How Biden Should Play His Leadership Role in the Face of the Likely Lawlessness of the Incumbent

In a previous piece — Biden Must Prepare Now for the First Crisis of His Presidency (Coming Immediately) (now appearing on Daily Kos)– I put forward the idea that

  • If victorious, Biden will likely face “the first crisis of his Presidency” — as soon as he become the President-Elect — because his opponent will likely attack our constitutional order – in the form of the Election – rather than accept defeat.
  • Such a situation will require Biden to play an important leadership role, which he should prepare himself now to play. That leadership role will be required of him because, when it is the incumbent President himself who represents the threat against which the Constitution must be protected, there is no one else but the President-Elect in a position to be America’s “commander-in-chief” in the battle to “protect and defend the Constitution” against all “enemies domestic and foreign.”
  • Biden’s success in providing the necessary leadership is essential not just to protect the constitutional system – as he has so often taken an oath to do — but also to establish the form of his leadership – strong, honest, trustworthy — in the minds of the people.

And then I promised a subsequent piece in which to offer thoughts on what the role is that Biden should play in that situation. This is that piece.

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As I argued in yet another piece on the weekend before the election, there is a “spirit” rising among the American people that is “inspiring” a majority of the American people to take power away from Donald Trump (and from all the brokenness he represents) and hand it to Joe Biden (as the champion of so many basic American values).

The power of that spirit is manifested both in the breadth shown in Biden’s large and enduring lead in the national polls about the election, and in the intensity of motivation to elect Biden people are showing by 1) the willingness of so many to stand so long in line to vote, and 2) the eagerness of so many to work in a whole range of ways to achieve that electoral victory.

If I were advising Biden, I would say to him:

“There are two ways that rising spirit should influence how you play the necessary leadership role during the battle that Trump may wage in illegitimate ways to overturn his legitimate defeat:

  • First, that intensity among the people magnifies the mandate you’ve won. (It is more than just the numbers.) The deep passion that Americans are showing gives you permission to lead with boldness and strength. You have been chosen to be the Voice of the People, and the people are demanding that the electoral result they chose be protected.
  • Second, because that power of the spirit rising in the people is a source of strength for the good side in what you’ve called “the battle for the Soul of America,” an important requirement for your manner of leading is that it should stoke that enthusiasm, for that inspiration and passion will be the greatest source of your power during your coming Presidency. Quenching that fire among your supporters would mean squandering your power for every battle that lies ahead in your quest to make your Presidency “transformative.”

“If Trump attacks the legitimate election in illegitimate ways, you should keep in mind that what has been thrust upon you is a battle. Your job is to win it, because it is precisely the kind of battle our founders had in mind when it required all office holders to “protect and defend” the Constitution, and because that’s what you should imagine that inspired American majority will look to you to accomplish for them.

“This what I suggest you imagine the American people are saying to you (as you compose your way of acting as both the only reliable Presidential Figure available to the nation if Trump escalates his lawless assault on the Election:

‘The ‘will of the people” – our sovereign will — has been expressed in this election, and what “We the People” have said is that the powers of the Presidency must be taken out of the hands of Donald Trump and put into your hands. We insist that the Election be respected, and we will never accept an outcome that is based on the violation of the Constitution and the rule of law. We will follow you into battle and fight until we prevail.’

“And imagine them saying also:

‘We also want to follow you on the path toward making a better America—an America we can feel good about again. Build it Back Better. Or even better still, “Repair Our America.”’

“So as you conceive of how to play your leadership role, conceive of your mandate from the people as two-sided:

  • to restore the integrity of American democracy, starting with vanquishing — in battle — Trump and anyone else who joins him in striking at that foundational element of the constitutional order. (I.e. the people’s expressing their will, through the Election process, regarding to whom they will entrust the powers of the state);
  • to provide a positive vision of the good places to which you want to lead the nation.

“The urgent thing is to fight and win the battle. But that ‘positive vision’ means that even in the midst of the fight, while you help Americans see how fundamental the threat is that Trump is posing, you also help Americans to envision the ‘liberty and justice for all’ that you are fighting for. You compose your words with an understanding that you speak for all those people who voted for you to support a range of values important to them.”

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Although he is not a great orator, Biden has shown himself capable of speaking powerfully from that place of his genuine moral passion. He did it in that outstanding acceptance speech he gave at the virtual convention.

Which brings me to one very important stylistic issue that he should take to heart: Biden should speak to the nation in conversational modes, as if talking to us personally in a room. (That’s what it was like when he gave his acceptance speech.) And he should avoid entirely speaking to Americans as if shouting to a crowd.

I’d say to Biden:

“It is your humanity that is your biggest political asset. In your shouting campaign speeches, your humanity does not convey. It is when you speak to us conversationally that we can see that basic decency, honesty, and trustworthiness on which your presidential leadership can build.”

The microphones and cameras can be set up so that every communication feels like something personal, as if Biden is speaking to a finite number of people in a conversational, if not intimate, fashion. (He’s not good at the loud mode of oratory, and the sound is not pleasant.)

Biden should strive to do in the televised medium what FDR did in his Fireside Chats.

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