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Opinion: Biden is telling you that Trump is a threat, and the proof is everywhere

President Joe Biden is right. The so-called MAGA movement, led by Donald Trump, is a direct threat to democratic self-government in the United States.

“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” as Biden put it in Philadelphia recently. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”

The proof is everywhere you look. Of the 540 Republican nominees on the ballot nationwide this year, 199 deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. An additional 62 candidates have raised doubts about the legitimacy of the election, and 118 candidates didn’t answer the question. Pro-insurrection candidates lead the Republican ticket in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania — key presidential swing states — and Trump-aligned Republican activists are targeting election officials across the country with harassment and threats of violence.

One view of Biden’s speech says that if the president is serious about the threat to American democracy, he should sacrifice key political, policy and ideological goals for the sake of unity with conservative opponents of Trump. Another, similar view says that Biden should have made a more Lincolnesque appeal to the “better angels” of MAGA Republican voters, rather than condemn the entire movement as essentially anti-American.

Neither argument really lands. Preemptive concessions on critical issues might appeal to a handful of conservative Republican dissidents, but they will outrage and demoralize Democratic voters at a moment when Democrats stand a meaningful chance of holding their majorities in Congress. The simple truth is that the best way to undermine and weaken the MAGA movement at this moment is to win elections.

Should Biden have used more conciliatory rhetoric? No. He was divisive — just as he was when he called MAGA Republicans “semi-fascist” the week before — but this is a moment that calls for a perfect contrast between the two parties.

What matters is the nature of the divide. To divide against a radical minority that would attack and undermine democratic self-government is to divide along the most inclusive lines possible. It is to do a version of what Franklin Roosevelt did when he condemned “organized money,” “economic royalists” and the “forces of selfishness and lust for power.” It’s also a version of what Abraham Lincoln did when, in his first inaugural address, he took aim at those who would subject the country to minority rule. “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people,” he said. “Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism.”

“You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government,” Lincoln added, “while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend it.'”

If there is a critique to make of Biden’s Philadelphia speech, it is that he did not say enough about the sentiments behind the MAGA movement’s contempt for democracy. In that sense, it was a missed opportunity.

Trump is the chosen candidate of reactionary billionaires and fanatical opponents of racial and gender equality for a reason. Strip away the thin veneer of “populism” and what you have in the Trumpified Republican Party is an old-fashioned movement to restrain democratic self-government for the sake of capital and hierarchy.

The struggle for democracy is the struggle for human equality is the struggle for a fairer economy is the struggle for the rights of workers and the dignity of labor. And if the enemies of democracy are fighting their war on every possible front, its defenders should, too.

The New York Times