Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took to the stage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Monday to point out an obvious fact: He is not yet the president.
He did so to offer a rebuttal of last week’s Republican National Convention, which saw current President Donald Trump and dozens of other speakers talk about nationwide protests — and the violence that has sometimes been adjacent to them — as demonstrating the lawlessness of “Joe Biden’s America” as they painted vivid pictures of the absolute chaos that would befall the country if Biden was elected in November.
“No one will be safe in Biden’s America,” Trump said in his RNC address last week. “Make no mistake, if you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund police departments all across America. They will pass federal legislation to reduce law enforcement nationwide. They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon.”
Biden does not support defunding police departments; his criminal justice plan calls for a $300 million investment in the Community Oriented Policing Services program to strengthen community policing, as well as attaching contingencies on federal aid for police departments to enforce certain standards of conduct. But that fact did not stop the president from making further efforts to link Biden to unrest over the weekend.
Biden’s speech today was meant to remind voters they are actually living in Donald Trump’s America.
As Biden pointed out, the unrest in cities across the country is happening under Trump’s watch. And Biden also highlighted that Covid-19 has claimed more than 180,000 American lives, many schools aren’t reopening due to the pandemic, and the economy remains sluggish with millions still relying on unemployment insurance to pay their bills.
“These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden America of the future — these are images of Donald Trump’s America today,” Biden said. “He keeps telling you, if he was president, you’d feel safe. Well, he is president — whether he knows it or not.”
Biden’s argument about Trump went beyond “law and order”
The vice president’s speech comes after another week of national unrest resulting in deadly shootings; one in Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid protests responding to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, and another in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend. In both, the deadly violence broke out after protesters clashed with armed militia members supportive of President Trump.
As Vox’s Cameron Peters recently wrote:
Details are still emerging, but the [Portland] victim is believed to be Aaron Danielson, a supporter of the far-right Patriot Prayer group; according to Willamette Week reporter Aaron Mesh, the victim was wearing a hat and shirt with the group’s logo.
The shooting comes after supporters of President Donald Trump led a caravan of vehicles through the city Saturday and clashed with anti-police brutality protesters in Portland’s downtown; video from journalist Cory Elia shows trucks flying Trump flags driving through people on a street and unleashing pepper spray as the vehicles forced their way through a crowd of protesters.
The killing follows another instance of deadly street violence from just days ago: On Tuesday, a 17-year-old Trump supporter allegedly shot and killed two protesters in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and injured a third. Kenosha has been the site of major protests since police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, at least seven times in the back on Sunday, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
On Monday, Biden issued a full-throated condemnation of some of the recent riots in American cities that have broken out following peaceful protests over police brutality in the cases of Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. While Trump and Republicans have accused Democrats of embracing riots, Biden made it clear he sees a clear distinction between riots and peaceful demonstrations and is staunchly opposed to the former.
“I want to be clear about this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” Biden said. “It’s lawlessness — plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Destroying businesses only hurts hard-working families that serve the community. It makes things worse, not better.”
But Biden also pointed out that the violence cannot solely be blamed on antifa or left-wing protesters as the president and his allies have sought to do — and that many clashes have broken out after armed Trump supporters have gotten involved. Right-wing violence has been an incredibly motivating force for Biden to get involved in the 2020 race; he has repeatedly said he was spurred to run after watching the deadly violence during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s subsequent comments that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
“He can’t stop the violence — because for years he has fomented it,” Biden said on Monday. “He may believe mouthing the words law and order makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.”
Rather than engaging with Trump’s narrow argument on his ability to maintain “law and order” in the country, Biden worked to broaden the idea of security — pointing out that America’s safety has just as much to do with public health and a stable economy.
“More than 100,000 seniors have lost their lives because of the virus. More cops have died from Covid this year than have been killed on patrol. Nearly one in six small businesses closed in this country today,” Biden said. “Do you really feel safer under Trump?”
The RNC made it clear that Trump has settled on “law and order” as his main point of attack on Biden and Democrats, but it also did little to address some massive challenges Trump has faced during his presidency, including the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic struggle.
The former vice president’s speech Monday was a forceful repudiation of that attack because it shone a spotlight on Trump’s own record — not just on race and policing, but a broader range of issues facing Americans. And Biden hammered home the point that the current America is one of Trump’s making.
“Our current president wants you to live in fear,” Biden said. “He advertises himself as a figure of order. He isn’t.”