By Lance Simmens
Twenty-one years ago on Sept. 10, I flew into La Guardia and checked into the East Side Marriott at 50th and Lexington. I went to sleep that evening and was awakened the next morning by the sound of incessant sirens while 19 floors above the street, and our history would be forever changed from that day forward.
I have offered on subsequent anniversaries that Sept. 12 should be remembered as a national day of unity. Instead, we find ourselves seriously divided, enveloped in a toxic miasma of cultism that threatens the very core of our democratic system. Extracting ourselves from the current path and reinvigorating our quest to be the exemplar, the shining beacon on the hill, will require a commitment to forward-looking change to combat the ugly specter of authoritarianism that has currently found comfort and acceptance within the confines of the Republican Party’s embrace of Trumpism.
Through a lifetime of policy and political experience that includes over two decades working in Washington, D.C., in two presidential administrations and the U.S. Senate, and being from Philadelphia, where we proudly proclaimed that Joe Biden (who spent his childhood growing up in Scranton) essentially was the third senator from Pennsylvania, I have known and worked with the current president and have the utmost respect for him as a person and a politician.
He has a deservedly solid reputation as a person of extreme personal empathy, as well as an abiding interest in using his position as a conciliator, always looking for compromise and consensus and open to working in a bipartisan way to bring parties together to advance public policy for the betterment of all Americans. He is not perfect, and there have been issues where we differ, but in an imperfect world that is to be expected.
Hence, his recent speech to the nation, replete with incendiary rhetoric directed towards Make America Great Again (MAGA) followers in their attempts to validate the authoritarian pursuits of former president 45 are both eye-popping and warranted.
Following up on the national primetime speech held appropriately and importantly in the shadow of the birthplace of our nation, he would later refer to MAGA Republicans as semi-fascists, a term most assuredly he must have agonized over yet concluded sufficiently captured the dangers facing our nation.
Indeed, as he outlined in his speech in front of Independence Hall, he did not hesitate to proclaim “equality and democracy are under assault.” He would continue “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic … they promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of the country.” This from a man who has spent his lifetime honing his reputation as an effective moderator of competing political and policy positions.
When movements attempt to capitalize on the past, there is usually a dream-like quality to either misrepresentation or sheer ignorance of “the good old days.” This can be true in political contests at all levels of government, federal, state, and local. There is usually a call to recapture the idyllic conditions of a time that never existed or conditions that never were. It is much easier to aspire to a bygone fantasy than to face the difficult problems that are directly in front of you. It represents the perverse axiom that guides too many politicians: Namely, never solve today what you can put off until tomorrow.
Biden spent considerable time discussing the reality that our constitution is a living document and our democracy allows for the flexibility to grow and that while oftentimes this seems to be painfully slow, our history is a testament to change. Yet, “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 … they promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.”
Some romanticize the past, while others dream of a better future. Democratic governance requires compromise and consensus, oftentimes frustrating both sides yet always offering the choice to move forward. It is neither perfect nor expeditious; however, it does allow for changes that advance society for the better. Calling out MAGA illustrates the courage needed to combat a dangerous scourge on our society, a scourge that turns its back on the future and kicks the can down the road for future generations to grapple with. It is a testament to retreat, not resolve. If we are not careful we run the risk of placing the republic in peril.