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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
“For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.” –Chuck Schumer
Just before the Labor Day weekend that traditionally opens campaign season, the head of the Democrat Party, President Joe Biden, gave a campaign speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Because it was a campaign speech, the networks didn’t run it, preferring reruns.) On the White House site, the text is titled “Remarks by President Biden on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation,” “soul” being significant, as we shall see.
As readers know, the Democrat Party faces — or refuses the face — an existential predicament: Its base in the Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) is too narrow to win elections all on its own, year after year, unlike the fabled but long-dismantled FDR coalition. The Democrats could solve that problem by bringing non-voters among the working class they betrayed back into the fold, but class interests and sensibilities rule that out. Hence, every election has become an exercise in collecting existing voters at the margin, i.e. in “swing states.”
The existential predicament of the Democrat Party explains the “idiosyncratic” nature of Biden’s speech. As I read it, Biden is speaking to three segments: MAGA Republicans, Democrat loyalists, and — here are the voters at the margin Biden needs to attract — non-MAGA Republicans, particularly suburban Catholics in the important swing state of Pennsylvania, where Biden gave the speech.
When I put on my yellow waders, I usually
eviscerate go over a speech word by word and line by line, doing a close reading. However, that technique isn’t appropriate for the kind of audience analysis I need to do here, because Biden needs to send a different message to each segments, using different appeals. (Too bad for me; I love close reading). My entry point will be the reaction of the political class to the speech, which was primarily aesthetic. Then I will perform some informed speculation on how the speech might have landed in the three segments of the voting population to which it was addressed. It’s not easy to whistle to three dogs simultaneously! I’ll conclude with some remarks about policy.
The Political Class Reacts to the Aesthetics
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s live coverage describes the venue in prose:
Independence Hall, awash in for a speech in which Biden several times invoked the Constitution.
Two photos are relevant. The uncropped one shows a backdrop of red and blue:
The cropped one (which has, by this point, gone viral) shows a backdrop of red alone:
Tucker Carlson summarizes the aesthetic reaction most crisply:
“Yeah, they’re a threat, says the guy with and Marines standing behind him,” he said. “It’s totally immoral.”
If I recall Nazi trade dress correctly, they weren’t big on blue (or yellow, either, but that’s a topic for another day). So that aspect of Carlson’s response is at best careless. (I will get to the “threat” under MAGA.) Carlson also responds, as a symbol manipulator, to a symbol, as nimbly as any liberal Democrat symbol manipulator would. Ditto on the Marines.
The aesthetic reaction spans the political spectrum (examples too numerous to quote on the Twitter). Some say the (cropped) red background reminds them of V for Vendetta; here is Taibbi: “Biden’s handlers had the otherwise inspiring setting of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall bathed in so much blood-red light, he looked like an opening act for Queensrÿche or Rammstein.”
The aesthetic reaction, however, begs the question: Why the red background? Biden’s handlers, whatever else they may be, aren’t dumb; as professionals, they must have known that photographers would zoom in on Biden, that the shot would be vertical to include the Independence Hall tower, and the result would be, well, blood-red. (Notice how much more dramatic the vertical, red-only shot is, compared to the horizontal shot that gives the whole context, included blue on, well, both left and right.) As it turns out, the answer varies by the segment Biden is trying to address. First, let’s look at MAGA.
Threatening MAGA with the Power of the State
Here is how Biden defines MAGA:
[BIDEN:] MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election. … 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. They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger at the throat of our democracy, but they look at it as patriots.
It’s worthwhile asking how many MAGA there are. Summariizing the results of a Washington Post polling aggregation:
This is a subset of what Biden said, certainly, but, with four categories: … rejection of the 2020 election, embrace of candidates who similarly reject the results, approval of the Capitol riot and a willingness to consider violence as a political tool.
Again, we can’t assume that these percentages all overlap. But we get a consistent picture. Over and over, about 10 percent of the population (plus or minus a few percentage points) expresses the sort of view that Biden articulated: Republican or Republican-leaning and in favor of the positions he associated with “MAGA.”
These are not Biden voters. And when Carlson says Biden is threatening them, I believe he is correct:
Dark Brandon” is the Democrats’ appropriation of both the insulting “Brandon” moniker derived from the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant and the “Dark MAGA” meme that spread virally among Trump supporters earlier this year.
All of this is clearly the Democrats attempting to catch up with the Trump camp’s mastery of meme warfare, using the same sort of ludic reversal that Trump supporters did, for instance, when they embraced the moniker of “deplorable.” But the promotion of the “Dark Brandon” meme from within the White House, which the Philadelphia spectacle seems to build on and extend, is also an attempt to tap into some of the aesthetic and emotional potency of the same MAGA movement Biden and other Democrats also denounce for being on the side of “darkness.”
(When I read a phrase like “ludic reversal,” I just have to sit down for a moment.) In short form, Biden is telling MAGA “[family blog] around and find out.” In this he has form:
Biden: "For those brave right-wing Americans who say it's all about keeping Americans independent and safe, if you want to fight against a country you need an F-15. You need something a little more than a gun." pic.twitter.com/W94uo0sn3X
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) August 30, 2022
Throwing Democrat Loyalists Red Meat
Biden, naturally, is not threatening his base at all. For the base, Dark Brandon is a protective figure. In fact, Dark Brandon is throwing the base red meat (or, when one looks more closely, impossible red meat). He does this by playing on the almost infinite PMC capacity for self-regard (see Thomas Frank here). For example:
We, the people, have burning inside each of us the flame of liberty that was lit here at Independence Hall — a flame that lit our way through abolition, the Civil War, Suffrage, the Great Depression, world wars, Civil Rights.
Leaving aside that “abolition” is lowercase, and “Suffrage” upper, why on earth don’t the Populists of the 1890s or the union movement of the 1930s make this list? Impossible to get that past HR? Regardless, such erasure works for liberal Democrats:
“He was just calling out the truth,” said Vicki Miller, who leads the Philadelphia chapter of the grassroots group Indivisible. “The voters I talk to at the doors here in Pennsylvania, they all see what’s happening.”
“If the president had sugarcoated what he’d said, they’d see it as politician-speak,” she said. “President Biden is just saying what a lot of these voters already know: that everything is on the line.”
But there are more current forms of erasure. For example (and I’ll throw in a few footnotes here):
This is a nation that believes in the rule of law. We do not repudiate it. (Applause.)
This is a nation that respects free and fair elections. We honor the will of the people. We do not deny it. (Applause.)
And this is a nation that rejects violence as a political tool. We do not encourage violence.
 Unless you are a torturer under the Bush administration, in which case Obama will look forward and not back. Or unless you are a bankster during the Great Financial Crash, in which case Obama will stand between you and the pitchforks
 Unless your opponent is Bernie Sanders, in a Democratic primary, or Al Gore, in the general
 Unless you’re the non-violent Occupy, in which case Obama will orchestrate a 17 city paramilitary crackdown through DHS fusion centers. Or Ferguson marchers, subject to both cops and the National Guard.
 Except internationally
Nothing wrong with a little civic religion, but civic idolatry? Come on.
Catholic Republicans Voters (in Pennsylvania)
I too, along with Carlson and Taibbi and others, scoured the Intertubes for menacing figures with blood-red backdrops. I found this:
The Exorcist (TV series, 2016) Note the slogan: “Every soul is a battlefield.” I don’t say that “the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation” is a conscious echo, but echo it is. Let’s dig into Pennsylvania as a battleground state, and see how the idea of Biden as an exorcist might play out.
First, Pennsylvania, besides being “Scranton Joe”‘s birthplace, is an important swing state. From The Hill:
Pennsylvania is home to a critical midterm Senate pickup opportunity for Democrats in the race between Lt. Gov John Fetterman (D) and Republican Mehmet Oz. The state was also pivotal to Biden’s presidential win in 2020, as well as Democratic victories in the 2018 midterms and — importantly — losses in the 2016 election that put former President Trump in the White House.
“The last two elections have shown that it is now a swing state,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, adding that it’s a must win along with Michigan and Wisconsin. “And I think in some ways, Pennsylvania is the crown jewel of those three.”
Second, not all Catholics are Republicans, and not all Catholics are suburbanites, but many are:
Once composed of an immigrant underclass that moved to the city centers, joined labor unions and voted for the Democratic Party, second- and third-generation Catholics have become more educated and economically successful, and many settled in the suburbs and became more conservative.
Beginning in the 1970s, with the support of abortion rights by Democrats (including 1972 presidential nominee George McGovern) and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, many Catholics came to feel that the Democratic Party no longer represented them.
To capitalize on this trend, Republican strategists targeted Catholics in the Northeast and Midwest and white Evangelicals in the South on moral values. In the 1980s, the GOP successfully wooed “pro-life” voters and many Catholics began to either cross party lines or become independent. From 1980 to 2000, only one Democratic presidential candidate won a strong majority of the Catholic vote: Bill Clinton, when he was re-elected in 1996.
(Interestingly, Catholics in Pennsylvania outnumber evangelicals.)
Third, Biden’s notion of “the soul of America,” which he has been pushing since the 2020 election — and in which he may therefore actually believe — is an explicitly religious appeal; moreover, it’s an appeal to a segment of the population that is deeply steeped in the idea that body and soul are joined at conception. Here is how Biden transfers that concept to politics:
I ran for President because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. I still believe that to be true. I believe the soul is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are. The soul is what makes us “us.”
The soul of America is defined by the sacred proposition that all are created equal in the image of God. That all are entitled to be treated with decency, dignity, and respect. That all deserve justice and a shot at lives of prosperity and consequence.
This is a pro-life version of political science. What Biden is saying is that the Declaration of Independence (“all
men are created equal“) was the moment of conception at which the soul of America and the body politic were fused.
Biden is also urging, once again in Catholic terms, that MAGA be exorcised from the body politic; he is urging the demons to retreat, the essence of exorcism (which is not liturgical). Note that some of the signs of demonic possession can easily translated from religious to political terms:
5. The possessed losing control of their normal personality and entering into a frenzy or rage, and / or attacking others
12. Intense hatred / aversion and violent reaction towards all religious objects or items
13. Antipathy towards entering a church, speaking Jesus’s name, or hearing scripture.
I believe this political vision must be appealing to Catholic voters; both for the Catholic voters who opposed Roe v. Wade, and even more for the Catholic voters who regret its overthrow. Biden is giving them a moral justification to vote for the Democrat phrased in the terms of their own religiosity. WSWS writes:
Speaking like a Catholic priest, Biden claimed Trump sprang like the devil from the depths of hell. Trump’s rise, he said, was a product of “hate,” “chaos,” “darkness” and “evil.”
Yes, and what of it? UPDATE Sure — to the best of my recollection , here — ~90% of Republicans support Trump, ~70% think election 2020 was illegitimate, and ~10% hold to all the tenets of MAGA (see above). But elections are won at the margin. Biden has built a permission structure for the Catholics among ~10%, ~30%, and 90% respectively to vote for him. That’s probably enough to win Pennsylvania. And not everybody likes bullhorns (perhaps especially women who moved to the ‘burbs to get away from all the noise and aggression).
Taibbi summarizes the policy, as opposed to the political, implications of Biden’s speech:
Biden’s speech was an exact domestic analog [George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address]. Like Bush’s sweeping description of enemies wedded Satanically to tyranny and death, Biden’s MAGA Republicans “embrace anger,” “thrive on chaos,” and live “not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.” He repeated almost verbatim Bush’s theory of preventive action, saying it is too dangerous to allow “MAGA Republicans” to run for office. He said “they” are working “as I speak” in “state after state” to pack vote-counting bureaucracies with “partisans and cronies,” with the express purpose of “thwarting the will of the people.”
This is why it matters when Biden describes “MAGA Republicans” as a “threat… to the very soul of this country,” or as “extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” representing “dangers around us we cannot allow to prevail.” It’s hard to see how these terms are substantively different from War on Terror constructions like the “continued and imminent threat to U.S. interests” or a “serious and continuing threat to the American people.” Biden sounded like a man preparing followers for an enforcement response to Trumpism itself, and even if that wasn’t what he was doing, it’s clear many Trump supporters heard things that way.
Looks like Biden wants to make the intelligence community very happy, for the next two budget cycles or maybe six. So I guess there’s a fourth audience segment. So that’s alright then. Soul of the nation, and all that.
 I continue to maintain that Biden is the best politician among Democrat loyalist contenders. It’s very hard to imagine Harris, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Newsom, or (to strike a blow at random) Pritzker achieving anything like the level of gravitas Biden delivered. That says a lot about the state of today’s Democrat Party and its gerontocratic leadership class. (The Sanders of 2016, perhaps, but that was a long time ago.)
 Biden is also less amenable to a close reading than Obama, say, because his style is so plain. For example:
BIDEN: Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal
Not an Obama sentence.
 Apparently, the background flipped to magenta at some point in CNN’s coverage, whIch CNN blamed on “a technical glitch with the CBS pool feed.”
 There is also some aghastitude on the right the Hatch Act and those Marines you can see in the background of the cropped version, but oh come on:
— Duncan Watson (@DuncanWatson) September 2, 2022
 There’s more:
This coincidence of escalating antagonism with imitation fits the definition of “mimetic rivalry” offered by the philosopher René Girard, who noted that often enough, the more intense a conflict becomes, the more closely the enemies come to resemble each other. Nevertheless, there is also an asymmetry between these antagonists: Only one has federal law-enforcement agencies, government bureaucracies, and the bulk of the corporate media arrayed on its side. All of this makes it unlikely the Biden camp will be forced to face up to its contradictions anytime soon.
 “Regardless of who leads it, professional-class liberalism seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself, and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program. There have been many other virtue objects over the years, people and ideas whose surplus righteousness could be extracted for deployment elsewhere.”
 TV Tropes, “Of the People.”
 Personally, I think this is ginormous category error. Nations don’t have souls.
Perhaps most voters are, like me, not paying attention outside of their own bubbles? In this environment, lying low may be the best strategy for an incumbent? For me, this speech reminds me that Biden is delusional.I was never going to vote for him anyway, but this stokes my feeling that Biden and the Dems are doubling down on their mistakes since Russiagate.
This is wonderful. Did you actually study “close reading” and all that formally?
> Did you actually study “close reading” and all that formally?
Family background. Close reading a la Empson etc. was very much in vogue in my younger days and of course Modernists like T.S. Eliot reward that. Also, I did a ton of document analysis when I was a high-priced consultant, which sharpens those skills. Plus, I’ve always paid a lot of attention to prose at the textural level of word and phrase as a proof-reader and so forth. So, I guess the answer is no!
Thanks, Lambert. I happened to watch the stream (I think it was Cspan) via telegram and that video was shot from close all the way through. I didn’t know there was any blue or that the tower was lit in white until looking for stills after the fact. Before Biden arrived it was the building lit normally (looked like a stage set) and then from when he did it was all black and blood red. There was even a point where they lightened the blacked out areas as if someone finally said, “oh god, this looks dystopian fascist. Fix it now!”
The PMC lot is a curious one. They can talk race and sex (not gender, that is a “social construct” that they seem to think they push asides with a mantra) all day, and how one or the other is more favored by some societal bias depending on a ever thinner sliced set of circumstances. But do not dear bring up class. That makes you a nazi commie incel, and should be placed in a chokehold on the spot…
Thanks for another comprehensive teardown of a presidential speech, Lambert, your effort is appreciated.
One thing that has been niggling me since that “F15” quip a few days back is that it might be read as an instruction. Given the traditional political leanings of the military, the demographics of the enlisted, and the pushback against woke and vaccine agendas, it’s not inconceivable that a fair chunk of national guardsmen and their air wings might have MAGA tendencies.
In short, this sort of escalatory speech and othering of a population segment is a good way to lean into the civil war vibe, I think.
I’d been curious about this, too:. AF is, supposedly, the most Evangelical of all military branches, but, somehow, their orientation never struck me as particularly Maga: MAGAism has very strong isolationist, or, at least engagement-skeptic component as far as foreign policy goes, whereas AF struck me as most intervention-happy.
I dont think there’s any point getting hung up on the defintion of “Maga”. “Maga” is whomever the government wants it to be. Biden’s explanation is just a way to misdirect from that reality.. just as Bush’s 2002 speech did with “terrorists”
I think there are two tracks in operation here. In the short term, i.e., for the election, Biden hopes to divide the Republican party by classifying some Republicans as MAGA, others not [picks up Bordieu, gestures wildly]. That cannot be done without a rational basis for the classification, the attributes of the class classified, which WaPo summarizes when coming to the conclusion that 10% of the population is MAGA.
In the long term, you are of course correct, because that is what the intelligence agencies always do; mission creep is enabled by category creep. “extremist” (or “violent”/”terrorist” “extremist”) will be made to include both MAGA and union militants for example, along with antifa. “Extremists” are not “the people” hence cannot represent them.
You hit on a key point Greg, so, my glib response back to Biden is, ‘they don’t need an F-15, they only need an F-15 pilot in the cockpit’. And if push came to shove they might have em……
I’ll make two points here. The first is that it is an American tradition to have soldiers as wallpaper behind Presidents. In fact, one came out here to Oz and you had a wallpaper of Aussie soldiers behind them which was bizarre as you never see that in Oz so that must have been done for American audiences. The ones behind Reagan were senior officers with lots of salad on their chest so do not count. Nor does that image with Bush as you had uniforms as part of a backdrop of civilians too. Those Dress Marines behind Biden were the message. They were not part of a wallpaper of troops nor were they senior officers or even part of a crowd. Those were Sentinels who epitomized Biden’s threat of F-15s in that previous speech.
As for that blood red background, the stagers of that knew that the cameras would zoom in on Biden just hiding the blue colours. What happened to white colours? Maybe those stagers canceled the whites. But the parallel between him and Sutler from “V for Vendetta” was really on the nose. Even CNN were freaked out by this. When they saw that blood red background, they digitally altered it to try to render it a more pinkish tone but were sprung doing it-
I am baffled as to why they would try and manipulate the background. Wasn’t it obvious that people would notice? It is not like they have exclusive rights to coverage of political events.
There are those who say Biden’s Freudian slips (Putin must die, America will step in to defend Taiwan, etc) are all intentional and the goofy guy thing is an act. And maybe it all is some kind of plan. Guess we’ll see whether this pitch works.
The Hatch act governs what an individual can do with his or her personal time. Unless these marines were volunteering to stand outside of their work hours/directives, I dont see how the hatch act is relevant.. and if they were volunteering to stand there — its them who disobeyed the Hatch act not Biden
> the parallel between him and Sutler from “V for Vendetta”
That’s an aesthetic judgement, by definition apolitical. CNN’s technicians made the same sort of judgment, because that’s the business they’re in. It’s a question of the use that is made of the backdrop, not a context-free discussion of the movies one is reminded of.
‘CNN’s technicians made the same sort of (aesthetic) judgment, because that’s the business they’re in.’
Probably quite accurate that statement about CNN. You certainly could not call them a news organization. :)
Very interesting analysis, thank you. The Catholic angle would not have occurred to me, but considering Biden’s background it makes sense. Might be interesting to check whether he uses similar rhetoric elsewhere, and whether it improves his situation with that demographic any.
“Or unless you are a bankster during the Great Financial Crash, in which case Obama will stand between you and the pitchforks”
Did any part of that contradict the rule of law? Actual question, I am not too well-versed in the fine details of what happened in America at the time.
Did any part of that contradict the rule of law
If you don’t prosecute the criminals you never know…
it’s sort of habitual, like with vaccines, don’t measure what you don’t want to know
don’t prosecute what you don’t want to be a crime.
I could go on but why bother, nothing will fundamentally change.
Equality under the law is generally seen as an integral part of rule of law.
For example, uscourts.gov includes among its educational resources:
While some measure of leniency on the idividual level is generally seen as consistent with rule of law, making whole groups – CIA torturers, Wall Street bankers – de facto above the law conflicts with equality under the law. And thus breaks one of the fundamental principles of rule of law.
> Did any part of that contradict the rule of law?
Only if you believe that crimes should be prosecuted. Periodically I run this brilliant Lanny Breur parody, which I hope still works:
Sure, sure, prosecutorial discretion. But they’ve got to prosecute somebody!
Thank you for linking that clip again, it is still relevant and top of mind for many individuals. I was not at risk as a homeowner, necessarily, but it was evident there would be no legitimate charges or attempted incrimination of any heavy hitters from Wall St.
Finally got around to this. Thanks for that.
If I understand correctly, this was probably still within the letter of the law, but it does make a complete mockery of its spirit.
The  footnote in the text is missing, by the way.
Thanks, fixed.  and  are both in the quote following “Here is how Biden defines MAGA.”
If Donald Trump had given the same speech, Nancy Pelosi would have impeached him.
good work lambert.
no one else can see it or say it like you do.
you are an essential resource for this reader–succinct clarification of current events that are now moving daily further beyond rational understanding, making as much sense of them as is possible, providing background history, and illuminating the crazy, the artificial, and the symbolic, as they grow in force.
thank you for your service.
> you are an essential resource for this reader–succinct clarification of current events
[lambert blushes modestly, points mutely at the tip jar to your right]
The Democrat Party is FUNDING the furthest right Republicans. I cannot understand why people are not jumping up and down on this point every time any Democrat wails disingenuously about “Democracy is under threat”.
If a political party wants to fund fascists that are nominally their opponents, no matter what the reason, they have absolutely no moral space to lecture anyone about democracy.
THEY are the reason Democracy is under threat.
They are a part of the reason (and not solely because of that). But it does make them disingenuous at best. Of course, their motives for funding the “fascists” are pretty obvious – if not for them, what could they run on? At least the barbarians are some kind of solution…
> If a political party wants to fund fascists that are nominally their opponents, no matter what the reason, they have absolutely no moral space to lecture anyone about democracy.
I don’t recall arguing that the Democrats had moral standing on anything.
Also, running the “Pied Piper” play again after the horrible example of doubling down, just horrible. Never let be said that Democrat operatives aren’t stupid, besides being amoral!
I know you never did.
I just don’t understand why people aren’t hammering this point with 64 point headlines every time the Democrats dare to open their mouths about democracy or fascism. Even they ought to be shamed under their rocks for that behavior. No, never mind — they are utterly shameless.
But at least that should give some of their more sycophantic and finger wagging followers some pause.
Lambert, I think you are too kind and missing what seems to be the obvious point: by choosing (or letting his handlers choose) the black and red backdrop, and by dissing the MAGA republicans as “half assed fascists”, Biden just went full Nazi.
The black and red color scheme (though briefly appropriated by the Sandinistas… and I think Stendahl wrote about Le Rouge et Le Noir in a different context) is recognised the world over as the full-on Nazi color palate, chosen by Hitler (or his handlers) and currently used by the Banderists in Ukraine.
Combine that with the US and Ukraine voting alone at the United Nations and refusing to condemn Nazism, and the current western project to demonize Russians on the basis of their race. Of course, Biden and the media and the intelligence agencies aren’t going to let on that they’re Nazis, that their goal is to destroy Russia, and that MAGA republicans are the weenie equivalents of Ernst Rohm and the SA. But if you’re a member of the Azov Batallion, or one of Zelinsky’s handlers, then the message is clear.
> Biden just went full Nazi
Which voters does that appeal to? MAGA? I don’t think so. Biden would have to out-Trump Trump. Not possible.
The slowly congealing tendency toward fascism in the United States is shared by both parties. But Biden isn’t going to leverage that by dressing up in Nazi regalia (or manipulating symbols). The whole aesthetic discussion with resulting bewilderment and aghastitude is a red, well, herring.
“The whole aesthetic discussion with resulting bewilderment and aghastitude is a red, well, herring.”
To add historical context, that would also be a ‘Red Hearing.’
I’ll go out on the proverbial rotten limb and suggest that “average” people can be lead by appeals to their fears. This ‘manifestation’ by “Creepy” Joe is full on full of subconscious trigger images. Red is the obvious one. The raised fists is another. [The Fuhrer was big on that stage trick.] The ominous, but shadowy authority figures in the background are another such. Staging the speech outdoors in the dark is another subconscious fear cue. (Who isn’t afraid of the Dark Brandon?)
This speech was designed to prepare the public for something “dangerous.”
And what is going to happen on September 24th?
I predict that a hundred years from now, people will ask why Biden felt the need to escalate.
Let me tell you how this speech landed in MAGA country.
It was yet more proof to the normie-MAGA voter that “they hate you and they want you dead.” There will be no reconciliation. The group that calls you insects (MAGATs=maggots) has now declared you an enemy of the state and threatened you with state level violence. This will be read as encouragement for third party political violence against MAGA. Perhaps an expansion of Jane’s Revenge’s church and pregnancy center arson campaign to political offices. Perhaps Antifa will expand punch a nazi, to punch anyone who looks like MAGA. Maybe the John Brown Gun Club will follow through on its threats to go to small towns. Less dramatically and more likely, there will be more shunning and other social and economic aggression against MAGA sympathizers in blue states. Certainly there will be more suppression of MAGA narratives in media and by Big Tech.
What is MAGA going to do about it?
1. Move to a red state. Living in a blue state is seen as increasingly unsafe as you are likely going to be excluded from community and the normal protections of law. If you can’t move to a new state at least go to a red area. If you’re there, purify your area and protect your flank by driving out the ‘other’.
2, Develop parallel structures. Already a fact of life in media. Probably needed in finance, maybe routine commerce.
3.Increase political activism. Anything you do to wrest state power from those who would destroy you will help keep your family alive.
4. Exercise extreme distrust. The side that channeled Hitler while declaring ‘MAGA delenda est’ won’t be playing by the rules next election. Expect false flags, propaganda and cheating are a given. The big question is will they just arrest Trump so he can’t run in 2024 or are they going to cancel the election?
5. Prepare for the worst. Stockpile food and supplies. Tool up. No MAGA who watched the speech is ever going to give up their guns. The other side described you as vermin, after disarmament it will be trains and camps.
I’m sure this sounds overly dramatic and ridiculous to almost everyone on here. Let me assure you Russia-Gate sounded exactly the same to MAGA and yet it led to two impeachment votes and hamstrung Trump’s presidency.
On an intellectual level I find it fascinating. The facts of the conflict echo the lead up to the Spanish Civil War; power trading hands, disputed elections, gangs fighting in the streets. But it also feels like the crazy self-destructive way Europe slid into WWI. Everyone knows this is a terrible idea, but it feels inevitable. No one thinks they have another choice. Both sides think that when push comes to shove, they are going to win. Presumably after the lights go out in America, it will be a third party, probably China, that comes out on top.
On a personal level I’m wondering how and where to stash my family overseas. Suggestions?
I have been looking into this for other reasons. Living in a country is a totally different matter than going on holiday. Most Americans who become expats are spousal or sponsored by a big company. I did it on my own as a single person, to Oz, in a visa category that no longer exists.
Most people who make recommendations DO NOT know the visa situation. That is a big big issue you need to understand. So be careful re recommendations from people who worked abroad when their company sent them. Their employer managed all the big hassles, most importantly sponsoring them.
If you are over 40 (I was but not much) most advanced economies will not let you in except on a retiree visa and many are pretty rough (in Oz, only four year renewable and they take a lot of dough). As in no path to permanent residence.
If you intend to work, the restrictions are more pronounced. Digital nomad visas are usual only 12 months, 24 at most.
Some EU countries have not terrible visa policies but given the energy situation, I would assume they are not on your list.
If you work outside the US you are also subject to tax reporting and payment in both countries…..some like Thailand tax you on remittances. Some also tax you on goods you bring in.
Panama is very low friction for an American, including re working and even setting up a business. But they are low on food self sufficiency and are having water problems.
Many recommend Mexico but I worry about the gang situation and the US trying to meddle even more due to AMLO not falling in with the US line AND Mexico being an oil producer. Plus in Baja, the state once expropriated all the real estate of foreigners in a certain town.
Uruguay is pretty easy re visas and even though they officially aren’t keen about expats working (even on a strictly foreign business) they don’t seem to enforce. Excellent medical system.
Malaysia is extremely friendly on visa, tax, and working if not gettin local currency income (and even then I don’t think bad, you just need to report your income and pay tax). Excellent and cheap care for the medical tourism community (as in you’d pay less out of pocket than in the US with insurance).
A lot of people like Thailand. Pretty easy visas, tax a little more complicated, like Uruguay they seem not to enforce re farengs who are earning foreign source income. Excellent and cheap care for the medical tourism community (as in you’d pay less out of pocket than in the US with insurance).
Mauritius allegedly has a friendly visa regime, including for people who want to work. But like Malaysia or Thailand, far and I would worry about being isolated.
Living as a stranger is hard enough in the US where I speak the language. I’ll spend time in Europe and maybe Bonaire, but in the end I think I’m stuck with the devil I know.
I’m begining to see the advantages of transhumance. from the point-of-view of the livestock.
Bonaire, an island muncipality (!) of the Netherlands (20,104). The Dutch Caribbean might be a useful class to look into, although I know from second-hand experience that the local power structures are corrupt.
I’m not in MAGA land and I’m neither a particular fan of Trump ( Killing the TPP was something I am very grateful for) I think that he is a deeply flawed man who was treated abominably from the first day of his Presidency..
The Raid on Mar A Lago and the seizure of property there was done in a way that makes it crystal clear that it was about showing Trump and the public who was the Boss.
The type of Warrant, the way it was executed, the people who performed the search and seizure, the lack of a Special Master..from the gitgo and the opposition to appointing one.now are all problematic.
And now the Horrible Deplorables speech.
First the demonstration of Power then the speech.
Damn straight it’s a threat,
And not just to Trump Supporters.
> Develop parallel structures. Already a fact of life in media. Probably needed in finance, maybe routine commerce.
Thanks for this comment. Something to watch for, has anyone spotted it? (Ties neatly in to localism. Evangelical Christians have made similar arrangements.)
> Let me assure you Russia-Gate sounded exactly the same to MAGA
Not only to MAGA, let me assure you.
IIRC, towards the end of the Irish War of Independence, as part of a means of disentangling themselves from the British run government, they created an alternate court system.
Apparently it worked well even for those who got judgements that they did not like. If you are going to lose, would you want to be judged your own or by outsiders? It also started small and worked its way up in levels of seriousness and where it operated.
Yves, I fear there is no escape.
There are only three countries in Latin America which currently refuse to acknowledge American hegemony — Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Mexico is a wonderful place and would be my personal choice. But there’s no guarantee that the US won’t get rid of AMLO at the next election and replace him and MORENA with a neoliberal (or worse) regime.
The Nicaraguan situation seems quite bizarre. When I worked there in the 1980s there were enormous undeveloped Pacific beach areas. They were lovely. But when I looked recently (seeking as you are a safe environment to move to) property in San Juan Del Sur (a simple and fantastic coastal town back then) had been corralled into gated communities, for Americans and Europeans, with prices in the million dollar area.
I’m sure there are possibilities in Cuba and less expensive possibilities in Venezuela, but you would need friends who live in and know the country to advise you. Panama is an American armed camp. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting any safety or security in satrap nations. Iggy Pop has a great song called Paraguay in which he mentions the essential daily need for servants and bodyguards who love you. Even if the US gets rid of AMLO and MORENA, you would be better off in Mexico.
I’m still searching, but fear there is no escape — at least until NATO falls apart, in which case you might want to think about Spain or Italy or Greece. Though, again, my experience in Spain is that the locals are really, really sick of gringos (especially my peeps, the English), and you would need firm friends to be established there. Plus a ton of health insurance.
>>>>with prices in the million dollar area.
That is some serious gentrification.
The people on this site have been to other places and have passports. I have a passport and been elsewhere. It is not such a strange idea. Maybe they even have the money.
Every time I see talking about moving, I always think about the majority of people including most Americans who do not have such knowledge or ability. I also remember what happened to the third class passengers on the Titanic. I am sure that the American elites have their equivalent of go-bags all packed for when the country finally starts to burn. Maybe for places like those Nicaraguan beaches? El Salvador has some nice ones as well although I have no idea what they are like now.
> Iggy Pop has a great song called Paraguay
I didn’t advocate Latin America. I am not keen about Mexico or Panama even though they are scored high by those “retire abroad” newsletters.
Uruguay has the US only as its #4 trade partner and is too small (3 millionish population) for the US to care much.
I mentioned Thailand, Malaysia, and Mauritius. None in the US sphere of influence. You can get by with English in all three. First two have excellent medical targeting expats.
This is interesting, thanks Yves.
Europe was my own “plan B” if I were ever to become an ex-pat, but — yeah, I guess I need a new plan B.
Uruguay? I’ve heard the food is good, and the beaches.
I know an American who is preparing to move to Belize.
If you are going to leave the USA you would be well advised to do so as promptly as you can manage.
The difficulties of emigrating can increase drastically and suddenly when someone starts to sing
“I have a list”…
I doubt the window is more than a year, possibly two,
Please get out safely and soon.
> If you are going to leave the USA you would be well advised to do so as promptly as you can manage.
This would apply to internal exile as well, although I think the window will be open somewhat longer. Takes time to build up a network.
Factors to consider before you decide to move to another country:
VIsa requirements and possiblity of permanent residency
You’ll have to make new friends there – they may not have the same world view as you
You’may have to learn a new language
You may want to be not too far away so you can visit your family/friends
Health insurance and quality of health care
Political situation and whether they like Americans there
Internet and cell phone reliability and quality of service
Transportation in the area and need for a vehicle
Food that conform to your tastes
Recreational activities that suit you and their availability
After studying several candidates, Mexico, Uruguay come up on top for me.
just my 2 cents.
Very interesting article.
In the UK we are not really used to the Prime Minister (or even the Queen, except at special state moments) making a speech with soldiers behind them so your contextualizing is very helpful. It does also underline that US government culture is seemingly quite militarist in form.
The comment about Mimetic Theory got me thinking. The whole Russophobia thing is a form of external scapegoating and I increasingly feel that the collective west is starting to resemble more and more what it claims to be fighting. This theory provides some underpinning for that.
Without pushing the analogy too far, President Putin often appears in very large rooms where he is alone but has various soldiers behind him too. Not sure he does the dark background but the imagery is designed to emphasize state power / protectiveness (dependent on taste). An exponent of mimetic theory could no doubt have some fun pointing out the level of imitation that is going on.
> The comment about Mimetic Theory got me thinking
I liked it too; I had a hard time keeping the scope of this post under control, so I hacked out anything that expanded on the idea. But I filed it away….
But who is copying who? Or is it just convergence?
There is a collective confusion about what memes are, content that is deliberately tailored to a specific repeatable format is an aspect of it, so that a particular formatted use of text and image is considered a meme, but the most pure sense of it is something that has an almost inexplicable quality that inspires mass reproduction, so for example the distracted boyfriend meme https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/distracted-boyfriend on the face of it a fairly innocuous image, it is doubtful that when the photographer uploaded it to it’s original stock image site that they would have possibly conceived of it taking off the way it did and yet for whatever reason this otherwise unremarkable image became rapidly world famous and used over and over again. One of the things that makes that image so memorable is that there is a looseness to the aesthetic of it, that it feels like by adding a simple layer of editing to it, you are completing it much like how a good storyteller leaves a little work for the audience to do, “2+2=?” rather than “2+2=4”. Point being what makes something memorable is not necessarily intended by the maker, but is something seen and extracted from the image by the user. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuZi2YCtcJs) talks about how ‘great’ art works come about from an almost unconscious process, that the artist when making a great work is in a space where at any given moment there is a plurality of choice/creativity that you are discovering the artwork, or midwifing it more than making it, such that they don’t know what’s goes to happen, sure you might be painting a dog with the aim of having something at the end that resembles a dog, but within any given point you have a potential for a creative input. Point being that mimetic theory reminds me of how the notion that intentionality once the framework has been established is often to weakest causal input in an artwork or something creative and potent. Something like this may not have been intentional, but the meaning of it is a meaning people have use for and want to extract from it. Communication is only possible with some kind of sympathy or symbiosis.
That being said, in the context of a big anti-MAGA set peace speech, it’s a little too uncanny, like it almost feel like a trap, the image is pretty much begging to be cropped in the way it ended up being so, in a fight or game you taunt your opponent to provoke them, because people when provoked will act out of anger, if you can keep your distance and keep your cool it makes them predictable, they do what you want them to do. A good internet troll is looking to provoke a reaction, here’s a clip of Scottish comedian Limmy talking about how he’d play Call of Duty online and realised that with his normal Scottish accent people online would just abuse him for being provincial, at first he adopted a fake English accent and then hit on adapting a very broad American accent where he would wind up English player by telling them “speak English will ya? speak the language we taught you.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4CLdYBwBqk which apparently wound them up massively. Calling MAGA supporters an existential threat to democracy whilst Nerumberg cosplaying could be considered trolling on a similar level.
I am do not consider the images of Reagan & Bush featuring Marines in the background in the same vein.
Biden’s Marines were faceless, anonymous silhouetes, yet their form remained recognisable as militant, archetypal symbols onto which viewers were invited to project. To my mind they are menacing in a way that those persons standing in full daylight and military dress behind the former presidents are not.
This speech was pretty tame, compared to the things that Republicans (especially the MAGA types) have been saying about Democrats over the years. Whatever you have to do to get attention, I guess. It’s interesting how certain people only get a case of the vapors when Democrats do it, though. As someone once said, politics ain’t beanbag, but here you go.
Siting Presidents are not in the same category, even remotely, as wannabes for office. Biden was not campaigning but speaking in an official capacity.
So until you can serve up an example of an executive (as in someone who has authority over military or police, like a governor or a big city mayor, big talkers in rural areas don’t count since their “badges” have limited authority), your comparison is disingenuous.
I found the TV-series The Exorcist very promising in the beginning but was disappointed at the end. It was just pure class warfare propaganda. They are exorcising only lowly people as if the well-being of the society depended on them not the demon super-spreaders in upper echelons of society.
If you do believe in possession and exorcism I think you should begin driving out the evil from the top because they are the ones deciding the murder of millions.
“..Biden’s handlers, whatever else they may be, aren’t dumb; as professionals, they must have known that photographers would zoom in on Biden, that the shot would be vertical to include the Independence Hall tower, and the result would be, well, blood-red…”
I beg to differ. pulling out the Hanlon’s Razor card (never attribute to malice that one can attribute to stupidity).
Ron Klain, in my opinion, objectively has been an incompetent chief of staff.
In my opinion, Biden’s audio-video production team has been incompetent since 2020, see the cinematography of Biden’s prime-time speech about droning Al-Qaeda’s number 2.
Competence manifests itself in only a few ways, incompetence manifests itself in infinite ways.
my google-fu can’t find the name of the office/person in charge of White House audio-visual productions….maybe that person ultimately reports to the head of communications?
I didn’t watch the speech, and I haven’t heard otherwise, but did Biden suffer a single one of his increasingly frequent senior moments while cosplaying as Senator Palpatine for the tv cameras? In other words, no gaffes, no blunders, no “stuttering,” he didn’t obviously lose his place, etc.? I’m assuming not, since I haven’t heard about it…and that’s a rather telling detail all by itself, no? Even kinda creepy when you think about it…
It reminds me of his presidential debate with Sanders when he went on the offensive, getting ever more vicious and nasty while Bernie just stood there like a deer in the headlights. At the time, I read a fair bit of online comments to the effect that the hateful old slimebag must have been on an especially potent cocktail of drugs to focus his mind like that – If y’all remember, everyone had been pretty much expecting that he’d fumble spectacularly and make a fool out of himself. But I found myself thinking back then that the mere opportunity to act as an attack dog for the status quo may have been enough to focus good old Senility Joe’s addled mind all by itself, whatever pharmaceutical help he had. I found that to be a disturbing thought, and I think the same instinct might have been in play during this speech as well.
He really is rather a nasty piece of work, isn’t he?
What is unprecedented is that Biden is singling people out based on their viewpoints alone, and announcing domestic repression against them. At least McCarthyism involved membership in the Communist Party, which actually was committed to the violent overthrow of the United States. Biden’s war on dissent is not even based on association, it is solely based on ideological correctness. Further, are Trump supporters or MAGA extremists opposed to the “Rule of Law”? I doubt they self-identify that way. Do Democrats respect the “Rule of Law” . . .? “Election denialism”? Did Trump come up with a fake story that Russia influenced the election? Baked in this campaign for purity is a Committee on Public Safety which serves to decide whether someone violates correct thinking.
Biden here is vintage Sith Lord channeling the worst of Carl Schmitt and Robespierre.
Two points were inferred from Thursday’s sulfurous emissions:
1) The controlling apparatus is mightily inconvenienced abroad by their own perfidy and incompetence and requires the domestic front be fractious and destabilized, because
2) The controlling apparatus will not be inconvenienced by the upcoming election(s).
What happens when senility and adrenaline are mixed into a cauldron of bitterness for never being appreciated for the Kennedy he so much deserved to be?
Let’s keep score. Joe is angling for a war, any war where he can unleash his full fury.
Wanting Russia to use a nuke.
Wanting China to blockade Taiwan.
Wanting Trump to try getting even for the Mar-A-Lago raid.
Wanting MAGAs to challenge America’s armed forces.
None of these are wars America can win in the sense of enjoying the aftermath.
Thanks to all the bears that Joe is prodding for keeping their cool.
This is so good. Yes, I’m sad there is no rhetorical analysis which I truly appreciate when Lambert indulges … but nevertheless, superlative.
And now my response, which is a decidedly contrarian one, based on my perusal of comments above. Democrats are the party of tribal virtue signaling, and the only difference – which I expand upon below – between this episode and many others before, is that Biden and his team took a page from the GOP playbook, and telegraphed power. Taken in the context of the recent shift in sentiment around midterm results, one can interpret this as a middle-round change in fortune and tactics of a fighter earlier on the ropes, who has now seized upon a sudden lack of confidence in their opponent. Nothing like springing a surprise on an overconfident opponent, as this scene from “Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman” so artfully and elegantly illustrates (via YouTube).
So … hear me out … and here we go … :)
Chef’s kiss for leading with Chuck Schumer’s fallacious strategy. It adds context to your assertion that “[the Democrat] base in the Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) is too narrow to win elections all on its own”; consequently the Democrat establishment refuses to broaden the base, and instead, now mainly seeks to find support in moderate suburban Republicans.
The Political Class Reacts to the Aesthetics
I like how the Dems virtue signal, while the GOP power projects, and each considers these behaviors theirs and theirs alone to exhibit – i.e. to Dems, the GOP cannot virtue signal, because … well, they are quite simply reprobate! See “deplorables”. Likewise, to Repubs, Dems cannot project power, because … well, they are quite simply weak! See “beta”. #TeamRed is seeing red because Biden did the presidential address version of playing the UNO reverse card … LOL. To put the ambience in rock n’ roll terms, if team Biden wanted to complete the atmosphere with music, they would have had the president walk out to Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” … which is well in keeping with their whole Dark Brandon shtick. Next!
Threatening MAGA with the Power of the State
Lambert nailed it:
Exactly this … so for those who (have been led to) believe that only their team can legitimately project power, Biden’s #FAFO message is a rude awakening for sure. I used to suggest, largely in response to people who said they needed guns to protect themselves from the government, that they go watch a video of the ATF taking out David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. That was the freakin’ ATF, not even the military proper. Good luck with your gunz.
Throwing Democrat Loyalists Red Meat
Well, well … can’t say there are many times you see “red meat” being directed toward the Democrat base, are there? Dare I say, this is exactly the reaction that Biden and his Dark Brandon meme-sorcerers want – to start ascribing to Democrats those … let’s say, admirable feisty behaviors we usually associate with the other team … yeah? Also, lest we forget, it was just a few weeks ago that talk was rife about Joe being a liability in ’24 – among Democrats! Someone’s architecting a comeback, and this is all part of the plan. I await the post-red-address polling numbers.
Definitely graduate material!
LOL … Dark Brandon staying on brand with ” … a shot at lives of prosperity … “ [Emphasis mine]
No doubt means tested!
> Biden is also urging, once again in Catholic terms, that MAGA be exorcised from the body politic [Emphasis mine]
Yes! The Matthew 5:30 moment with which both Evangelicals and Catholics should be very familiar:
And both groups will understand the meaning – the shunning of sin, and by extension, the sinful and the unrepentant sinner. Once again, #NailedIt:
> Biden has built a permission structure for the Catholics among ~10%, ~30%, and 90% respectively to vote for him
… or at the very least, to reject – as in not vote for – MAGA politicians. MAGA is the right hand that has offended the body politic. To complete Matthew 5:30:
So yes, more biblical precedent for the whole “not all republicans are bad, it’s just these MAGAs” trope.
I bristle a bit at Taibbi’s title: Biden Brings the War on Terror Home
#Sigh … folks, the “war on terror” has been a reality at home for many in this country … for a real long time. Lambert’s footnotes have a couple recent examples like #Occupy, #Ferguson … to that you can add #NODAPL and whatever hashtags there are for people serving life sentences for marijuana, etc. So if this “war on terror” is an expression of being declared a danger or threat to the state, and subsequently targeted for punishment/incarceration … then MAGA’s gotta take a number in this line, man. They in line … but it’s not entirely clear to me that they suddenly skip to the head of the line.
It’s really hard to live in a society where we are groomed to ingest political information via television. The methods of inception … from the rhetoric, to the images, to the soundbites … all can be extremely powerful. But so much of it, IMO, is pure smoke screen. Never forget, Joe Biden said, ” … nothing will fundamentally change.” RussiaGate yielded nothing. J6 has yielded nothing. Mar-A-Lago will yield nothing. The Democrats don’t want anything to fundamentally change. Both Pelosi and Biden have said, ” … we need a strong Republican Party.” De-fanging MAGA is more about getting back to predictable duopoly and away from the chaos that a figure that Trump introduces. The fight for the “soul of the country” is really a fight for “control of the country”. Trump’s greatest danger – and perhaps greatest sin – is that he came from outside beltway power structures. The establishment wants to close that hole, so that none may e’er enter again.