President Joe Biden on Friday accused Donald Trump, his predecessor and the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, of wanting to be a dictator.
Biden spoke at a community college about 15 miles east of Valley Forge, a historical site in the battleground state of Pennsylvania that Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020 to Biden.
The president’s remarks targeting Trump came on the eve of the third anniversary of the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, in which Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. Some were attempting to stop a joint session of Congress from certifying Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
During the Revolutionary War, Valley Forge was an encampment for American soldiers during the cold, harsh winter of 1777-78. Gen. George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, recruited a former Prussian military officer, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, to reinvigorate his despairing troops for battle with the British.
Here is a look at the accuracy of some of Biden’s stronger assertions in his speech Friday, billed as the first event of his reelection campaign in the new year.
1. ‘Democracy Is on the Ballot’
Biden said Trump posted the words “power, revenge, and dictatorship” on his social media.
What Biden apparently was referring to is a word cloud published in the Daily Mail, a U.K. newspaper, where readers offered words that most described the two men.
Biden’s word cloud focused on the word “nothing,” the most popular, followed by “economy” and “peace.” Other words were “money” and “power.”
Trump’s word cloud included “power,” “revenge,” “dictatorship,” “America,” and “border.”
Trump posted his word cloud on Truth Social, the social media company that he owns, implying that he was flattered by the characterizations.
“There is no confusion about who Trump is and what he intends to do,” Biden said.
“Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot, your freedom to vote and to have your vote counted,” the president said.
Although hyperbole is common in political campaigns—including Trump’s—Biden’s key argument appeared to be that if he isn’t elected to a second term, Trump would take over as a dictator.
Trump did say, apparently playfully, during a December town hall meeting on Fox News Channel that he would be a dictator only on the first day if elected to another term.
“Other than that, I am not a dictator,” Trump quipped.
The former president seemed to be joking, although more than a few Democrats warned that he was serious. It’s not possible to prove whether someone was joking or serious without reading his or her mind, of course.
In the incident Biden cited, Trump didn’t specify that he would ignore the authority of Congress, the judicial branch, and state governments on his first day back in office. Rather, he seemed to be referring to issuing executive orders.
Typically, a dictator would not set a limit—such as only one day of dictatorial behavior—on his time in power.
During the Dec. 5 town hall, Fox host Sean Hannity asked Trump to respond to the rhetoric of Democrat critics, saying: “To be clear, do you in any way have any plans whatsoever if reelected president to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?”
Trump initially responded by saying that’s what the Biden administration is doing to him.
“Like they’re doing right now?” he asked Hannity.
The former president then referred to the federal prosecutions targeting him, which he says are purely political.
“In the history of our country what’s happened to us, again, has never happened before over nonsense, over nothing, made-up charges,” Trump told Hannity.
“We are going to do things. We will close the border, Day One. The border gets closed,” Trump said.
“Day One and a half, we drill,” he added. “Drill, baby, drill. Drill, drill, drill. And probably on Day Two we will get rid of this ridiculous electric car mandate.”
Hannity asked again: “You are not going to be a dictator, are you?”
Trump, referring to Hannity, appeared to josh the audience at Fox’s town hall: “I love this guy. He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I say, ‘No, no, no, other than Day One.’ We are closing the border and drilling, drilling, drilling. Other than that, I am not a dictator.”
2. ‘Nearly Lost America’
Biden also talked Friday about the threat posed to America by the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
“It was on that day that we nearly lost America, lost it all,” Biden said. “Today, we’re here to answer the most important of questions: Is democracy still America’s sacred cause? This is not rhetorical, academic, or hypothetical.”
A total of 1,240 pro-Trump protesters were charged with committing crimes Jan. 6, according to the FBI as of Thursday. Most were accused of felonies in connection with storming the Capitol to stop certification of Biden’s win.
The riot began before Trump finished speaking at a rally on the Ellipse near the White House, in which he again claimed the election was stolen.
However, it’s highly debatable that the American government was close to being overthrown—or, as Biden said in his speech Friday, “nearly lost.”
With a few exceptions for convictions for seditious conspiracy, most of the criminal charges brought by Biden’s Justice Department don’t reflect that seriousness, and the riot was over within about five hours.
According to the FBI, a total of 452 were charged with assaulting law enforcement officers. Prosecutors charged at least 50 with conspiracy.
Seditious conspiracy, the most serious of the charges, refers to a plot against the country.
Two members of the controversial group Proud Boys were convicted of seditious conspiracy. At least four members of another group, Oath Keepers, also were convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Federal law (U.S.C. 2384) defines seditious conspiracy this way:
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
3. ‘One Desperate Act’
Biden asserted Friday that Trump wanted the Jan. 6 riot to embroil the Capitol.
“The legal path just took Trump back to the truth. That I was the winner and he was the loser,” Biden said, referring to the former president’s multiple losses in court in challenging the election results.
“Knowing how his mind works, he had one act left,” Biden said. “One desperate act available to him. The violence of Jan. 6.”
Again here, Biden suggested an intention on Trump’s part, which isn’t possible to prove or disprove. However, special counsel Jack Smith didn’t charge Trump with insurrection in a court case set to begin in March.
In that case, a federal trial will decide whether Trump tried to alter the outcome of the 2020 election. Smith secured an indictment against Trump that charges him with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.
Again, Smith didn’t charge Trump with insurrection. Also, none of these charges is related to the Capitol riot.
At one point in his speech Friday, Biden said: “What has Trump done? Instead of calling them criminals, he’s called these insurrectionists patriots.”
This assertion is accurate at least in part. Although Trump condemned the rioters in a speech on Jan. 7, 2021, he said as early as the following summer that some were “patriots.” Separately, Trump referred to the crowd at his Jan. 6 rally as “loving.”
Biden also faulted Trump for pledging to pardon Jan. 6 rioters.
Trump has said he would pardon a “large portion” of those who were charged.
Biden went through the rhetoric of Trump’s remarks on the Ellipse just before the riot began.
“He told the crowd to ‘fight like hell,’ and all hell was unleashed,” Biden said. “He promised he would right them, right them [sic], everything they did, everything they did, he would be side by side with them.”
For the most part, this is an accurate characterization by Biden. But the president left out an important detail—Trump called for the crowd to stay “peaceful.” He also mentioned, “I’ll be there with you,” suggesting he would be marching with them to or near the Capitol.
“Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this [rally], we’re going to walk down—and I’ll be there with you—we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down [to the Capitol],” Trump said on Jan. 6, 2021.
He also told the crowd: “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
4. ‘Book Banning’
In his speech Friday, Biden brought up a talking point among Democrats who advocate that sexually explicit books be available in school libraries.
Biden talked about “those who seek to bury history and ban books.” He asked the crowd: “Did you ever think you could be in a political event talking about book banning in a presidential election?”
Biden didn’t offer examples of anyone seeking to ban books. Democrat politicians and some interest groups, however, have used the term “book banning” regarding parents’ concern about age-appropriate books for elementary school libraries.
The books in question include the titles “Gender Queer,” “Flamer,” “Lawn Boy,” “Fun Home,” and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.” Critics say the books contain images of people engaged in sex acts or graphic descriptions of those acts.
Parents recently have opposed certain sexually explicit books in school libraries. And although some books were removed from elementary school libraries, or from easy access there, no political leader has advocated banning or restricting the existence, sale, or publication of such books.
As The Daily Signal reported in May, books that the organization PEN America claimed were banned actually were still stocked by public and school libraries.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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Author: Fred Lucas