Biden warns of ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremist’ antidemocratic MAGA movement as he pays tribute to John McCain

‘There is something dangerous happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The Maga Movement’

Andrew Feinberg,Mike Bedigan
Thursday 28 September 2023 20:52 BST
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Louise Thomas

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President Joe Biden on Thursday offered a stark warning against the dangers posed by an “extremist” and antidemocratic Maga movement led by former president Donald Trump in remarks in Arizona paying tribute to late Republican senator John McCain.

Speaking in Tempe, Arizona, Mr Biden opened by quoting the farewell letter Mr McCain had written to be published after his death, a letter which called the US the “world’s greatest republic” that was founded on “ideals, not blood and soil”.

“John was right — every other every other nation in the world has been founded on either grouping by ethnicity, religion, background. We're the most unique nation in the world ... founded on an idea ... that we are all created equal,” he said.

The president said he was reminded, during his recent trip to Vietnam, of how much America currently needs the late senator’s “courage and foresight and vision” at what he described as “a new time of testing”.

“Very few of us will ever be asked to endure what John McCain endured. But all of us are being asked right now: What will we do to maintain our democracy?”

At that point, he was briefly interrupted by a group of climate protesters, whom he promised to meet after he finished talking on the condition that they “shush up” and let him finish.

He quipped: “Democracy, never as easy — as we just demonstrated.”

Continuing, Mr Biden said “the cause” of democrat is “worth giving our all for” because it “makes all things possible”.

He said democracy means “rule of the people, not rule of monarch, not rule of the monied, not rule of the mighty”.

“Regardless of party that means respecting free and fair elections, accepting the outcome, win or lose. It means you can't love your country only when you win,” he said. “Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence, regardless of party. Such violence is never never never acceptable in American. It's non democratic and it must never be normalised,” he continued.

But the president warned that democracy “is still at risk” despite his efforts to make “the defense and protection and preservation of American democracy the central issue of [his] presidency,” and said he’d come to Arizona to warn of “another threat to our democracy” and to “our political instutitions”.

“For centuries, the American constitution has been a model for the world, with other countries adopting ‘we the people’ as their North Star as well. But as we know, we know how damaged our institutions of democracy the judiciary, the legislature, the executive, have become become in the eyes of the American people, even the world from attacks within the past few years,” he said. “We lose these institutions of our government at our own peril”.

Mr Biden said the goal of the movement is to “alter the balance of power by increasing the President's authority over every part of the federal government and ... erode the constitutional order of checks and balances and separation of powers”.

Continuing, he said the extremists plan to “limit the independence of federal agencies, put them under the thumb of a president give the President the power to refuse to spend money that Congress has appropriated If he doesn't like what is being spent for” and “get rid of long standing protections for civil service” by revamping a Trump-era executive order he rescinded on his first day in office.

“Seizing power, concentrating power, temporary and abuse, power, purging and packing key institutions spewing conspiracy theories spreading lies for profit and power to divide Americans every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep America safe ... it goes against the very soul of who we are as Americans,” he said.

Mr Biden called the movement “a threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions” and “a threat to the character of our nation, that which gives our constitutionalise” and “binds us together as Americans”.

While he touted his ability and desire to work with the GOP, he said there is “no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by Maga extremists” and slammed recent attacks on the military by Mr Trump and his allies, including previous comments about American veterans made by Mr Trump, who called those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the US in war “suckers and losers”.

Mr Biden has given a handful of other democracy-centred addresses, including at Independence Hall in Philadelphia a year ago and at Union Station in Washington shortly before the November midterm elections.

The issue of preserving democracy is expected to be a key theme in his reelection campaign, and he laid out his beliefs in detail as he continued his remarks.

“I believe very strongly that the defining feature of our democracy is our Constitution. I believe in the separation of powers and checks and balances, that debate and disagreement do not lead to disunion. I believe in free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power. I believe there is no place in America — none, none, none — for political violence,” he said. “We have to denounce hate, not embolden cross the aisle across the country. I see fellow Americans, not mortal enemies. We a great nation, because we're good people who believe in honor, decency and respect”.

He said that “every generation” must remain “vigilant” in defence of democracy, and warned that democracies “don’t have to die at the end of a rifle” but “can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up or condemn threats to democracy”.

“For all its’ faults, American democracy remains the best paths forward to prosperity, possibilities, progress,” he said.

Mr Biden added that the answer to the threats he described is “engagement ... “not to sit on the sidelines ... to build coalitions and community, to remind ourselves there's a clear majority of us who believe in our democracy and are ready to protect it” and said the country is at “an inflection point in our history”, where decisions made will “determine the course of this country – and the world – for the next six or seven decades”.

US President Joe Biden visits the John Sidney McCain III Memorial in Hanoi on September 11, 2023
US President Joe Biden visits the John Sidney McCain III Memorial in Hanoi on September 11, 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

“We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because Maga extremists have made clear they won’t,” he said. “History is watching. The world is watching. Most important, our children and grandchildren are watching”.

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