preferred by the vast majority of Black Americans, and his subordinates’ intimidation of Black election officials in Georgia, Biden said.
“Violence on January 6 was an extension of an old playbook ― from the threats and violence and intimidation,” Biden said. “In Atlanta, Georgia, two brave Black women ― mother and daughter Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss ― they had their lives upended just doing their jobs.”
In that context, Biden even managed to insert a new putdown of Trump that he is likely to reprise on the campaign trail going forward.
“In America, we witness to serve all those who in fact participate,” Biden concluded. “And losers are taught to concede when they lose. And he’s a loser.”
But he also laid out what he sees as Republicans’ multi-pronged attack on policies, institutions and cultural phenomena that have helped Americans reckon with the country’s past and present discrimination against Black people.
“They’re trying to erase history and your future ― banning books; denying your right to vote and have it counted; destroying diversity, equality, and inclusion all across America; harboring hate and replacing hope, with anger and resentment and a dangerous view of America,” Biden said.
The president accused Trump and his Republican allies of fostering a “zero-sum view of America” in which progress for Black Americans invariably comes at the expense of white Americans.
“That’s not new in America,” he said. “Every stride forward has often been met with ferocious backlashes from those who fear the progress, from those who exploit that fear for their own personal gain, from those who traffic in lies told for profit and power.”
Republicans insist that they support equality of opportunity for all people regardless of their races, and that they merely oppose efforts to redress racial injustice by trying to ensure equality of outcomes.
Standing in front of Assistant House Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.), who delivered an illustrious introduction listing Biden’s domestic accomplishments, Biden exuded the confidence of someone speaking to an audience of loyal supporters. Those attending repeatedly broke into applause during Biden’s remarks and occasionally shouted affirmations.
While heavily Republican South Carolina is not competitive in the general election, it holds a special place in the story of Biden’s political rise. Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden ahead of the South Carolina primary in February 2020 vaulted him to victory in the Palmetto State, precipitating a series of wins that clinched him the nomination after months as an underdog.
In recognition of Clyburn’s support in 2020, Biden vowed to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court ― a promise that he fulfilled with the nomination of Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson, as Clyburn noted on Monday. Biden has continued to pay it forward, adjusting the Democratic primary schedule to make South Carolina the first state in the presidential nominating process.
But not even Clyburn could insulate Monday’s turn-out-the-base campaign event from the serious political challenges that face Biden outside the confines of the historically Black church.
Pro-Palestine protesters interrupted Biden to demand an end to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which Biden has strongly supported and which began after a deadly attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
“If you really care about the lives lost here, you should honor the lives lost and call for a cease-fire in Palestine,” the first protester said. The small group of demonstrators then chanted: “Cease-fire now! Cease-fire now!”
After a few seconds, Biden’s supporters drowned the protest out with their own chant: “Four more years! Four more years!”
Regaining control of the room, Biden spoke respectfully about the protesters and said that he was privately pressing the Israeli government to wrap up their invasion. However, the mostly progressive critics of Biden’s Israel policy believe that if the president does not warn of consequences ― such as by threatening U.S. aid to Israel ― Israeli policies that result in excessive civilian deaths and suffering will continue unabated.
“Look, folks, I understand their passion,” Biden said. “And I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza, using all that I can to do it. But I understand the passion.”
Afterward, a woman in the audience praised his compassion for the protesters.
“You’re an understanding person. They don’t realize that,” she said. “You’re a good man!”
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher