Sometimes I talk about politics.
On September 1, 2022, President Joe Biden delivered a red-tinted Jeremiad. He gave the speech from the closest thing American politics permit to secular-sacred ground. That is Independence Hall in Philadelphia (CSPAN, 2022).
The reaction to the speech has obscured the speech itself. But that is the standard operating procedure for American political discourse.
A Jeremiad is a genre of literature where a performer laments the state of society. This usually involves the perceived moral failings of their society. And the performer calls these failings out. A Jeremiad has a severe tone and invective. It also warns society to mend its way (Bercovitch, 2012). The term Jeremiad comes from the biblical prophet Jeremiah. The term is a reference to the Book of Lamentations (Lamentations, 1611).
How many of the choices involved in the speech are President Biden’s is an interesting question. He employs Vinay Reddy and Carlyn Reichel as speech writers (Rafter, 2022). They might have written the speech, chosen the venue, and even the red backdrop. But President Biden decided to deliver it. The buck stops with him.
There is an interesting tension between President Biden’s praising the American people and decrying extremists in the speech. President Biden says, “we the people…” in a quote from the Declaration of Independence. He also states that some Americans “…represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic”.
President Biden calls out the moral problem of “MAGA Republicans” in the context of the speech working as a Jeremiad. The red backlighting cast on Independence Hall serves to underline the alarming message. After all, red lights signal an alarm. President Biden provides a counter to this threat by saying America is the “Greatest nation on Earth.” He praises America’s historical journey and says it has the potential for 200 more years if it grapples with the dangers of extremism (Thomas, 2022).
None of these elements matters.
American elections are always home to rhetorical violence, slander, and so on (Goodtimes, 2012). Biden’s speech immediately fell into this ditch, the partisan internet response President.
People have used “fascism” and “fascist” as vague insults since WWII; vague in their use as an insult usually does not match the terms’ dictionary definition (Orwell, 1944). But no variation of the words appears in President Biden’s “Soul of the Country” Jeremiad. It didn’t matter he did not use the term in this speech. Because he did describe the politics of MAGA Republicans as “…almost semi-fascism…” in another address. He delivered this other speech during a fundraising gathering before a Democratic rally in Maryland (Kim, 2022).
The online and media response to the semi-fascism comment in the second speech distorts both speeches. It obscures the warning to society to mend its ways in the “Soul of the Nation” speech.
So, the internet as filters out context, nuance, and meaning. And it allows us to remain indolent in our toxic politics, sessile in our sectarian malice, and brittle in our arrogant views.
C’est la vie.
Bercovitch, S. (2012). The American jeremiad. University of Wisconsin Press.
CSPAN. (2022, September 1). President Biden full speech on democracy. Retrieved from CSPAN Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JemWkV2Vcic&ab_channel=C-SPAN
Goodtimes, J. (2012, October 24). A brief history of campaign mudslinging, from 1796 to today. Retrieved from City Life: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2012/10/24/presidential-campaign-dirty-politics-mudslinging/
Kim, C. (2022, August 26). Biden calls Trump and MAGA supporters semi-fascists. Retrieved from Newsmax: https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/biden-trump-fascist/2022/08/26/id/1084851/
Lamentations. (1611). In Jeremiah, King James Bible. London: Nelson.
Orwell, G. (1944). What is fascism? In G. Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. London.
Rafter, D. (2022, September). Who is Joe Biden’s speechwriter? Retrieved from HITC: https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2020/08/21/who-is-joe-bidens-speechwriter-get-to-know-vinay-reddy-and-carlyn-reichel/
Thomas, J. (2022, September 1). Read everything Joe Biden said in his ‘Soul of the Nation’ speech. Retrieved from Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/read-everything-joe-biden-said-his-soul-nation-speech-1739192