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President Biden’s Speech Described a Democracy Under Attack
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President Biden’s Speech Described a Democracy Under Attack

In his speech to the nation on November 2, President Joe Biden laid out the wide-ranging threats to democracy—and how Americans must come together to repel them.

President Joe Biden speaks on preserving democracy at a rally.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on preserving democracy ahead of the midterm elections at a Democratic National Committee rally at Union Station in Washington, D.C., on November 2, 2022. (Getty/Anadolu Agency/Nathan Posner)

This column contains a correction.

In a primetime address to the nation on November 2, 2022—six days before Election Day—President Joe Biden laid bare the extreme challenges testing our democracy and the ongoing battle to strengthen it.* In his words, the nation is witnessing “a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.” With voting already underway in the midterm elections, it is critically important for all Americans who value free and fair elections to reject political extremism and violence and peacefully exercise their hallowed right to vote.

[The nation is witnessing] a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself. President Joe Biden

With white supremacist violence posing a major threat to our nation, President Biden began his speech by deploring the recent violent attack of the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). As Biden described, the assailant in that case broke into Pelosi’s house, demanding to know, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” Those are the same words spoken by members of the insurrectionist mob who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 on the hunt for Pelosi, then-Vice President Mike Pence, and lawmakers who dared to support a peaceful transition of presidential power.

As President Biden powerfully described in his speech, the January 6 insurrectionists had been whipped into a violent frenzy by former President Donald Trump. They believed his “big lie” of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election—part of a larger conspiracy that continues to produce dangerous disinformation, threats and violence against election officials and elected leaders, and nefarious voter intimidation. Regrettably, at least 20 states have passed laws since the January 6 insurrection, based in part on the big lie, to suppress voters or sabotage valid election results. And MAGA election deniers are running for office across the nation, many seeking positions to oversee elections. Boiled down to its essence, Trump and his extreme MAGA allies are trying to rig the system: If they legitimately lose elections, they are set to reverse the results and hold on to power by any means necessary. This is unpatriotic and un-American. It is also a big step toward autocracy and a stab at the “soul of the nation.”

But President Biden suggested a path forward to save democracy: Americans of all political stripes—left, right, and center—must come together “with one overwhelming unified voice [to] speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America.” At the same time, Biden urged people to vote for candidates who support free and fair elections, especially this year, when MAGA-supporting election deniers pose such a grave threat to democracy.

We must vote knowing what’s at stake and not just the policy of the moment, but institutions that have held us together as we’ve sought a more perfect union are also at stake. President Joe Biden

From a larger perspective, President Biden reminded us that democracy is precious, and we must fight to maintain it. He appealed “to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance. We must vote knowing what’s at stake and not just the policy of the moment, but institutions that have held us together as we’ve sought a more perfect union are also at stake.”

Across race and place, the nation should heed President Biden’s call to loudly condemn ongoing efforts to overthrow the will of the people. Only by fighting to protect our freedoms—including by exercising our cherished right to vote—can we take a big step forward to stabilize our precarious democracy. And if our chosen candidates do not win, we must commit to accepting valid election results without resorting to violence and disinformation. Simply put, a more perfect union requires us to settle our political differences at the ballot box, not with a bullet or hammer. We must reject false election claims and incitements to violence, as they cause communities to lose trust in elections and give rise to political extremism.

What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and … whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. President Joe Biden

Our nation is in a unique and troubling moment in history, where threats of autocracy loom on the horizon. President Biden’s speech starkly focused people’s attention on this moment—a moment to fight for our collective freedoms and values. As he said, “What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and … whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail.”

*Correction, November 3, 2022: This column has been updated to accurately reflect the date of President Biden’s address.

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Author

Michael Sozan

Senior Fellow

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