Tue, January 18, 2022


Democrats attack Trump as a threat to the country's foundations, raising the stakes for November

On the day he announced his candidacy for president in 2019, Joe Biden said the coming campaign would be a battle for the soul of America. The Democratic National Convention has embraced and amplified that theme with a series of extraordinary attacks on President Donald Trump and a warning that the very foundations of the nation are on the ballot this November.

The assault has been led by some of the most prominent Democrats in the country. It began Monday night with former first lady Michelle Obama, who, with a tone of moral outrage, declared the president beyond unfit to lead the country. It continued Tuesday with former president Bill Clinton arguing that the Oval Office has become a "storm center" of chaos, rather than a command center.

On Wednesday night, it reached a crescendo when former president Barack Obama issued an urgent call to arms with language rarely spoken in public by one president about another. Obama's prime-time address included an ominous portrayal of an America whose worst impulses have been unleashed under this president and whose democratic institutions are under attack and threatened if Trump wins a second term.

Obama said that, while he knew Trump would not embrace his policies or vision, he nonetheless hoped his successor would move beyond the reality TV campaign he had waged in 2016 and take seriously the responsibilities of the presidency. On Wednesday night, Obama offered his verdict: "Donald Trump," he said, "hasn't grown into the job because he can't."

Obama had more than acid words for the president. He vouched for Biden as a leader who is ready and able to take the reins of power at a time of multiple crises that eclipse that which he had inherited when he was elected in 2008. He appealed to Democrats and others to vote in massive numbers and warned that the president and his allies will seek to make voting as difficult as possible.

"That's how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks," he said. "That's how a democracy withers, until it's no democracy at all. . . . Do not let them take away your power."

But in joining what has become a chorus asserting that Trump is not just a failed president but a threat to the foundations and values of the country, he underscored what many Democrats believe about November, that the very future of the country is at stake.

Obama, who made history when he was elected as the first Black president, was part of a third-night program that marked another moment in history when Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., accepted the party's nomination for vice president. She became the first Black and the first Asian American woman to formally join a major-party ticket.

Harris, accepting the responsibility assigned to all vice presidential nominees, ripped into Trump in her acceptance speech, arguing that his leadership "has cost lives and livelihoods." She said Trump is a president "who turns our tragedies into political weapons."

The nation, she added, is at an inflection point, and she made it sound as if it might be a tipping point: "The constant chaos leaves us adrift," she said. "The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot."

Striking in the assault on Trump by the Democrats this week has been the degree to which policy differences have been subjugated to a more apocalyptic framing of the choice in November, a raise-the-stakes strategy that goes beyond what Hillary Clinton did in her unsuccessful campaign of 2016. Clinton argued then that Trump was not fit to be president, a charge that a majority of voters agreed with at the time but that nonetheless did not prevent some of them from voting for him and helping him win the election.

On Wednesday night, the former secretary of state joined in the attacks on the president. "If Trump is reelected, things will get even worse," she said, noting that she has heard from many people over the past four years who have told her they regret their vote for Trump or not voting at all. "Well, this can't be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election," she said.

What Democrats have set up during their convention is not a debate over the direction of the country, in the classic ways in which parties have argued their cases in the past. It's not been an argument about health care or the level of taxation or how to engage with the rest of the world - though those issues have certainly been mentioned.

Wednesday's program included a focus on big issues that so far have defied solutions by politicians: gun violence, climate change, immigration, who the economy works for and who it doesn't. But instead of a debate about the direction of the country, Democrats want to make this a choice about the very future and essence of America.

The bet the Democrats are making is that this will be a character election, not one that hinges on the particulars of this policy or that. They are betting that warnings and denunciations that ultimately didn't persuade in 2016 will do so now that Trump has been in office for four years.

After seeing the excerpts of Obama's speech that were released Wednesday afternoon, the president lashed back, disparaging his predecessor and saying it was the failures of the Obama-Biden administration that helped make him president.

"I see the horror that he's left us, the stupidity," Trump said, adding, "The reason I'm here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden. Because if they did a good job, I wouldn't be here."

But he also lent credence to the Democrats' portrayals of him as a threat to the country's values by embracing the fringe group QAnon, which traffics in baseless conspiracy theories and which is now seeking to move into the mainstream social media world. The FBI has said the group poses a potential domestic terrorist threat.

Trump had deflected earlier questions about the group after he gave an unflinching endorsement to a sympathizer, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was recently nominated by Republicans for a U.S. House seat in Georgia. Asked Wednesday about QAnon, he said, "I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate."

At another point, he said he believed that the followers of the group did not like the violent protests that have taken place in cities like Portland. "I've heard these are people that love our country and they don't like seeing it," the president said.

That comment about what he called love of country by people was reminiscent of what he said after white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, which resulted in a clash with counterdemonstrators that left one woman dead. Trump said there were "very fine people" on both sides.

Biden used the Charlottesville episode in the video that opened his presidential campaign and has said repeatedly since then that it was that terrible march that made him finally decide to seek the presidency this year.

That remains the core argument behind his candidacy and one that his fellow Democrats have embraced with enthusiasm this week. As Obama put it on Wednesday night, "What we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come."

Published : August 20, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Dan Balz · NATIONAL, POLITICS