“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

President Biden, speaking about former President Donald Trump on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection

US President Joe Biden speaks at the US Capitol on January 6, 2022, to mark the anniversary of the a...

DREW ANGERER/AFP/Getty Images

Impact
One year later, Biden finally unloaded on Trump about Jan. 6

Exactly one year after Donald Trump incited his conspiracy-addled followers to violently storm the halls of Congress, the man he unsuccessfully attempted to block from assuming the presidency commemorated the occasion with a strikingly acerbic denunciation of his predecessor, and a strident call for safeguarding American democracy in the face of ascendent MAGA fascism.

Without mentioning him once by name, President Biden mocked Trump as as “not just a former president” but a “defeated former president” whose “bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.” At the same time, Biden positioned the insurrection attempt as not simply a unique moment in American history, but an ongoing threat to country’s founding principles.

“We are in a battle for the soul of America,” Biden warned, adding that it’s “a battle that by the grace of God, the goodness and gracious, greatness of this nation we will win.”

“I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation, and I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy,” he vowed.

Biden’s address marked one of his most forceful attacks to date on Trump, whom he and his administration have at times gone conspicuously out of their way to frame as obsolete and a non-factor in the White House’s day-to-day business. The degree to which Biden seemed willing — if not eager — to call out Trump and his movement as a critical threat to democracy was reminiscent in some ways of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “radical fringe” speech, delivered during the waning months of the 2016 election, in which she went on an uncharacteristically pointed attack on the movement Trump had amassed around himself. Like that speech, Biden’s Jan. 6 commemoration was an attempt to frame Trump — and Trumpism at large — as fundamentally incompatible with American democracy.

And like Clinton’s speech, it’s unclear what, if anything, will actually come of Biden’s remarks on the anniversary of what he himself compared to Pearl Harbor and the Civil Rights Movement’s “Bloody Sunday.” Despite making profoundly clear the dangers of Trump and his movement during the 2016 election, Clinton still lost, and the dangers about which she warned only festered and deepened until they exploded in the violent attempt to overthrow the government. So too does Biden run the risk of letting lofty rhetoric stand in for concrete action, and of letting the act of naming a threat supersede the need to act accordingly.

If democracy is truly in as much danger from Trump as Biden suggested Thursday, then his administration’s actions hardly seem to match the moment. While the congressional committee investigating the insurrection plods along diligently, the Justice Department’s response has been decidedly underwhelming, as has the White House’s inability to capitalize on actually being the party in power to do anything of lasting substance. Perhaps that will change. Perhaps it won’t. And all the while, the threat of another Jan. 6-style assault on democracy grows, should nothing happen to truly hold those responsible for last year’s attack accountable.