7 August 2019, Burlington, Iowa, USA
The words of a President matter.
They can move markets. They can send our brave men and women to war. They can bring peace. They can calm a nation in turmoil. They can console and comfort in times of tragedy. They can inspire us to reach the moon. They can appeal to the better angels of our nature.
And they can unleash the deepest, darkest forces in this nation. That is what Donald Trump has chosen to do.
When he said after Charlottesville that there were, quote, “very fine people on both sides,” he gave license and safe harbor for hate to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and the KKK.
Those words stunned the nation and shocked the world.
In doing so, he assigned a moral equivalence between those spewing hate and those with the courage to stand against it. I said at the time we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. I said it again when I announced. And I say it here today.
We are in a battle for the soul of this nation. It’s why I’m running for President.
Charlottesville was no isolated incident. Trump announced he was running for president by calling Mexicans “rapists.”
Days before the mid-terms, he fomented fears of a caravan heading to the United States – creating hysteria – saying “look at what is marching up, that is an invasion – an invasion”.
He asserted that immigrants would “carve you up with a knife.”
More recently, he called a major American urban center a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” that “no human being” would choose to live in—as though the vibrant, diverse community
around Baltimore were somehow less than human.
At a rally in Florida, when he asked a crowd, “How do we stop these people?” – meaning immigrants – someone yelled back, “shoot them.” He smiled.
In North Carolina, he basked in the chants of “Send Her Back” echoing across a stadium.
How far is it from Trump’s saying this “is an invasion” to the shooter in El Paso declaring “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”?
Not far at all.
How far is it – from the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville – Trump’s “very fine people” – chanting “you will not replace us” to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh saying Jews “were committing genocide to his people.”
Not far at all.
In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation. His low-energy, vacant-eyed mouthing of the words written for him condemning white supremacists this week fooled no one.
The energetic embrace of this president by the darkest hearts, the most hate-filled minds in this country says it all.
White nationalist Richard Spencer celebrated Trump’s election by declaring “Hail Trump” at an alt-right conference that saw Nazi salutes.
In Charlottesville, David Duke – the former leader of the KKK – said “that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
After Trump tweeted his “Go Back” screed – a leading Neo-Nazi website lit up, saying: “This is the kind of White Nationalism we elected him for.”
And on 8chan – a haven for radicalism on the internet, where a declaration of hate inked to the El Paso shooter was posted, one commentator wrote that Trump is helping to normalize their most extreme racial sentiments because his “perceived authority” carries so much weight.
We have a problem with a rising tide of white supremacy in America. And we have a president
who encourages and emboldens it.
The statistics are clear. Extremism is on the rise in America.
The Southern Poverty Law Center finds that 1,020 hate groups were operating in the United States in 2018, with white nationalist groups surging by 50%.
Since 2017, active-shooters with ties to white extremism have claimed 135 victims, killing 70.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, all but one of the 50 extremist-linked murders
counted in 2018 had direct links to white supremacists.
The FBI Director recently testified to Congress that extreme right-wing groups – white nationalists – pose the greatest threat of racially-motivated domestic terrorism.
And what has Trump done? Poured fuel on the fire.
He’s re-tweeted postings from extremists and white nationalists.
He’s cut funding – and in some cases completely eliminated – initiatives we put in place in the Obama-Biden administration to counter violent extremism at home.
Trump readily – eagerly – attacks “radical Islamic terrorism.” But he can barely bring himself to say the words “white supremacy.”
And even when he says it – he doesn’t appear to believe it. He seems more concerned about losing their votes than beating back their hateful ideology.
He says guns are not the problem in these mass shootings – the issue is mental health. It’s a dodge. Hatred isn’t a mental health issue.
And I can tell you, as the guy who, along with Dianne Feinstein, got assault weapons and high capacity magazines banned in this country for ten years – that if I’m elected president – we will make sure assault weapons and high capacity magazines are banned again.
And when we do it, we’ll put in place a buy-back program to get as many of these weapons of war as possible off the street.
We need a federal domestic terrorism law. We can do it without infringing on people’s free speech and without trampling civil liberties.
Quite simply, we have to make the same commitment as a nation – to root out domestic terrorism as we have – to stopping international terrorism.
I wish I could say this hate began with Donald Trump – and will end with him. It didn’t, and it won’t. American history is not a fairytale.
The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push-and-pull for 243 years between the American ideal that we are all created equal – and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart.
The same document that promised to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” also allowed for slavery and included the so-called “3/5ths Compromise” that discounted the very humanity of black people in America.
The honest truth is both elements are part of the American character. At our best, the American ideal wins out. But it’s never a rout. It’s always a fight. And the battle is never finished.
Go back to the beginning. Thomas Jefferson wrote what many believe is the most important document in human history. But he was also a slaveholder.
We’ve never lived up to our American ideals. Jefferson himself didn’t. But what he wrote has pulled us towards justice for more than two centuries.
It still does – it remains this nation’s North Star.
Or take a look at the Klan. After the Civil War, we saw the rise of the Klan – it was beaten down only to rise again in the 1920s. In fact, in August of 1925, 30,000 Klansman in full regalia marched on the streets of Washington.
Imagine that today. And then the Klan was beaten again. How? Courts, press, and, yes, presidents stood against them – and that is the point.
Our institutions – often imperfectly – stood against this hate. At moments when we have been tested most, American presidents have stepped up.
President George HW Bush renouncing his NRA membership. President Clinton after Oklahoma City. President George W Bush going to a Mosque shortly after 9/11. President Obama after Charleston.
Presidents who led, who opposed hate, chose to fight for what is best of the American character.
Sadly, we don’t have that today. Our president has aligned himself with the darkest forces in this nation. And that makes winning this battle – for the soul of our nation – that much harder.
Trump doesn’t understand what Franklin Roosevelt did. FDR said, the presidency is
“preeminently a place of moral leadership.” He doesn’t see what JFK did: “only the president represents the national interest.”
He’s blind to what LBJ said of the office: “Nothing makes a man come to grips more directly with his conscience than the presidency.”
Trump offers no moral leadership, no interest in unifying the nation. No evidence that presidency has awakened his conscience in the least.
Instead we have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically
embraced a political strategy of hate – racism – and division.
So it’s up to us. We’re living through a rare moment in this nation’s history. Where our president isn’t up to the moment. Where our president lacks the moral authority to lead. Where our president has more in common with George Wallace than George Washington.
We are almost 330 million Americans who have to do what our president can’t. Stand together. Stand against hate. Stand up for what – at our best – this nation believes.
We believe in Honesty. Decency. Treating everyone with dignity and respect. Giving everyone a fair shot. Leaving no one behind.
Giving hate no safe harbor. Demonizing no one – not the poor, the powerless, the immigrant, the other. Leading by the power of our example – not the example of our power.
Standing as a beacon to the world. Being part of something bigger than ourselves.
It’s a code. A uniquely American code. It’s who we are.
But Trump doesn’t get it.
What this president doesn’t understand is that unlike every other nation on earth – you can’t define an American by religion or ethnicity or tribe.
America is an idea. It’s an idea stronger than any army. Bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth.
And it’s not only our values that are under assault. Our democracy is as well.
A free press, an independent judiciary, a legislature that is a co-equal branch of government – these are the guardrails of our democracy. They’re written into our Constitution. And each of them is under attack.
Phrases like “fake news,” “enemy of the people” are no joke. They’re insidious. They’re corrosive. Just look around the world. The worst despots are now using Trump’s language to justify their own abuses of power.
Trump is trying to weaken our institutions – the press, the courts, the Congress – precisely because they are a check on his power.
That is what this is all about. The abuse of power. And if there is one thing I can’t stand – it’s the abuse of power.
Whether it’s a boss taking advantage of his workers – or a man who raises his hand to a woman or a child – or a President who’s running roughshod over everything this country stands for and believes.
We’re being reminded every day there is nothing guaranteed about democracy. Not even here in America. We have to earn it. We have to protect it. We have to fight for it.
I do believe that America is – as Lincoln named us – the “last best hope of earth.” But we have to remember why.
It’s not because we have the biggest economy. It’s not because we have the strongest military.
It’s not because we have the most innovative entrepreneurs and the greatest research universities.
That is all true.
But it’s not why we are America. The reason is what we believe.
The most powerful idea in the history of the world beats in the hearts of the people of this country.
And it beats in all of us. No matter your race or ethnicity. No matter your gender identity or sexual orientation. No matter your faith. It beats in the heart of rich and poor alike. It unites Americans — whether your ancestors were Native to these shores or brought here forcibly and enslaved, whether they were immigrants generations back, like my family that came from Ireland, or if you are coming here today looking to build a better life for your family.
The American creed – that we are all created equal – was written long-ago. But its genius is that every generation of American has opened it wider and wider, to include those who have been excluded before.
That’s why it has never gathered dust in the history books. It is still alive today more than 200 years after its inception. But Donald Trump doesn’t see it.
On January 20th, 2017, in his inaugural address, Donald Trump painted a dark, bleak picture of our country in crisis, and he declared “this American carnage stops right here, and stops right now.”
But as president Trump’s anger, hate and divisiveness – pitting Americans against one another, preying on our divisions, and doing nothing – nothing – about the epidemic of guns is fueling a literal American Carnage. We now have more mass shootings than we’ve had days in this year. As of Monday, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 255 mass shootings in 217 days.
We cannot let this go on. We cannot – and I will not – let this man be reelected President of the United States. His incompetence, his amorality, his carnage stops with us – right here, right now.
Limited to four years, I believe history will look back on this presidency as an aberrant moment in time.
But if Donald Trump is reelected, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.
If we give Donald Trump four more years, this will not be the country envisioned by Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. If we give Donald Trump four more years, this will not be the nation bound together by Lincoln. If we give Donald Trump four more years this will not be the nation lifted up by Roosevelt or inspired by Kennedy. We will not be the nation Barack Obama proved bends towards justice.
The danger Donald Trump poses to this nation isn’t hypothetical or exaggerated. It’s real. The core values of this nation our standing in the world our very democracy everything that has made America — America — is at stake.
Everyone knows who Donald Trump is. We need to show them who we are. We choose hope over fear. Science over fiction. Unity over division. And yes – truth over lies.
If we stand together, we will win the battle for the soul of this nation. We are the United States of America. And there isn’t a single thing we can’t do. Thank you. And may God protect our troops...."