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Political Violence: The fate of the nation and the soul of America rests in the hands of voters this midterm

“Anecdotal data point,” conservative commentator Tom Nichols tweeted on November 2, “Had lunch with an old friend, a fellow former [Republican] (but not in politics or media or anything) and he said that things feel different after the Pelosi attack. Not sure why. I feel the same thing; not sure that it’ll matter, but have that same sense.”

Perhaps it is the echoes of lawyer Joseph Nye Welch, who in 1954 on television confronted Joseph McCarthy as the Wisconsin senator shredded people’s lives by accusing them of being communists: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Perhaps it is the many observers pointing out that in a time when more than half the Republicans running for office have refused to acknowledge that Democratic President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, and when Republican legislatures are claiming the right to choose presidential electors without the input of voters, “American democracy is on the line.”

Or perhaps it is the sheer horror of Republican politicians joking about a brutal attack on the Speaker of the House, the second in line for the presidency, an attack that left her elderly husband with a fractured skull, but Nichols is right: something feels different.

Tonight, President Joe Biden gave a speech on democracy. He began by describing the attack on Paul Pelosi, then noting that the attacker’s demand, “Where’s Nancy?”, echoed the words “used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows to hang the former vice president, Mike Pence.”

That enraged mob had been whipped into a frenzy by former president Trump’s repeating the Big Lie that the 2020 election had been stolen. That lie, Biden said, has “fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.”

Biden urged us to “confront those lies with the truth,” for “the very future of our nation depends on it.” “We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.”

“Democracy itself” is at stake in the upcoming election, Biden said. He appealed “to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance.” Nothing is guaranteed about democracy in America, he said, “Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. For that’s what democracy is. It’s a choice, a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

“We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred. We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.”

Biden warned that the same forces that challenged the 2020 election, despite all the confirmations of its results, are setting out to question the legitimacy of the 2022 election. MAGA Republicans are “trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.” They’ve encouraged violence and intimidation of voters and election workers, Biden said. “It’s damaging, it’s corrosive, and it’s destructive.”

“And I want to be very clear,” Biden said, “this is not about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about what makes America America. It’s about the durability of our democracy. For democracies are more than a form of government. They’re a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do.”

Biden warned that “we can’t take democracy for granted any longer.”

“Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people. Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party … [T]he lives of billions of people, from antiquity till now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people’s right for self-determination and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.”

“What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and… whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. This is the struggle we’re now in, a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.”

Biden listed the “fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans.” First, “we believe the vote in America’s sacred, to be honored, not denied; respected, not dismissed; counted, not ignored. A vote is not a partisan tool, to be counted when it helps your candidates and tossed aside when it doesn’t.” “Second,” he said, “we … stand against political violence and voter intimidation.” “We don’t settle our differences … with a riot, a mob, or a bullet, or a hammer. We settle them peacefully at the ballot box.” Third, he said, “we believe in democracy…. History and common sense tell us that liberty, opportunity, and justice thrive in a democracy, not in an autocracy.”

“At our best,” the president said, “America is not a zero-sum society where for you to succeed, someone else has to fail. A promise in America is big enough…for everyone to succeed…. Individual dignity, individual worth, individual determination, that’s America, that’s democracy and that’s what we have to defend.”

He urged voters to judge the candidates by whether they would accept the legitimate will of the American people. “Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?” The answer to that question should be decisive. “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy … It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

“You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot.”

Jоnаthаn Sіmcое

Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics

About The Author

Heather Cox Richardson

Dr. Heather Cox Richardson is a political historian who uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics. Her new book, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, is thought-provoking study of the centuries-spanning battle between oligarchy and equality in America.