It was hard to miss the challenge that President Biden posed to Americans as he burned through a fiery speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia last week.
Led by “bullies and peddlers of lies,” Republicans in Congress and state legislatures around the country are engaged in a historical assault on the right to vote that poses the most-serious threat to “the American experiment” since the Civil War.
“Hear me clearly, there is an unfolding assault taking place in America today to subvert the right to vote in free and fair elections. An assault on liberty, an assault on who were are,” Biden said. “Bullies and peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country … We’re facing the most significant threat to our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole. Since the Civil War — the Confederates never breached the Capitol as the insurrectionists did on Jan. 6. I’m not saying this to alarm you, I’m saying it because you should be alarmed.”
And in a sentence, Biden nailed it. You should be alarmed. And if you’re not, you’re either not paying attention or you’ve bought the myth. And both are equally destructive.
Egged on by the Florida retiree who is still actively perpetuating the myth of the stolen election, Republicans at the state and national level have engaged in a wholesale rewriting of the events of Jan. 6. They’ve downplayed the carnage of that day and have worked feverishly to block a badly needed comprehensive inquiry of the worst violence in the nation’s capital since the War of 1812.
At the same time, they’ve conducted a systematic attack on access to the ballot box, passing laws and pushing legislation — including in Pennsylvania where Biden spoke — that would deny the franchise to millions of Americans, most of them Black and voters of color. This isn’t academic. Biden’s speech came on the same day that Democrats fled the Texas Capitol to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to push through a voter suppression bill in the Lone Star State.
And remember, they’re doing it in response to an absolute fiction, one that was put to rest by dozens of state and federal judges, and the U.S. Supreme Court not once, but twice.
“In America, you lose, you accept the results, you follow the Constitution, you try again,” Biden said, inveighing against his predecessor without ever mentioning him by name. “You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship, that’s selfishness. That’s not democracy, it’s the denial of the right to vote.”
And that is precisely what is unfolding, in real time. And the challenge that Biden issued, not only to policymakers and activists, but to all Americans is a real one, and the test of our times: To stand against attacks on voting rights and to work together to rebut the culture of untruths that have sprung up around our what’s been billed as the most secure election in history.
Biden called for the passage of two sweeping pieces of voting rights legislation that have hit a brick wall in the narrowly divided U.S. Senate. The consequences of failing to do so are high, he warned, adding that the world was watching. “Time and again, we’ve weathered threats to the right to vote, and each time, we’ve overcome. That’s what we must do today,” Biden said. “We have to ask, are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, just a true injustice, democracy or autocracy?” he asked. “That’s what it’s coming down to.”
This is the challenge of our times. And we cannot fail to meet it.
John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org