Opinion: Biden blew it big-time in Philly

Can the president clean up his act and win over Black voters for the midterms?

Photo of the American flag with graffiti

I probably would have walked out of President Joe Biden’s save-our-democracy speech in Philadelphia. The backdrop of Independence Hall stood as a painful reminder of the broken promises of our Constitution. Biden’s message to Americans fell short when he failed to highlight the challenges and hardships many Black Americans face. The Constitution I know became a weapon to oppress, depress, and suppress the contributions of Black people, who sacrificed their livelihood for a nation that does not embrace equality.

Biden pushed a narrative that the government is for “all people.” He all but ignored that Black men and women were excluded from tables of power by the white men who drafted the Constitution in 1787.

I grew up in Chicago and attended Henry R. Clissold Elementary School, where every morning students would rise to their feet and place their hand over their chest and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. As I got older I dissected the phrase “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Americans are conditioned to say words that do not reflect the actions of those in authority. We acknowledge and praise a God in heaven on which this country stands on, but create hell for many of its citizens. Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King knew the peril facing the nation’s soul, but an assassin killed him three days before he was to give a speech entitled, “Why America May Go to Hell?” Like King, we know we are not one nation. All people do not enjoy liberty and justice. We are divided by race, sex, gender, creed, money, and education. These differences dictate who gets rights and who loses them. The realities of racism, segregation, and inequality at the hands of the government show those in office value and prioritize power and money over the needs of the American people.

With Biden’s prime-time speech warning citizens that “equality and democracy are under assault,” he missed a great opportunity to unite us. Biden failed to address the divide between Republicans and Black and Brown communities.

True enough, with a stern, uncharismatic tone, Biden singled out the antidemocratic social and political movement of MAGA Republicans as purveyors of extremism. The Jan. 6 insurrection showed Trump supporters pose a threat to democracy.

Biden must build trust among all the people by addressing this question: How do Americans reconcile the pain of the Trump era and come to terms with 250-plus years of the most vicious expression of enslavement on this planet? Even when enslavement ended, the country looked for more ways to morph oppression and found Jim and Jane Crow segregation. The same country that targeted Black people to become second-class citizens in a country they helped build. This is pure insanity.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden challenged Americans to stand for democracy over extremism. Young and more progressive Democrats gravitated toward his message of bipartisanship. This message appears to remain a winning strategy for the midterm elections, with control of the House of Representatives and Senate hanging in the balance.

Although many Americans will chide Biden’s age, his decades of futility in Washington, and his lack of understanding Black America; the nature of Biden’s “Soul of the Nation” speech revealed the essence of the Republican Party. Noticing his stiff stride as he walked to the podium, Biden may need to take a break before he does break.

With integrity and conviction, the president told the nation the truth about how “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” When Donald Trump ran for the presidency in 2016, he used the term “MAGA” which means “make America great again.”

It’s a literal and figurative term that highlights retrogression and keying in on the word “again” that establishes what was once, can be again.

Biden warned that “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”

Encouraging people to “vote, vote, vote” does little within a system that tries to silence the Black vote by creating racial and political barriers to casting ballots; especially, in a country that does not guarantee free and safe elections. “We’ve seen election officials, poll workers — many of them volunteers of both parties — subjected to intimidation and death threats,” Biden observed. It’s problematic when 48 states have 400 anti-voter bills causing people who want to register to vote by mail or in-person to experience a democracy that does not mirror the will of the people.

Cuts to early voting, strict voter ID laws, legislators redrawing district lines, and systematic disenfranchisement, affect people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities undermining communities of people that have died for the fundamental right to vote. Voters in states like Louisiana, Alabama, Vermont, Tennessee, and Oregon will decide whether to abolish slavery as a part of the criminal justice movement toward prison labor. Furthermore, this decision will show that for some people Black lives really don’t matter.

Going forward, the future of democracy depends on the will and ability of the American people to decide what kind of nation we will become. Questions linger that we must answer: Will the American people select candidates who vow to uphold democratic norms? Will we elect people who will be the voice for those who have been excluded from power? Will our elected officials promote and condone political violence to solve conflict? Will the American people select candidates who only believe that the voices of white Christian fundamentalists are the only ones that matter?

The choice lies before the people. Even with uncomfortable truths, Biden has not shied away from his Presidential duties; to speak honestly to the nation. The truth is the American people want transparency. Americans do not need anymore politicians who “sugarcoat” the state of our nation. We need brave leaders who declare democracy is on life support, that it has been battered, weakened, and crippled. Assaults on the freedom of the press, fair elections, and the right to choose leaders exposes a widening partisan divide.

Although his speech addresses the foundational values of democracy including liberty and equality, it lacked inclusivity for marginalized communities to feel seen and heard.

Biden selected Kamala Harris as vice president and Ketanji Brown Jackson for Supreme Court Justice to represent people of color, but that does not pacify the problems that still occur in marginalized communities. Biden’s campaign held true to securing the Black vote so the question that must be asked to the president: Are you going to continue to ride the back of Black people or have our backs?

With the midterm campaigns in full gear, we question intent, motive, and demand answers. To have the backs of Black people means to use your power in office to ensure Congress passes a strong John Lewis voting rights bill, and bust up the filibuster. This would be a start.

Biden’s message of optimism and plea to unify the country of “there being nothing more important, nothing more sacred, nothing more American” elucidates his desire for the American people to remain true to their values and morals. Through calamity and discourse, “we just need to remember who we are.”

Let’s be real, people are over it. They are sick and tired of being deprived of founding documents not upholding truth. Black and Brown people have not been privileged to a better quality of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

When Biden talks to Americans he must engage in transformation over upholding tradition. And to ensure he is communicating with all Americans, he should assemble a diverse focus group to weigh in on drafts of future speeches. In the end, we won’t know who else may have walked out of Biden’s speech in Philadelphia until Election Day.