Gerson: Biden should reaffirm the importance of democratic values in his speech | Columns
It’s the overriding advice to the new president to focus his budget speech to Congress on jobs, jobs, jobs. This reflects a consensus that the Republican Party’s culture war can be defeated by serving the economic interests of average Americans – that blood-and-iron appeals can be overcome through problems of bread and butter.
This creates a type of political conflict that is difficult for the social sciences to describe. How do you probe a competition in which one side comes up with a proposal for child custody and the other alleges a national conspiracy to steal a presidential election? Or in which some draw up an infrastructure plan and others warn of a satanic conspiracy to rape children? It’s like comparing apples to existentialism.
Democrats are in a constructive and ambitious mood, trying to squeeze a vast pile of pent-up liberalism through a mouse-hole-sized legislative opening. The few establishment Republicans who remain are undergoing the movements of an ideological response, defending fiscal responsibility, limited government and a spirit of inclusion. This will be the substance of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s response to President Biden’s speech on Wednesday.
Scott can credibly claim these traditional Republican themes for himself. But if he attributes these values to his party, he will be lying.
The ruling Trumpism did not care about the level of public spending; Donald Trump’s main tax concern was getting his name printed on stimulus checks.
The ruling Trumpism has constantly probed the limits of executive power and sought to transform institutions such as the FBI and the Pentagon into extensions of the President’s political will.
The ruling Trumpism used exclusion as an organizing principle and invited white supremacists to sit at the GOP table.
Biden’s return to normalcy and basic humanity has led to a great loosening of our public life. It’s a pleasure to be bored with politics again. But it would be a mistake for Biden to assume that our political system has reverted to its previous state, to memory foam.
The Republican Party remains dominated by an apocalyptic policy which accuses the liberals of dismantling Western civilization and authorizes undemocratic means to save civilization. Many conservatives – parrot media that profit from the incitement – have become reactionary and authoritarian. Their return to power in a second Trump term would pose a threat to the republic.
I am fully aware that my description of this doomsday movement is itself apocalyptic. But it is absurd to deny that the American right is infected with a tension of authoritarian thought that has turned other democracies into repressive shadows on their own.
One piece of evidence is decisive: On January 6, Trump introduced the federal government to mob violence intimidation. And many Republicans – including many elected Republicans – seem delighted with the memory.
We remain a democracy in danger. But how can Biden cope with this development without further polarizing the country? It certainly wouldn’t be helpful to call these trends directly into the GOP, as I did.
Biden’s challenge in his first speech to Congress – in addition to instilling confidence in his response to the pandemic and creating momentum for his economic proposals – is to make a compelling, if not poetic, case for procedural democracy. .
It is not an easy rhetorical task. Fanatics can easily appeal to rage, envy or fear. Capturing the romanticism of self-government requires more skill and thought. The democratic virtues of civility, tolerance, decency, fairness and empathy are slowly coming. The social bonds created by these virtues – respect for the rule of law, respect for the rights of political minorities, a sense of shared destiny despite great differences – are intrinsically vulnerable. A democracy is held together by millions of invisible bonds – bonds of memory and mutual respect – which are easier to cut than to mend.
In the shadow of January 6, the arguments for democracy must be boldly reaffirmed. A government of divided and balanced powers, created by the consent of the governed and dedicated to the rights and dignity of the individual, is a tremendous moral achievement. The historic exclusion of many people from the protection of this ideal does not discredit him; it demands a more rigorous application of this ideal.
Our shared commitment to these democratic principles is what makes a nation of nations. And we can’t be bystanders while potential bullies and autocrats squander a legacy they don’t understand or value.
In his speech to Congress, Biden will have the opportunity, like every president, to push his agenda forward. He will also have to face the need – as few presidents have done before him – to defend democracy in a time of peril.