The President (pResident) of the United States, the same man who promised unity in his campaign, divided the country into his friends and enemies last night. He’s been doing this before, both in remarks and in policy choices. Last night he made it official: he is not the President of all the people. He certainly is not the President of those who value life, liberty or property. And he just announced his intention to deprive half the country of all three without due process of law.
What did the President say?
President Joe Biden delivered an address he titled On the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation. He delivered it in front of Independence Hall. (And whoever decided to use red light to light up the wall behind him, clearly didn’t go to cinematography school.)
Here, directly from the White House server, are highlights (or lowlights) of his remarks:
Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal.
Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.
He then spoke of a different kind of Republican he called “mainstream Republicans.” But by that he cannot have meant anyone in the rank-and-file. He meant certain Members of Congress who represent the “Republican establishment.” In short, RINOs. Many of these are Senators who won’t come up for re-election this Midterms or even in 2024. CNAV suspects he might be talking about eight Members of the House who have:
- Decided to retire from public life, including those like Rep. Alan Kinzinger (RINO-Ill.) whom a Democratic legislature “drew out” of their districts because their States lost representation in the Census, or:
- Lost their primaries. Chief among these: Rep. Liz Cheney (RINO-Wyo.).
Who doesn’t respect the Constitution?
He goes on:
MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.
He went on to criticize those who have expressed concern about election integrity, and backed that up with new laws. Perhaps by extension he criticizes the new cadres of poll watchers, like those who showed up in the Virginia Pre-Midterms last year. To say nothing of those who became Officers of Election to replace those they suspect of impropriety, negligence, or both. (Your editor was one of them. He decided it is better to become an Officer of Election than to complain about their conduct afterward.)
Then the President gets to the heart of the matter:
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.
Obviously he’s talking about the remarkable 2021 Term of the Supreme Court.
Dragging in the January 6 event
Then he talked about the January 6 event, and used all the typical leftist buzzwords to describe it. In that context he quoted retired Judge J. Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Luttig did testify before the January 6 Committee last June, and used some highly injudicious language.
This judge gave an equally inflammatory interview on NPR’s All Things Considered a week later.
Worth noting is that this same Judge Luttig wants to amend or repeal the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
Back to the President’s speech: he went on to accuse those who support President Trump, of calling for political violence. In that context he tried to make one statement, and garbled his words. Remarkably, the garbling is in the transcript.
Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t be pro-ex- — pro-ex- — pro-insurrectionist and pro-American. They’re incompatible.
Why this sign of potential Presidential inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office should find its way into an official transcript, CNAV cannot explain.
The President touts boondoggles and continues with us-v-them rhetoric
Here is another lowlight from the speech:
MAGA Republicans … embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.
MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair. They spread fear and lies –- lies told for profit and power.
Then he started touting his legislative achievements, leading with the “Inflation Reduction Act.”
I believed we could lift America from the depths of COVID, so we passed the largest economic recovery package since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And today, America’s economy is faster, stronger than any other advanced nation in the world.
And transportation boondoggles, and gun control (cue Justice Clarence Thomas clearing his throat), and the Green New Deal. Before wrapping up with more self-congratulation, he left this Parthian shot:
The MAGA Republicans believe that for them to succeed, everyone else has to fail. They believe America — not like I believe about America.
The President also made this supremely ironic statement:
That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology.
Mr. President, you’re no Cicero – but you imitated his worst performance in office
Lay aside for a moment that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner. Lay aside even that ours is a Constitutional republic. These are fighting words – and a dictator’s words. One expects a political candidate to attack his opponent. Barack Obama set the standard for “endless campaign mode” in which an elected official never stops attacking his opponents. In Obama mode, that includes opponents past, present and future.
But last night Biden officially set a new standard: to attack the voters themselves.
Even if you substitute, say, “Donald Trump” for “MAGA Republicans,” you get a recast of Cicero’s Orations Against Catiline. That alone, without reference to any more modern dictator, should give pause to anyone who values his liberty. Even Wikipedia (as of this writing) regards that episode as having
set the stage for classic political struggles pitting state security against civil liberties.
That is what the country, or whoever bothered to tune in, heard last night. A President of the United States compared half the country to a failed chief-executive candidate who tried to overthrow Rome.
The Catilinarian War
Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (called Catiline today) had lost the consular election (63 BC) to Cicero and Antony the Proud. Cicero was looking to make a name for himself. So when one witness told him Catiline was advocating for a general cancellation of debt, Cicero ran with that. The Senate of Rome nearly lost patience with Cicero, accusing him of seeing plots not in evidence. Cicero even used his consular authority to postpone the next consular election.
And on the day after the original scheduled day of the election, Cicero delivered his last oration. And Catiline ruined himself. He took Cicero’s bait and announced that he would take matters into his own hands. With that statement, he left the Senate, never to return.
That was also when Cicero asked the Senate to declare a state emergency (Senatus consultum de re publica defendenda, which Cicero renamed Senatus consultum ultimum), listing Catiline as an enemy of the Roman state.
Catiline did assemble an army outside of Rome. When the consular election did take place, Catiline lost again. So he left Rome and tried to march on it. Antony the Proud led the loyalist forces to meet Catiline’s army and annihilate it, and Catiline with it. But Cicero then, through rhetorical sleight-of-hand, convinced the Senate to order the execution of several of Catiline’s putative allies without a trial. So we see some of the first bills of attainder in the history of Western civilization.
A bill of attainder is a law declaring a particular person to be an outlaw. Literally it’s what happens when the legislature singles out a person or persons for punishment. Trial in a bill of attainder case, if one can call it that, takes place in the legislature itself. A committee holds preliminary hearings and returns the equivalent of a true bill of indictment. Then a full chamber would take up the bill, as with other bills.
An ex post facto law prescribes punishment for conduct prior to its passage. By definition it is retroactive. Under any regime that allows that, one cannot be sure that the legislature will not hold him guilty for conduct that the legislature might even have favored at the time.
The Supreme Court has in fact weighed in on bills of attainder and ex post facto lawsin five cases:
- Ex parte Garland, 4 Wallace 333 (1866)
- Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wallace 277 (1866)
- U.S. v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965)
- Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977)
- Selective Service Administration v. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, 468 U.S. 841 (1984).
The Garland, Cummings, and Brown cases are most relevant here. In each, the Court held that Congress, or a State legislature, had passed either a bill of attainder or an ex post facto law. The Constitution forbids Congress and the States to do either thing.
The President orated against half the country
The President contradicted himself several times. First he suggested that “MAGA Republicans” represented fewer than half the Republican rank-and-file. Why, then, did those he called “mainstream Republicans” vote for Trump, not Biden, in 2020? The official popular vote tally was 81 million to 75 million. If Biden were correct, that should have been 119 million to 37 million. Yet we know he stood by the official tally, because he quoted 81 million people as having voted for him.
Second, he accuses Trump supporters of calling for political violence. But he said nothing of the riots that took place all summer long in 2020. Nor about the attack on a sitting Supreme Court Justice.
Third, he calls for an end to partisanship, but has been the most partisan President in history and still is.
Worse yet, he has confirmed that the January 6 Committee exists to write bills of attainder and an ex post facto law against not only Trump but all who voted for him. Even Cicero did not try to proceed, legally or extra-legally, against his voting opponents in the consular elections. But that is what President Biden did last night.
Nor is this the first time this week. This montage of remarks by Biden and his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tells the tale. He calls his voting opponents “semi-fascists,” and Ms. Jean-Pierre confirms it.
Then we have this interesting statement about asymmetrical warfare and the Second Amendment.
From his press secretary
Worse yet, Karine Jean-Pierre defines “extreme” as disagreeing with the Administration.
“A majority of the American people,” to a Democrat, means only those who vote for them. She also says those who vote against this President are
a threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights.
What rights is she talking about? She didn’t say.
Again, this is Cicero Against Catiline, except this time it’s Biden Against Half the Country. And remember: Cicero summarily executed five people. Is that what Biden plans? Who gives a speech defining “enemies of the people” in such lurid terms, without making such plans?
We also see people taking him at his word. Someone spray-painted an obscene message on the windows of the Republican Party headquarters in Seminole County, Florida.
Then, two, we have the two false reports someone called in to “Nine One One” about horrific doings at the home of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). On Saturday Rep. Greene shared footage from her home security camera system, showing the police response. And not ordinary police, either: Special Weapons and Tactical teams.
Fortunately, Rep. Greene answered her door without the gun she keeps in her house. The cops took a good look, asked the right questions, then said, “You’ve been SWATted.” (To SWAT means to call in a false report calculated to bring the SWAT team to someone’s house.) The unspoken subtext of the officers’ remarks was clearly: “And we’ve been had.”
The President is “having” the people on
And that’s what has happened to this country. We’ve been had. This isn’t a question of the conduct of any Officers of Election or anyone else except Joe Biden. Joe Biden ran a campaign with false claims and promises. That’s what demagogues do. Webster, decades ago, defined a demagogue as:
A leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises to gain power.
Now that he has power, he delivers a speech, with a red backdrop, with two Marines in the background. And that speech is part Cicero Against Catiline, part “Glorious Conformity” or some such thing.
Has President Biden just lectured us on Glorious Conformity?
In fact, it’s instructive to compare the President’s speech, not only to Cicero Against Catiline, but to this hypothetical speech the late Rod Serling wrote for his television show, The Twilight Zone. The episode “The Eye of the Beholder,” sixth in the second season, depicts a society with an autocrat insisting on conformity for the “glory” of it. When this show aired, the director had to cut out large portions of the Leader’s speech. Those of us with access to a streaming service carrying the show, know how the speech begins:
Tonight I want to talk to you about Glorious Conformity – about the delight, and the ultimate glory, of our unified society.
Now, with the aid of a critic named Michelle Lori, and the Internet Movie Database, we can reconstruct that speech. We don’t have all of it, but we have enough:
You recall, of course, that directionless, unproductive, over-sentimentalized era of man’s history when it was assumed that dissent was some kind of natural and healthy adjunct to society. We also recall that during this period of time there was a strange over-sentimentalized concept that it mattered not that people were different, that ideas were at variance with one another, that a world could exist in some kind of crazy, patchwork kind of makeup, with foreign elements glued together in a crazy quilt.
I say to you now… I say to you now that there is no such thing as a permissive society, because such a society cannot exist! They will scream at you and rant and rave and conjure up some dead and decadent picture of an ancient time when they said that all men are created equal! But to them equality was an equality of opportunity, an equality of status, an equality of aspiration! And then, in what must surely be the pinnacle of insanity, the absolute in inconsistency, they would have had us believe that this equality did not apply to form, to creed. They permitted a polyglot, accident-bred, mongrel-like mass of diversification to blanket the Earth, and infiltrate and weaken!
And now we know that there must be a single purpose, a single norm, a single approach, a single entity of peoples, a single virtue, a single morality, a single frame of reference, a single philosophy of government! We must cut out all that is different, like a cancerous growth! It is essential that in this society, that we not only have a norm, but that we conform to that norm! Differences weaken us! Variations destroy us! An incredible permissiveness to deviation from this norm is what has ended nations and brought them to their knees. Conformity we must worship and hold sacred! Conformity is the key to survival!
Compare and ponder
Of course, if you watch that episode, you see that the “norm” came about through facial mutilation by plastic surgery. The protagonist in this episode is a woman whose face snapped back from the worst the plastic surgeons could do. And yet she was ashamed of her appearance! Because The Leader and his minions had shamed her, totally without cause. (How much difference between that and persuading little children that they really were born into the wrong gender? But we digress.)
Notice also that the Leader disdains equality of opportunity, standing before the law, and aspiration. Compare that to a President who calls for equality of outcome – and of thought.
More to the point, in that speech the President accused his critics of the very thing he does. He calls for that “single purpose,” “single morality,” and single everything else. And one senses that he would very much like to segregate away, or destroy, all who vote against him. He almost calls explicitly for that very thing.
This is clearly a desperate measure by one who could never give a good answer to Ronald Reagan’s famous “Are you better off” question. But it is also a look into the dark souls of this President and everyone around him.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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