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Biden warns voters a second Trump presidency will threaten democracy

Joe Biden dramatically raised the ante in the forthcoming US presidential election campaign on Thursday with a stark and impassioned warning that American democracy is imperiled by a vengeful Donald Trump, his likely opponent next year.

Faced by stagnant approval ratings and worries about his advanced age, the US president attempted to stir his dormant supporters and animate the undecided by spelling out the dangers he insisted a second Trump presidency would pose to the US’s status as the world’s leading beacon of democratic government.

Declaring US history at “an inflexion point”, Biden, 80, said the country’s character and future was threatened by the authoritarian values of Trump’s self-styled Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement.

“There is something dangerous happening in America,” he told an audience in Phoenix, Arizona. “There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy: the MAGA movement … History has brought us to a new time of testing.

“All of us are being asked right now: What will we do to maintain our democracy?”

His voice at times falling to little more than a whisper to stress his message, Biden invoked the late John McCain, a former Republican senator with whom he had a close relationship, to emphasize what he said were the selfless virtues of democracy.

He was forced to pause early in his speech when a heckler interrupted to demand why he had not declared a climate emergency, according to reporters in the auditorium.

“If you shush up, I will meet with you immediately after this, OK?” the president responded. He then added pointedly: “Democracy never is easy – as you just demonstrated.”

Referring to Trump by name just once in his half-hour speech, Biden nevertheless set out to contrast democratic norms and traditions with conduct that appeared to characterize his predecessor.

Democracy, he said, “means rule of the people, not rule of the monarchy, not rule of money, not rule of the mighty.

“Regardless of party, that means free and fair elections, respecting the outcome, win or lose. It means you cannot love your country only when you win.

“Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence. Regardless of party, such violence is never, never, never acceptable in America. It’s undemocratic and it must never be normalized to gain political power.”

The last comments were an apparent reference to the attack on Capitol Hill on January 6 when a Trump-inspired mob tried to stop the ratification of Biden’s presidential election victory by the US congress.

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Despite Trump’s failure to overturn the 2020 election result, Biden warned that the danger had not passed. “Today, democracy is still at risk. This is not hyperbole. It’s a simple truth,” he said.

The threat of violence continued unabated, he said, most recently aimed at general Mark Milley, the chair of the US armed forces joint chiefs of staff, whom Trump recently said in a social media post was guilty of “treason”.

“Frankly, these MAGA extremists have no idea what the hell they’re talking about,” Biden said.

The pro-democracy speech was delivered at an event honoring the memory of McCain, one of Biden’s political adversaries and twice a GOP presidential candidate, who frequently criticized Trump before his death in 2018.

Biden depicted his relationship with McCain as a fitting paean to American democracy because the two men frequently engaged in across-the-aisle bipartisan cooperation when they were US senators despite being from different parties, a feature the president said the character of today’s Republican party has all but precluded.

“There is no doubt that today’s Republican party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists,” he said. “Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it.”

Biden has reportedly been regularly portraying Trump as a threat to democracy to donors at events to raise funds for next year’s election. Thursday’s speech was the first time he had done so publicly since before last year’s congressional mid-term elections and indicated that he intended to make the theme a central presidential campaign issue.

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