After 18 Months, Biden Finally Responds to Trump and GOP Threat to Democracy 

Interview with Christopher Vials, professor of English and director of American Studies at the University of Connecticut, conducted by Scott Harris

President Biden delivered a major speech in Philadelphia on the evening of Sept. 1 that was unlike most presidential addresses heard in recent decades. The central message of the speech was a warning to the American people about the danger posed by Donald Trump — and what he called MAGA Republicans — to the continued survival of American democracy.

The threat, which Biden had earlier described as “semi-fascist,” included the assertion that MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution, do not believe in the rule of law and do not recognize the will of the people. The president observed that Trump and his GOP supporters look at the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 not as insurrectionists, but as patriots. Biden went on to warn that MAGA forces are determined to take the country backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, and no right to marry who you love.

Many in the Republican party now embrace the so-called White Replacement Theory that believes the white race in the U.S. is deliberately being replaced by non-Christian immigrants from around the world. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Christopher Vials, professor of English and director of American Studies at the University of Connecticut, who assesses President Biden’s speech and the danger of normalizing right-wing political violence.

CHRISTOPHER VIALS: It was long overdue. I think he left himself vulnerable to critique later on in the same speech when he tied all of that to, you know, basically Democratic party legislative victories of late. And in so doing, he kind of lost, I think, a little bit of the kind of abstract moral high ground.

But that said, if he did not do something like that, I think he’s in danger of going down in history given what might happen next, as somebody who just had his head in the sand. And there’s nothing that he said about you know, I don’t think his assessment of the MAGA Republicans, as he called them, was wrong at all.

Right. So because this is a group that, as you said, has been diligently working since the 2020 election to make sure that they fill all spots of election officials with people who are party loyalists who will just do whatever Trump says and trying to do their best to make sure that people like Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, the secretary of state of that state, doesn’t have their offices.

And they’re trying to get Republicans who do not adhere to that basic idea of rule of law, which is what saved us the last time around. So, yes, the danger is real. Not not to mention the kind of embrace of radical ideas and general authoritarianism among the wing of the Republican Party, the MAGA wing. That is also the dominant wing, too, which is something I never thought I would see that kind of authoritarianism, even I, when I wrote the Haunted by Hitler book, didn’t think I was going to see in the United States in my lifetime.

And I guess what’s alarming, when Biden was talking about the push towards political violence, how if you look at Trump’s tweets, he is pretty consistently defending the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 as patriots and has even promised repeatedly to pardon them when he becomes president in 2024. You know, clearly like Victor’s justice, right?

So in saying you’re going to pardon people who basically tried to overthrow the election by force, you’ve already pretty much said you have nothing to do with the rule of law. Force is your rule, anything that will defend your kind of narcissistic ego. Right? And that’s classic authoritarianism. I don’t think I fully understood the term rule of law until I watched the Jan. 6 hearings over and over, meaning that the rule of law means there is one set of rules and laws, not just a set of rules and laws for your political opponent and you get to do whatever you want.

So, again, the threat of violence is real and while I’m sure the federal government could be doing more, they’re at least taking some steps in the right direction, which is which is heartening.

SCOTT HARRIS: What I find very frightening is the fact that if you had a head of state in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, who attempted to overthrow a government and nullify millions of people’s votes in a once every four-year election for the presidency, and that person continued to walk freely, make speeches and make calls to violence, targeting law enforcement, election officials, as well as politicians in their families, I would think that that country was a failed state, that the rule of law did not exist in that nation. And I look at Trump and all of his co-conspirators in the failed coup attempt. They’re walking freely and they continue to make calls to destroy what’s left of our very flawed democracy here in this country.

CHRISTOPHER VIALS: I think that is very true. And I think what is it is also a sign of is that about one-third of the electorate has embraced that very Trumpism, right? So you basically got one-third of the population that has believed the lie basically that Trump puts out that “an attack on me is an attack on you.”

Right. So they’re about a third of the population that feels when you come after Trump, you come after them, they are very armed. So, yes, we are in many ways already a failed state. And this is all already the makings of, you know, an authoritarian state, even a fascist state in the making.

Keep in mind that fascist states, you know, particularly the most famous ones of Germany and Italy. But also you can throw in Spain. And they didn’t come to power after the fascist won an election. They always come to power after the fascist either loses an election or is declining in popularity. Right.? And it really only takes about a third of the population to support them and believe in them to take over the state and take over the government.

I think, given the volatile nature the government does need to and the United States does need to proceed carefully, but proceed it should and must. So, yes, I do agree with you that we’re in very, very dangerous times. I do. I’m not really resting kind of comfortably at night, given the level of political violence that’s become acceptable.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Christopher Vials (28:24) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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