Joe Biden on Saturday offered a counterpoint to the dark and defiant Fourth of July message President Trump delivered at Mount Rushmore, striking notes of unity in a video and op-ed released on the nation’s 244th birthday.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee noted that the Founding Fathers were flawed, pointing out that President Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and that women were not granted the full rights of citizenship until 1920. But he said their ideas still offer hope.
It was a stark contrast with Trump, who focused Friday on the men who built the country, saying they are heroes and that those skeptical of the country’s founders are part of a “radical ideology” and a “left-wing cultural revolution.”
The dueling Independence Day messages highlight the vastly different ways Biden and Trump have responded to the country’s racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody.
Trump pushes the idea that demonstrators have gone too far and blames them for pulling apart the nation’s social fabric. Biden has suggested this moment offers the possibility for the country to course-correct, though he has yet to lay out promised plans for economic and police revisions.
“We have a chance now to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated [and] the oppressed a full share of the American Dream,” Biden said in his video. “We have a chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country. We have a chance to live up to the words that have founded this nation.”
Biden emphasized the ideals articulated by America’s founders, focusing in his video on the foundational concept in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”
“Through it all, these words have gnawed at our conscience and pulled us toward justice,” Biden said in the video. “American history is no fairy tale. It’s been a constant push and pull between two parts of our character, the idea that all men and women — all people — are created equal and the racism that has torn us apart.”
He expanded on the idea in his op-ed.
“Independence Day is a celebration of our persistent march toward greater justice,” Biden wrote. “The natural expansion of our founding notion from ‘all men are created equal’ to ‘all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.’ ”
Trump on Friday decried that view of America’s history, as well as the recent efforts to remove statues. “This radical view of American history is a web of lies,” the president said.
Even the settings where both men spoke offered a massive difference: Trump, who has said he hopes the novel coronavirus will “just disappear,” spoke to a crowd of several thousand amid record numbers of new cases. Few wore masks. Little attempt was made at social distancing.
Biden, who has stressed the importance of following science and respecting the guidance of public health experts, recorded his video from his home in Delaware, where he has mostly stayed for nearly four months, venturing out for a handful of speeches and meetings, including visiting with protesters several weeks ago in Wilmington, Del.
Biden did not mention Trump in his video. But in his op-ed, published by NBC News, Biden criticized Trump by name, saying the president bears the most responsibility for the country being “thrown off course” in recent years.
“He finds new ways to tarnish and dismantle our democracy,” Biden said of Trump.
Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s campaign spokesman, blasted the former vice president.
“The idea that Biden, with his 40 plus years of DC failure, has any notion or ability to strengthen our union is absurd,” Murtaugh said in a statement.
“Because of political pressure from the left, Biden is forced to agree that America was fundamentally flawed from the beginning and remains so today. By contrast, President Trump is proud of our history and believes strongly in our present greatness.”
Biden also laid out some of the policy shifts he would pursue as president, pledging to undo what he called Trump’s attempts to “dismantle our democracy” by reducing barriers to voting, as well as by expanding voting by mail and early voting. He also said he would focus on the country’s campaign finance system, trying to limit any private funds going into federal elections, part of his anti-corruption plan.
He also renewed his promise to reverse Trump’s immigration policies, strengthen safeguards ensuring an independent judicial branch and protect the free press. He promised broadly to remove “systemic racism from every area of society it infects.”
Annie Linskey is a national political reporter focused on the 2020 presidential campaign for The Washington Post. Before coming to The Post, Linskey was the lead reporter on Democrats for the Boston Globe’s Washington bureau during the 2016 campaign. She reported on the Obama White House for Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek.