With Categorical Denunciation of Violence, Biden Can Now Prosecute the Case Against Trump
The absurdity of our lawless president campaigning as a “law-and-order” candidate notwithstanding, Donald Trump is doing exactly that absurd thing: claiming he is Mr. Law-and-Order while insisting his opponent, Joe Biden, is dangerous for America in every conceivable way.
This down-is-up transformation crystalized at the Republican national convention. Going in, Trump was seen as vulnerable for comprehensive mismanagement to a gross degree — of the pandemic, the collapsing economy, the racial unrest following George Floyd’s killing by a white police officer. But at the convention, reality was flipped: Speaker after speaker painted a picture of a virus vanquished, an economy booming, and — truly jaw-dropping — Donald Trump as savior of a nation whose cities are aflame with racial protest, while, it follows, Joe Biden is Evil Incarnate. Trump’s unctuous wingman, Vice-president Mike Pence, intoned unctuously, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” In his speech, Trump delivered Part II of his “American carnage” inaugural. Four nights of flat-out lying, sung by the Anvil Chorus, did the trick: The Republicans were united — welded — to the law-and-order theme. (If you think this is hyperbole, watch any 15-minute clip of the convention; I watched it all, though bailed during Trump’s peroration, due to splitting headache.)
In the aftermath, Democrats, still swooning over their own love-fest of a convention the week previous, spent too much time guffawing at the Mad Hatter aspect of the Republican convention (“How can they believe all those lies?”) — while Trump barreled back onto the campaign trail trumpeting the GOP-approved Democrats-are-O.K.-with-violence/scare-America theme (also here). Meanwhile, this household was jumping up and down: Dems, this is dangerous, stop guffawing, control the narrative.
Finally, last week, Joe Biden in a forceful speech in Pittsburgh laid down a categorical denunciation of the violence associated with ongoing racial protest (video here). While most Black Lives Matter protest continues to be peaceful (also here and here), where they have been turned violent — either by far-right provocateurs, federal law enforcement agents, or frustrated BLM protesters themselves — the public finds it difficult to parse BLM from the violence; thus BLM’s approval ratings, having reached historic highs post-George Floyd, are now slipping.
Biden’s exact words denouncing the violence, featured in a new ad taken from the speech, are worth citing in full:
“I want to make it absolutely clear: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. It’s lawlessness — plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Fires are burning and we have a President who fans the flames. He can’t stop the violence, because for years he’s fomented it. But his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is. Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction. It is wrong in every way. If I were President, my language would be less divisive. I’d be looking to lower the temperature in this country, not raise it. Donald Trump is determined to instill fear in America, because Donald Trump adds fuel to every fire. This is not who we are. I believe we should be guided by the words of Pope John Paul II, words drawn from the Scripture: ‘Be not afraid.’ I’m Joe Biden and I approve this message.”
In sum: While holding protest as lawful, Biden denounces looting and rioting as lawlessness. He points to the true source of the mayhem — Donald Trump himself, who’s long fomented violence, and his armed militias — before denouncing violence again: “Violence will not bring change; it will only bring destruction. It is wrong in every way.” Mr. Biden should repeat it at every campaign event until Election Day.
Denouncing violence, Biden can pivot to offense and attack Trump himself as Lawlessness Incarnate. Let us count the ways: Trump’s businesses profiting from his tenure in office; his muscling Ukraine to investigate his likely opponent, one Joe Biden, which led to the House voting to impeach; etc. In proactively raising “Ukrainegate,” Biden could acknowledge son Hunter’s role and vow anew that, if elected, no family member would be involved in state business — a step enroute to returning America to a rules-based polity. On that point, a group of former GOP appointees to the Justice Department warn that if this lawless president is re-elected, he will be “unleashed” and autocracy is possible: “I don’t know what’s going to stop him.”
Meanwhile, BLM protesters, digging in against far-right provocateurs and federal agents, might recommit to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s policy of nonviolence. King understood that, in any confrontation, nonviolence always enjoys the upper (moral) hand. (I advocated BLM declare victory at the height of its public approval and pivot to the campaign trail, to put in place an administration dedicated to racial equality and criminal justice reform.)
With violence denounced, Biden can also return to prosecuting his campaign as a referendum on Trump himself and his historically unparalleled extravaganza of incompetence and malfeasance. In no way is this campaign about Democrats being O.K. with violence. If anybody is O.K. with violence, it is the proto-autocratic Trump.
As to the referendum on Trump, number one issue of course is the pandemic. Biden’s recent statement on the damage wreaked to date — “The hard truth is this pandemic didn’t need to be this bad” — begins to retarget Trump for his lethal mishandling of the crisis. Biden vows a science-focused approach. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s bombshell scoop that Trump knew the coronavirus was indeed deadly, not something to be shrugged off, gives Biden another bullet-point — and justification for asking: How many of the 191,000 Americans deaths to date were unnecessary? We will also hear more from him on post-pandemic economic recovery.
Biden’s passionate response to allegations that Trump referred to military dead as “suckers” and “losers,” while painful for him, pierced through when he defended his late son Beau’s service undertaken post-9/11. It would be good for the country to return to the norm of public service as worthy with someone who truly “gets” it.
I hope people will cut Biden some slack in his endeavor: Making the case for civility and normalcy has always been difficult, with points automatically given the Devil for audacity. (With Trump normalizing so much behavior heretofore unacceptable or amoral, Trump equates to the Devil.) In “Moby-Dick,” Father Mapple in his sermon underscores the tougher quest: “In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”
With Labor Day now in our rear-view mirror, the campaign until Election Day will be a scorcher. But at least with Biden’s categorical denunciation of violence, he can shift from the back foot and take the fight to the proper foe — Donald Trump. Go, Joe!