Joe Biden’s Unity that Crushes, Truth that Lies

Joe Biden gave one of the most terrifying inaugural addresses in American history. For friends of constitutional government, it is far more disturbing than Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural. 

Clothed with clichés and disguised in dull language, the 20-minute speech bristles with arrogance. What it lacks in charisma it makes up for in its cultish Karenism. Moreover, the force of Biden’s words came to life in the 17 executive orders and memoranda he signed shortly after the inauguration. 

Every American should read the speech and read it warily—that is, with a politically skeptical eye. The smooth-talking demagogue from Delaware is open in his intentions, which he stated earlier in his campaign speeches (such as they were). Even as he and his campaign blasted Donald Trump (and implicitly his supporters) for “racism” (the “most offending president ever,” Biden contended in his campaign), he proposed to increase race consciousness throughout the government and society.

The Cure for What Ails America?

His speech is readily summarized: My election shows that “democracy has prevailed.” To escape the “dark winter,” we need to unify to confront the virus, the hobbled economy, racial injustice, and the dying planet, and stand against “political extremism, white supremacy, and domestic terrorism.” Our sick, fragile, frightened nation needs unity, and, quoting Abraham Lincoln from his announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, our democratically blessed St. Fauci declares: “my whole soul is in it.”

Dr. Joe Biden prescribes unity as the cure for what ails America. But that unity requires truth. “We face an attack on democracy and on truth.” And Dr. Biden somehow personifies the truth that produces unity against lies. America now will be united against the liars. Otherwise, we cannot be secure. Biden does not need to plagiarize FDR. Fifty years in public life have taught him the technique. All this, as images of (mostly) armed troops and symbols of COVID-19 deaths and absent crowds and a damaged (and deliberately unrepaired) Capitol assaulted viewers.

It is all too clear that Biden is engaging in the demagoguery that has marked his public career, going as far back as the notorious Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. By making “unity” his goal and “truth” his defense, he can label his opponents as liars and threats to democracy. These threats constitute the “domestic terrorism” he denounced along with “political extremism” and “white supremacy.” The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, Treasury, and Health and Human Services, along with the FBI and IRS, have to be unleashed against enemies of the state. They are the domestic arm of the global war on terror. Compare FDR’s closing lines to his 1944 State of the Union Address, where he likened 1920s Republicans to fascists

Biden further bolsters his argument with resources other Democratic politicians lack. First, he has his vice president, sufficient just as a racial-immigrant prop. (Wouldn’t her role be more effective had her Jamaican father, the Marxist economist, been with her?) 

Abusing Augustine

Second, he quotes St. Augustine, in what appears to be the high point of his speech. After all, “History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.” His occasional speechwriter, historian Jon Meacham, used a quotation he often cites in his own writing, “Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.”

Biden then lists what the American people love: opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and truth. Here a more thoughtful politician might have created an American story, but instead, Biden made it an occasion for partisanship based on his own “truth”—not the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence but things that pass for truths in partisan strife. His City of God becomes a sacred object used to demonize one’s opponents in a new-fangled Spanish Inquisition.

Any new avidity of Democrats for Augustinian political philosophy might be tested by a more accurate translation of the paraphrased passage: “a people is an assembled multitude of rational creatures bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love” (emphasis added, City of God, Book 19, chapter 24). Love here is not any ordinary love or desire but ultimately the love of God. The Biden version, without rational humans or God, turns Augustine’s Platonic vision into a Hobbesian one, where a monarch replaces God, prioritizes security, and claims to know the truth (especially against the falsehoods of disturbers of the peace).

Much of this follows from Biden’s racialized understanding of the Civil War and slavery. In other words, Biden assumes the injustice of American slavery had to do with the race of those enslaved. It was unjust because it singled out blacks and privileged whites. He doesn’t ask Lincoln’s question of what made slavery a natural injustice—you work, and I eat.” As his questioning of Clarence Thomas about natural law at his confirmation hearings made clear, he was then a most dubious student of the subject. This brief video from the hearing is a testament to it. Instead of Lincoln, it would have been more honest for Biden to quote the amoral Machiavelli, the despot Hobbes, or nihilist Nietzsche, given the “truth” he would impose on a free people. But such a “truth” would horrify even a leftist audience.

All this follows from Biden’s failure to understand that the emancipation of the United States from slavery was an issue of the natural right understanding of human equality—neither a slave nor a master be. In fact, by defining slavery as “you work, and I eat” Lincoln defined for us today a free government in contrast to a slave state. A slave government, in one sense or another, enslaves everyone in it, master or slave. A slave government might seize and own peoples’ souls by frightening them with the prospect of violence, ecological disaster, or death from disease. Such fears turn citizens into subjects who submit themselves to the security of the administrative state. 

Lincoln’s old definition of slavery, “you work, and I eat,” would be lost on the Left today, but it clarifies the situation: the evil of slavery in any form is not about race. Biden instead refights the Civil War today by making it a war solely about race. A victory for Biden’s speech and executive orders would mean the permanent racialization of political life in America. Those who object to such a disaster will be denounced as racists and white supremacists.

Equity vs. Equality

We knew this was coming. It was all in Biden’s campaign speeches. In late September, I saw an outburst of his fanaticism on race. He declared his demand for “racial equality, equity across the board,” noting, “[t]he country’s ready—and if they’re not, it doesn’t matter . . . .” Then in a late October homage to FDR, Biden insisted “God and history have called us to this moment, and to this mission.” I warned,So when Biden calls for ‘unity’ watch out. When he says ‘clear the decks for action’ it means if you’re not with me, you are against me.” 

This fanaticism is striking in Biden’s racial equity” executive order, signed a few hours after his inauguration. “Equity” is not to be confused with equality of opportunity, which means some succeed while others fail. The order makes “equity” a goal throughout the whole federal government—it’s not just about restoring racial sensitivity training but a comprehensive reexamination of how government treats its employees and those it serves:

The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

Will there be equity for the white middle class? Don’t be ridiculous. The privileging of these identities pits groups against groups. There will follow meetings, reports, recommendations, and radical policy changes. Biden’s victory hails the triumph of Black Lives Matter as the nation’s most powerful political party.

No wonder the first executive orders called for the execution of the 1776 Commission, which, during its brief existence, worked to show how un-American the turn to “equity” is. Fortunately, its report is out and is now even more necessary for Americans to read than Biden’s speech. The truth, after all, is good.

About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

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