His Philadelphia Speech Will Be a Turning Point for America — And the World
Thursday night, Joe Biden gave a speech that’s going to change America — and the world. Yes, really. You’re used to hearing me full of doom and gloom — but that’s not for effect. I call it like it is. And this speech? It was a pivotal moment in the history of the 21st century. History will remember it in a certain way: as a turning point, that altered the grim political trajectory the world was — until this moment — helplessly on.
Yes, it’s that big. Doubt me? Good. Let me make my case, beginning with the Big Picture, the world, and then we’ll come back to America.
For the last decade or so, the world has been in a strange, eerie place. For economists and observers of social collapse like me — it’s been the 1930s, redux. Across every corner of the globe, nationalist movements arose — and then quickly metastasized into worse. In some places, like India, they became hyper-religious movements. In some, like Britain, they became xenophobic movements of self-destruction, culminating in the utter jaw-dropping folly of Brexit. Across Europe, the worst ills returned — Neo-Nazis in the Bundestag, fascists with a polite smile making stunning gains in Italy and France.
And these movements of hate and spite and violence all looked up to one country as a leader: America. Because there, things had gone so far that full-blown neo-fascism now occupied the Oval Office. Back in those days — now the mid to late 2010s — seasoned observers warned that we were beginning to see the growth of genuine fascism, from the scapegoating to the crimes against humanity. Nobody much listened in America. It couldn’t happen here. Meanwhile, the nationalist-populist movements of the world were now taking cues from Trumpist America. If America could fall to fascism — well, anything was possible, the supremacists of the world reasoned.
He didn’t mince words. He told the story exactly the way that it needed to be told, in the terms that people needed to hear, and in the form that respected history.
The world had lurched hard, hard to the right — just like during the 1930s. Because just like the during 1930s, it had suffered a cataclysmic financial crisis the decade before. But the 2010s were different, too, from the 1930s in one key respect. We should have learned something. Something from the 1930s. About the sequence of nationalism, ultra-nationalism, fascism, violence, brutality, coup, collapse. Where it comes from, why it happens, and crucially, to stop it.
And yet the world — or it’s leaders — didn’t learn that lesson. As these fanatical, hateful, nationalistic movements arose — and grew, quickly, into genuine forms of fascism — what happened? On our side? The center left? Nothing happened, is the fatal answer. Our leaders on the center left failed to challenge them, to stop them, to even call them out.
Our leaders simply vanished at the time we needed them most, and that was true across the globe. Not a single leader of note anywhere in the world, really, did the necessary job the moment required. Of describing the plight the world was facing, in stark, serious terms — warning people of collapse at the hands of fascists, lunatics, violent fanatics.
Not one. They all backed down. I’m going to stress this point, because it’s really important for everyone to get, to understand just why Biden’s speech is going to be a turning point for America and the world. In Britain? The opposition backed down from challenging the xenophobic vitriol of the right, which drifted so far right that by now, it was hating Europeans. Meanwhile, in Europe, old world leaders offered half-baked excuses and apologias, or tried politely to ignore the fact that, quickly, fanatics and extremists were making deep inroads politically, socially, and culturally.
A new politics had arisen — 1930s style. The world plunged backward into a decade of fascism, populism, nationalism, hate. And the response, by and large, from our leaders, globally? It can’t happen here. Merkel dismissed the possibility. Macron ignored it. Trudeau only obliquely referred to it. Obama simply vanished, and began making — my God — TV shows. The only leader, really, who challenged this new politics with the gravity and seriousness it required? Jimmy Carter. The rest were cowed, dismissive, afraid, or simply paralyzed.
Until Joe Biden got on a stage in Philadelphia and let it rip. He didn’t mince words. He told the story exactly — exactly — the way that it needed to be told, in the terms that people needed to hear, and in the form that respected history.
What did he have to say? He made basically four points. Number one, the rise of this form of politics — violence, intimidation, hate, scapegoating, Big Lies, rage, a vitriolic rage at the values of democracy itself — was not normal. Not in a democracy. Because, two, it was inimical to democracy — this was how modern societies plunged backwards into chaos and ruin. That meant, three, that fighting this form of politics, rejecting it, wasn’t a partisan issue of left and right at all — but about coming together to defend democracy itself. And four, that was every sane and thoughtful person’s not just choice, but responsibility. Their duty. To whom? To history. To futurity. And to each other.
Beautiful. Elegant. Powerful. True.
Some speeches are just speeches. The tedium of democratic bureaucracy — new policies, updates, agendas, like Zoom meetings, but for a society. The boring stuff of management. History safely ignores them. And then there are speeches. Ones which change history, because they remind people of it, where they stand in it, and how it’s made — or unmade.
This was one of those speeches.
The last time a politician gave a speech like this? It was probably Gorbachev, basically announcing the end of the Soviet Union. Communism had failed, he admitted, and society now had to modernize, or perish. This was that historic. Joe Biden had his own Gorbachev moment on that stage in Philadelphia: he came to alter the course of political history, and direct it back to the house of democracy. He stood up and called on everyone — everyone, not just Americans, but everyone — to fight this global tide of darkness and lies, put their minor differences aside, and unite in the house of democracy once again, or else it would surely fall. This, he said, was our job. Our task. And our great challenge, too.
A Gorbachev moment. In a very real sense: just as Gorbachev stood up — almost alone — and liberated millions from the dismal failures of communism, Biden was standing up — almost alone — and calling on people to liberate their societies from the rising evils of fascism, authoritarianism, violence, brutality, hate. See the link? Great liberations, from failed political systems. Freedom. Democracy. Truth. The call to action, the spark of hope, the challenge of redemption and reclamation. The Big Things.
Now. Biden probably made this speech because, yes, he met with a group of historians not so long ago, who probably finally let loose. And warned him of all the above. At the same time, he’d probably also thought it himself, too. And given all that, he decided that he’d better drop the nice guy act and become, well…
Meet Dark Brandon. “Who the…what the hell…is all this Dark Brandon stuff?” That was my lovely wife and the girls at the cafe, baffled. I tried to explain. Biden used to be a nice guy, and they made fun of him with this weird dumb “Brandon” insult, and then he got mad, turned into Darth Vader, kind of, shooting laser beams out of his eyes, and now the bad guys are scared of him, all of which is hilarious. At least to some of us. Hence, Dark Brandon. It’s not just some dumb internet meme, though. Again — context.
Ignored by Major Media
What else was true about last night? How else was this a Gorbachev moment? Well, America’s establishment is desperately trying to stop Biden. None of the major networks even carried his speech — precisely because they knew in advance what he was going to talk about. Think about that — not carrying a President’s most historic speech. Gee, I wonder why? Meanwhile, journalists — especially at CNN — decided that what mattered most about the speech was…the backdrop. Hardly a coincidence, given that CNN is under new ultra-right-wing management. Even in the “liberal” Washington Post and New York Times? There’s barely much coverage at all.
That should tell you something — something very, very important.
The American Establishment is deeply uncomfortable with what Biden’s doing. They are trying to stop him. The networks didn’t fail to cover his speech and the Times and Post barely mention it and CNN disgracefully attacks its backdrop, as if that was the thing that really mattered — in some kind of coincidence. It’s how power works. Some of it’s explicit — like CNN reporters obviously being instructed by their new libertarian boss to attack the president. Some of it’s implicit, like networks all deciding, hey, a president warning your democracy’s under existential threat isn’t worth you hearing about, all you need is more dumb Superhero TV Shows. There are many ways to stop a political movement, after all. Acts of commission — CNN style, or acts of omission, New York Times and Washington Post and networks style.
In that sense, Biden is a Gorbachev-like figure right now: lonely, brave, determined. To change politics. To renew the causes of freedom and democracy. To fundamentally alter the way things have been done for too long, to shake and rattle broken, dead, systems out of their paralysis. He will go down in history.
Because, you see, the world isn’t so simple anymore. You can’t just stop a movement anymore using power the old ways — not covering a speech, having sycophantic reporters and pundits attack its style, not its substance, barely bothering to write a headline about it. Why not?
Well, just take a look at…the internet. It was electrified. By what Biden had to say, how he said it, why he said it. For bringing the pain and the fight, and putting on an historic stage. For giving everyone who felt this way for practically a decade — hey, these guys are lunatics, and they’re trying to take away our democracies — not just a license, but a call to action, a direct claim of responsibility and duty in this fight.
The internet lit up like a thunderbolt from the hand of Jove was coursing through it. When was the last time the internet felt good, for good people? It’s been a long, long goddamned time. Mostly, it feels good for bad people, because it’s become one giant platform for bullying, hate harassment, intimidation, slurs, bigotry (and our peaceful, wise community right here is the exception which proves that rule.) But yesterday? The internet was a happy place. Because sane and thoughtful people were celebrating.
But what were they celebrating? That they finally had a politics again. Maybe not all of a politics. But at least the beginnings of one. There was someone — a leader — finally saying precisely the things they’d said, felt, known. About democracy, fascism, Big Lies, truth, hate, violence, responsibility, duty, history, the future. They had a sense of purpose and belonging again. A voice. A leader finally stood up and spoke for them again — not just the lunatics, idiots, morons, thugs, violent fanatics, theocrats, militias — spoke forcefully, seriously, strongly, gravely.
When was the last time that happened? It hasn’t happened for a decade. For the last decade, our leaders, more or less all of them, even on our side, have been pandering to the worst elements on the other one. Appeasing the demagogues, bending to the lunatics and fanatics, scared, hoping they’ll go away. For a decade. That’s how things have gotten this bad. And the truth is that while they’ve been doing that? All of us have lost respect for them.
Duty to Act
And then, even better, Biden did something remarkable. He didn’t just invite people, regular sane people — who’ve not had a voice, a leader, representation, but been crying out, for God’s sake, for our leaders to get in the fight, say something, do something, anything — to “get involved” in “hope and change” or what not, the usual anodyne ways political speeches end. He said, right out loud, that it was every sane person’s responsibility and duty to defend democracy from those who are attacking it existentially — regardless of their minor-league partisan politics. He made it a matter of responsibility and duty to history, the future, and each other.
In other words, Biden issued not just a political call — but something much, much more vital: he issued a moral directive. He reminded us that each of us has a moral stake in this life, in the project of civilization, and those millions upon millions of moral stakes are what the house of democracy is. On those stakes, we can grow the fruits of equality, justice, truth, freedom — or we can try to distill the poisons of hate, lies, and violence. But duty and responsibility — history says, futurity will say, each of us must say to one another — impel us to make the right choice.
Whew. That’s powerful. You see, our side doesn’t make moral claims anymore. The fascists do that, and that’s why they win. Their demagogues make moral claims — Nietzschean ones, you’re the superhumans, all you have to do is annihilate, hate, extinguish, get, cleanse away, the subhumans. And it works. To bond their base into a movement, because movements arise from moral claims, which create deep sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose. Our side has been missing all that entirely, and it’s felt like it, because there was no moral meat on the bone. But all that’s different now.
That’s a lot. Chew on it. Think it over. I’m utterly confident of three things. Biden’s speech will go down in history, just as Biden will go down in history now. As a Gorbachev-like figure who altered the destiny of politics. Two, that it’ll change the world’s politics, too — because just as America led the world’s fascists for a while there, now, too, it’s the nation whose President just issued a direct call to lead the way back to democracy again, and all of that is going to alter the minds and possibilities of nations around the world. When an American President speaks, the world listens. And three — even though the American Establishment doesn’t think it’s possible, doesn’t want it to be true, because it just wants Americans to be numb, dumb, passive consumers, walking credit cards without brains — Americans are listening, intently, and they’re electrified by what they hear. It’s going to change America, without a doubt, from the bottom up.
If all of that sounds like good news, my friends, well, for a change, it’s excellent news. You just witnessed something we haven’t seen for a decade and more, something which became so rare it seemed nigh on impossible: history being made, the right way.