Joe Biden’s Red-Tinged Speech

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” at a recent speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I’ve been to Independence Hall, but never did I picture it like this, lit in a garish red light:

Readers here know I’m critical of Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t want either man to get a second term. And MAGA, as in make America great again, is a movement that has cult-like elements in the way it elevates Trump as some kind of leader/savior figure. Being critical of MAGA is one thing, but Biden’s speech had all the subtlety of the red-tinged image above.

Having watched too many episodes of “Star Trek,” what I think of here is Red Alert. But painting all Trump supporters with the same red brush only aggravates tension and division.

Sorry, I don’t see my MAGA neighbor as my enemy. He or she is a fellow American, probably one who’s frustrated with the system as it exists today and is seeking an alternative to politics as usual. The shameful thing is our country’s political duopoly, which offers only two choices, Biden or a Biden clone versus Trump or a Trump clone. Maybe the “enemy within” is the duopoly itself?

Biden’s speech was disheartening. The way to win people over is not to paint your rival in red. Give people hope. Give them meaningful reforms. A $15 federal minimum wage. Affordable health care. Higher education that doesn’t lead to huge personal debt. Environmental policies that preserve the earth and address climate change. An end to gargantuan military budgets and overseas wars. Heck, I’ll settle for potable drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan.

Railing against an “enemy” is easy. Sharing the fruits of America equitably among all Americans is the real challenge. Biden pushed a big red “easy” button that placed his followers on red alert against the MAGA foe, as if they weren’t our fellow Americans but a quasi-Klingon empire of aliens out to attack and conquer. It’s a move both wrong and wrongheaded. It’s also yet one more reminder that America needs new political parties and a new direction.

America: Land of Extremes

superman
He said he fought for truth, justice, and the American way.  Why does that seem so much more far-fetched today?

W.J. Astore

This is an Andy Rooney moment for me, but did you ever notice how Americans tend to favor either humongous trophy houses (McMansions), or closet-like tiny houses?  Did you ever notice how so many Americans tend to be either very fat or super fit?  Crusading evangelicals or militant atheists?  Faithful believers in creationism or fervid followers of science?  Proud “cave man” carnivores or proselytizing vegans?  Coffee fiends or caffeine avoiders?  Lushes or teetotalers?   Materialists and hoarders or declutterers and minimalists?

The list of opposites, of extremes, goes on.  Heck, why not include Obama supporters or Trump followers?  Obama is urbane, sophisticated, cerebral, “no drama.”  A devoted family man with one very successful marriage.  The Donald?  Well, let’s just say he’s very different than our sitting president.  And I’m not talking skin color.

A good friend of mine once complained about his fellow Americans that he didn’t necessarily mind their extremism.  What he did mind was their efforts to convert him to whatever extreme causes they believed in.  Rodney King famously asked, Can’t we all just get along?  My friend’s cry was more plaintive: Can’t you all just leave me alone?

As Trump crawls closer to power, America risks devolving even more into a society where the byword is “My way or the highway.”  Where the national motto is no longer “In God we trust” or the older “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) but instead “America: love it or leave it.”

I once read a great rejoinder to the “America: love it or leave it” sentiment.  I first saw it in a bicycle repair book.  The author simply added this coda: “Or change it.”

Extremism in the pursuit of your own selfish definition of “liberty” can indeed be a vice, America.  We need to reject a black/white, love/hate, on/off, Manichean view of each other and the world.  Moderation as a way of pursuing a more inclusive and compassionate world can indeed be a virtue.

That doesn’t mean one submits supinely to injustice.  That doesn’t mean one surrenders meekly to tyrants.  What it does mean is a rejection of a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to life and each other.  We have enough polarization already in America, and we certainly have enough death.

Superman used to say he fought for truth, justice, and the American way.  There was a sense, a few generations ago, that those words were not laughable.  That they meant something.  We need to get back to those times.

Impossible, you say?  We won’t know unless we try.