Historians Warn Biden: Democracy Teetering

This is the least helpful piece that the journalists could have easily written about this, and the most flattering thing I have ever read about Joe Biden.
President Biden paused last week, during one of the busiest stretches of his presidency, for a nearly two-hour private history lesson from a group of academics who raised alarms about the dire condition of democracy at home and abroad.

The conversation during a ferocious lightning storm on Aug. 4 unfolded as a sort of Socratic dialogue between the commander in chief and a select group of scholars, who painted the current moment as among the most perilous in modern history for democratic governance[.]

What I would love to have heard is exactly how this 'Socratic dialogue' went: what arguments were made, what counterarguments (if any), which historians were on what side and what they thought specifically. Instead we get "Comparisons were made...." but not by whom or what exactly the comparisons were, other than vaguely that they were to the 1860 period around Lincoln's election and the pre-WWII fascist period.

We do eventually get a list of attendees, from which much can be extrapolated: 

Biden’s occasional speechwriter Jon Meacham, journalist Anne Applebaum, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. White House senior adviser Anita Dunn and head speechwriter Vinay Reddy also sat at the table.

That doesn't sound like a Socratic dialogue, except insofar as you mean some of those conversations in which Socrates' interlocutor just says, "Yes, Socrates," and "You're right, Socrates" all through the thing. 

What we are apparently meant to take away from this is less an understanding of the debate -- if it was a debate -- and more an appreciation that Biden is an unusually intelligent president who is capable of carrying on a lengthy discussion with intellectual experts on the subject. Also, that he is more likely than other presidents (especially, of course, Trump) to take time to consult The Wise about his course -- though while always maintaining control and direction, of course.

Democrats broadly expect the same ideas will anchor Biden’s reelection campaign, if he decides to move forward with one, especially if Trump is his opponent again.

Biden has continued to bring up such themes in his public speeches, most recently in a July address to a law enforcement group, where he criticized Trump for taking no immediate action as the rioters he had inspired attacked the U.S. Capitol...

“You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy,” Biden told the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. “You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-American.”

News to General Washington, I suppose. But he was not invited, no more than Jefferson nor Patrick Henry.

You don't have to go back that far, either. His own President Obama backed insurrections in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere precisely on the theory that it was pro-democracy to do so. They took groups off the State Department's terrorist list -- especially in Libya, where they still remain in the warring faction calling itself the 'Government of National Accord,' which name is an obvious lie given the continuing civil war. This collection of allegedly pro-democracy insurgencies was called the Arab Spring, and it was a monumental failure; but I don't get the sense that he is rejecting that model based on reflection on the history. For one thing, he has made no acknowledgement of the unwisdom of his predecessor and former boss, nor his participation in those efforts.


Christopher B said...

other than vaguely that they were to the 1860 period around Lincoln's election and the pre-WWII fascist period.

I'm not a historian, nor do I play one on TV, and didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night either, but I might have brought up the period immediately before and after our entry into WWI, like the Palmer Raids. Weren't there some guys and gals running around calling themselves 'Progressives' back then, too?

Grim said...

Oh, yeah. They were responsible for several of the worst amendments in constitutional history -- notably the 16th, 17th, and 18th -- but for some reason are considered the good guys buy most historians I know. At least they bothered to amend the constitution via normal processes, I guess.

E Hines said...

Regarding the earlier Progressives and some later ones, also, it was the Democrat President Woodrow Wilson who seized the factories east of the Mississippi because they weren't producing what he wanted them to produce and not doing it fast enough to suit him. It took Court action to make him give them back.

It was the Democrat President Harry Truman who seized the steel industry because he didn't like the unions' strikes. It took Court action to make him give them back.

It was the Progressive-Democrat President Barack Obama who nationalized our health insurance and health provision industries, and we still haven't been able to get them back.

We are, indeed, at a cross-roads for our republican democracy--just not at one for the "democracy" that those wonders of the two-hour session were nattering on about. Or at least that the tabloid WaPo claimed them to be on about.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

The WaPo Article is behind the paywall for me but based on what Grim as quoted here I wonder if what we're to take away from this is an implied "And therefore we will have to do x, y, z" where x, y, z are things that would normally be bad but can now be seen as good because we have to save our teetering democracy.

At some point in some military novel I read the term "battlespace preparation". Assuming I understand the meaning of the term, that's what this sounds like to me.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Back to last week's conversation about the phrase our democracy. Their democracy may indeed be teetering, but that's not the same thing as America's democracy.