On November 2 2022, United States President Joe Biden gave a speech ahead of the November 8 2022 U.S. midterm elections decrying a spike in political violence and urging voters to participate at the polls.
A full transcript of Biden’s speech was published to the “Briefing Room” section of WhiteHouse.gov (“Remarks by President Biden on Standing up for Democracy”), and it opened with commentary about the October 28 2022 attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul:
Good evening, everyone. Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 a.m. in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest ranking official in America.
He carried in his backpack zip ties [plastic restraints], duct tape, rope, and a hammer. As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps. But she wasn’t there.
Her husband, my friend Paul Pelosi, was home alone.
The assailant tried to take Paul hostage. He woke him up, and he wanted to tie him up. The assailant ended up using a hammer to smash Paul’s skull.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, Paul survived.
All of this happened after the assault, and it just — it’s hard to even say; it’s hard to even say — after the assailant entered the home asking, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?”
Those were the very same 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.
Biden contrasted the October 2022 attack with the January 6 2021 Capitol insurrection, noting that the attacker intended to use “zip ties” (which were actually law enforcement-grade flex cuffs) as restraints. The President also observed that the same exact phrase (“Where’s Nancy?”) were used in both instances of political violence.
He then described an “enraged mob” that had been rhetorically whipped up to commit acts of mass violence on January 6th 2021, steered primarily by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to invalidate, overturn, or disrupt the outcome of the November 2020 election.
Biden continued by adding that political violence preceded the Capitol insurrection, often targeted election workers, and resulted from the repetition and deliberate spread of false and incendiary information:
Even before January the 6th , we saw election officials and election workers in a number of states subject to menacing calls, physical threats, even threats to their very lives.
In Georgia, for example, the Republican secretary of state and his family were subjected to death threats because he refused to break the law and give in to the defeated President’s demand: just find him 11,780 votes. “Just find me 11,780 votes.”
Election workers, like Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, were harassed and threatened just because they had the courage to do their job and stand up for truth, to stand up for our democracy.
This institution — this intimidation and this violence against Democrats and Republicans and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over that generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol, and even violence.
Biden implored Americans “to confront those lies with the truth, and “say there is no place — no place — for voter intimidation or political violence in America.” Noting that Americans will always “have our differences,” he continued:
… there is something else at stake: democracy itself.
I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy at — is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it.
From the very beginning, nothing has been guaranteed about democracy in America. 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’re going to sustain a republic where reality is accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred.
Biden then addressed his predecessor’s role in the rising threat to democratic processes, with respect to both the 2020 election and any future elections:
You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former President of the United States refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. He refuses to accept the will of the people. He refuses to accept the fact that he lost.
He has abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he’s made a Big Lie an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party — the minority of that party.
The great irony about the 2020 election is it’s the most attacked election in our history. And yet — and yet, there is no election in our history that we can be more certain of its results.
Every legal challenge that could have been brought was brought. Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results.
Wherever fact or evidence have been demanded, the Big Lie has been proven to be just that, a big lie, every single time.
Yet, now, extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections but elections being held now and into the future.
Biden further stated, accurately, that at least 300 election deniers were on the ballot in the November 2022 midterms, and described disinformation as “damaging,” “corrosive,” and “destructive,” warning that democracy itself was “on the ballot” on November 8 2022 and adding that “disunion and chaos” are not inevitable, despite what disinformation purveyors would have the world believe:
With democracy on the ballot, we have to remember these first principles. Democracy means the rule of the people — not the rule of monarchs or the monied, but the rule of the people … To state the obvious, the lives of billions of people, from antiquity until 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. It, in my view, is the biggest of questions: whether the American system that prizes the individual, bends toward justice, and depends — 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.
Make no mistake — democracy is on the ballot for us all.
We must remember that democracy is a covenant. We need to start looking out for each other again, seeing ourselves as “We the People,” not as entrenched enemies.
This is a choice we can make. Disunion and chaos are not inevitable.
Because democracy is on the ballot, we have to remember that even in our darkest moments there are fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans, and they must unite us now.
After speaking about apathy and exhaustion amid increasing political intimidation and violence, Biden continued, once again addressing the topic of candidates who are explicitly anti-democracy:
[The November 8 2022 midterm election] is also the first national election since the events of January 6th, when the armed, angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. I wish — I wish I could say the assault on our democracy had ended that day, but I cannot.
As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state — who won’t commit — they will not commit to accepting the results of elections that they’re running in.
That is a path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented, it’s unlawful, and it’s un-American. As I’ve said before, you can’t love your country only when you win … I hope you’ll ask a simple question of each candidate you might vote for: Will that person accept the legitimate will of the American people and the people voting in his district or her district? Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?
The answer to that question is vital. And in my opinion, it should be decisive. On the answer to that question hangs the future of the country we love so much and the fate of the democracy that has made so much possible for us.
In all, Biden spoke for just over 20 minutes. Coverage of the speech by the New York Times included additional details about election-denying candidates in the midterm elections and Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to keep the narrative alive, and it summarized the Republican National Committee (RNC)’s response to the speech:
More than 370 Republican candidates have questioned and, at times, outright denied the results of the 2020 election despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, according to a months[-]long New York Times investigation. Mr. Trump has made fealty to his false claims a litmus test for his support for Republican candidates.
Republicans once again asserted that in criticizing them for election denial, Mr. Biden was himself being divisive instead of the uniter he promised to be. “Desperate and dishonest,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement without waiting for the speech to be delivered. “Joe Biden promised unity but has instead demonized and smeared Americans, while making life more expensive for all.”
Reports that Trump had demanded fealty and unquestioning loyalty from Republican candidates in exchange for his support was also reflected in an October 25 2022 CNN.com article about a phone call between Trump and candidate Blake Masters. It described footage of the call, in which Trump conditioned his endorsement on denying the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and insisted that Masters lie about the 2020 election in future public remarks:
During a phone call between Trump and Masters captured in a Fox documentary at some point after the debate [in October 2022], the former President can be heard encouraging Masters to lean into his unfounded election fraud claims.
“If you want to get across the line, you’ve got to go stronger on that one thing. That was the one thing, a lot of complaints about it,” Trump told Masters before pointing to Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake as an example.
The call underscored how central election denial is to the GOP’s midterm efforts. Dozens of Republicans trying to be elected in 2022 as governor, state secretary of state or US senator have joined Trump in baselessly rejecting or questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, with some having attempted to overturn the 2020 results.
In the early morning hours of November 3 2022, the New York Times’ editorial board published “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both.” It did not reference Biden’s speech, nor did it mention him at all. However, the editorial was remarkably similar to Biden’s speech both in structure and tone. It began with a mention of the attack on the Pelosi home, then it segued into broader coverage of violent rhetoric and its myriad toxic effects on the democratic process:
Over the past five years, incidents of political violence in the United States by right-wing extremists have soared. Few experts who track this type of violence believe things will get better anytime soon without concerted action. Domestic extremism is actually likely to worsen. The attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the speaker of the House of Representatives, was only the latest episode, and federal officials warn that the threat of violence could continue to escalate after the midterm elections.
The embrace of conspiratorial and violent ideology and rhetoric by many Republican politicians during and after the Trump presidency, anti-government anger related to the pandemic, disinformation, cultural polarization, the ubiquity of guns and radicalized internet culture have all led to the current moment, and none of those trends are in retreat. Donald Trump was the first American president to rouse an armed mob that stormed the Capitol and threatened lawmakers. Taken together, these factors form a social scaffolding that allows for the kind of endemic political violence that can undo a democracy. Ours would not be the first.
Yet the nation is not powerless to stop a slide toward deadly chaos. If institutions and individuals do more to make it unacceptable in American public life, organized violence in the service of political objectives can still be pushed to the fringes. When a faction of one of the country’s two main political parties embraces extremism, that makes thwarting it both more difficult and more necessary. A well-functioning democracy demands it.
The editorial also addressed the effect of that uptick in politically motivated violence on everyday Americans, later citing an October 2022 poll’s “alarming conclusion”:
In addition to these high-profile events, the threat of violence has begun to have a corrosive effect on many aspects of public life: the hounding of election workers until they are forced into hiding, harassment of school board officials, threats to judges, armed demonstrations at multiple statehouses, attacks on abortion clinics and anti-abortion pregnancy centers, bomb threats against hospitals that offer care to transgender children, assaults on flight attendants who try to enforce Covid rules and the armed intimidation of librarians over the books and ideas they choose to share.
Many — far too many — Americans now consider political violence not only acceptable but perhaps necessary. In an online survey of more than 7,200 adults, nearly a third of people answered that political violence is usually or always justified. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and released in October , came to the alarming conclusion that “MAGA Republicans” (as opposed to those who identified themselves as traditional Republicans) “are more likely to hold extreme and racist beliefs, to endorse political violence, to see such violence as likely to occur and to predict that they will be armed under circumstances in which they consider political violence to be justified.”
Noting that “[any] violence [necessarily] suppresses participation in democratic decision making,” the board then identified four distinct issues hampering democracy in the United States:
There are four interrelated trends that the country needs to address: the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas[,] and the growing number of G.O.P. politicians who are using the threat of political violence not just to intimidate their opponents on the left but also to wrest control of the party from those Republicans who are committed to democratic norms.
Of the hundreds of comments on the editorial on the day it was published, the most prominent reader remark described the piece as effectively “too little, too late”:
Why are you waiting until less than a week before an absolutely terrifying election to abandon your steadfast both-sidesism for this more rational perspective? Our Democratic members of Congress–not to mention our democracy–have been in obvious danger since January 6 . Since then the GOP has done nothing but make good on its promise, while the press has sat by, trying to pretend that all is normal. It isn’t. We’re heading towards an autocracy. And you’ll be the first thing to go. Look at Russia and Hungary!
Another commenter echoed and expounded upon it, writing:
The Commenter, “AnnNYC,” is asking the Times (and by extension every other mainstream media outlet) a simple question: “NOW? You have waited until NOW to finally address the existential danger to democracy inherent in political violence? NOW, with the election only 5 days away? Where have you been?”
Maybe, just maybe, the MSM should have been addressing this threat all along, rather than treating the election as a football game between two legitimate teams both committed to following the rules. This editorial is long overdue, and better late than never I suppose. And yet, it may already be too late. We’ve got one shot left to avert disaster: November 8 . Vote. If you do not, it may be the last time you’ll ever have the opportunity to participate in a free and fair election.
On November 2 2022, United States President Joe Biden gave a speech “on Standing up for Democracy,” remarks that did not appear to air on broadcast television. Biden implored Americans to recognize increasing, existential threats to democracy ahead of the November 8 2022 midterm elections. On the morning of November 3 2022, a New York Times editorial echoed many of Biden’s observations in a lengthy examination of the increase in and causes of politically motivated violence, but without mentioning his speech.