There are a lot of ways to analyze an address like the one Joe Biden gave last week from the steps of Independence Hall. One can view it from the perspective of its insane optics (the weird lighting and blood-red background call to mind Dante’s “Inferno”) to its inherently contradictory language (calling for unity while also calling half the country a “threat … to the very soul” of America).
But there is another, more practical matter: How does Biden expect this to end? Does he really think that using the office of the president to re-christen an entire group of Americans as extremists whose existence “threatens the very foundations of our republic” will somehow compel them to see the light, as it were? To step out of their red-colored haze, and vote Democrat? To suddenly reconsider the Senate run of failed presidential candidate Evan McMullin or to pour one out for future MSNBC contributor Liz Cheney?
Or by summoning the same language used to justify suppressing the speech rights of Americans in World War I, is he laying the predicate for something much darker?
One of the features of our current political realignment is the retrenchment of the so-called “elite” class into an intractable monolith: The people who sit atop our political, cultural, corporate media, and educational institutions all share the same exact values. They almost uniformly vote Democrat, they engage in ritualistic and performative displays of wokeness, they believe words are violence, and that there is no bigger threat to Our Democracy™ than Donald Trump voters.
When viewed through this lens, Biden’s speech takes on a much more pointed aim: a not-so-subtle directive to the oligarchy and the Democratic courtier class that “MAGA Republicans” are not just the embarrassing, demented, idiot rubes they are forced to share a country with. They are now officially the out-group — a rogue, extremist danger to themselves and others — and should be treated as such.
In tagging the 78 million people who voted for Trump as akin to domestic terrorists, Biden’s speech serves two codominant roles: to label half the country as a threat and to use this designation as a bat signal to the institutional arbiters of social, cultural, and corporate America to disassociate, shun, shame, and reprimand. And, critically, do it all with the formal imprimatur of the White House.
After all, Biden’s address wasn’t a campaign speech. Incredibly, it was pitched — and covered by corporate media unquestioningly — as a policy address.
The Mother Lode of Cancellation Attempts
Biden’s formal slicing of the electorate into “good voters” and “bad voters” will only encourage the trend toward the woke totems, dissent shaming, and push for intellectual homogeneity that is coursing through higher education and the arts. But where it could carve new ground is by formalizing the nascent practices of corporate America to ideologically weaponize access to the market. After all, you don’t want to be seen doing business with fascists, right?
It’s one thing to shun half of America’s voters from the corridors of polite society and the highest of ivory towers (though still unconscionable in its own right). It’s quite another to seem to nod approvingly in the direction of cutting half of America off from the guts of capitalism itself.
In this sense, Biden’s speech represents the mother lode of all cancellation attempts. And corporate America has already shown itself to be a willing partner. What began several years ago as the comprehensive deplatforming of provocateurs such as Laura Loomer (who is banned from Twitter, Periscope, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, GoFundMe, Venmo, MGM Resorts, PayPal, Lyft, Uber, Uber Eats, Chase Bank, and even the T-shirt company TeeSpring) has slowly crept inward, culminating in the simultaneous deplatforming of then-President Donald Trump — not only by the Big Tech giants but by his campaign’s email service, credit card processor, and two of his banks.
The small business, social media startup Parler found itself similarly assaulted when it was simultaneously banned from the Google app store and the Apple app store, and booted from Amazon’s hosting services — all on blatantly pretextual grounds. And it wasn’t just their market access infrastructure. “Every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day,” Parler’s then-CEO John Matze confirmed to Fox News.
Glenn Greenwald calls this effect “de-personing,” and it’s a good way to describe the burgeoning ideological conditioning of major market players. Users who are engaged in offline behavior that the world’s largest non-bank lender, Paypal, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League deem to be “hate speech” are removed or denied access.
The email provider Mailchimp cut off services for the Northern Virginia Tea Party group in 2020 when they used the service to organize a recount rally in support of President Trump. Last year, I was inexplicably banned from Mailchimp’s subsidiary TinyLetter for sending out a column I’d written for the New York Post. (I’m still banned! I took my newsletter to Substack.)
Bank of America will no longer lend money to certain gun manufacturers. Citibank will not process some gun sales by their own customers. During the Trump administration, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and U.S. Bank refused to provide banking services to the private prison industry in protest of Trump’s immigration policies. These same federally-insured banks and a handful of others now refuse to provide depository services to federal contractors who do work for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Payment and funding sites such as Paypal, GoFundMe, and Patreon recently banned users they deemed “alt-right.”
Then there are, of course, the massive Big Tech platforms that work directly with the White House to decide which users and content to ban. This not only affects speech, it limits access for the millions of small businesses that use Google and Facebook, the world’s two largest digital advertising firms, to access the market. And God forbid you write a book with a political or policy message that upsets the world’s biggest book retailer.
All of this amounts to a uniquely American form of ideological social credit that determines access to the platforms and services that form the basis of the modern economy. The government isn’t mandating it, but a speech like Biden’s offers tacit approval, if not outright encouragement, of such measures. And the ideological fusion between the Democratic Party and leading corporations ensures the new hierarchy will be enforced.
Creation of an Underclass
Seen in this manner, Biden’s speech does far more than give the country the collective creeps. It formalizes the creation of an underclass. It says, from the official White House podium, that it is now appropriate and indeed necessary for the preservation of democracy to cut off “MAGA Republicans” from every avenue of influence and material gain.
The message is already being socialized across the airwaves. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called Biden’s claim that Trump voters pose a foundational threat to America “undeniably correct.” Over at MSNBC, DNC adviser Kurt Bardella went even further, calling “MAGA Republicans” a “domestic terrorist cell operating in America.” The Atlantic contributor Peter Wehner said all Republicans are a “dagger pointed at the throat of American democracy.”
Elements of the left in media, business, and universities have been salivating at the thought of embarking on a social purge of their political foes. Biden’s speech has mainstreamed and given credence to that impulse. The White House has, quite clearly, tipped its hat to corporate- and media-led otherizing at a national scale.
For a long time, the right’s answer to this has simply been to “build your own.” This has become increasingly difficult as the very infrastructure of capitalism has become ideologically weaponized, and as multinational corporations have grown so powerful as to literally rival nation-states in terms of reach and resources.
Small, dissident competitors struggle to reach the marketplace, blocked by ideological gatekeepers such as Apple and Google, or are just unable to compete with behemoths like Amazon who are simultaneously market access platforms, retail product rivals, and logistics chokepoints.
But in the Biden era, it’s also become next to impossible to create competing platforms based upon the twisted, circular reasoning that forces conservatives out of the mainstream toward alternative outlets, and then uses the existence of those alternative outlets as proof of the group’s extremism.
The Parler example remains superlative. Parler rose to prominence as a Twitter alternative based on free speech norms. Its popularity was, in part, based on the many users who were either banned on Twitter or disgusted by the platform’s ambiguous and politically influenced moderation decisions. But as Parler grew in prominence, it was immediately labeled as a “bastion of extremism” by arbiters of mainstream influence such as congressional Democrats, partisan pundits, and the mainstream social media platforms. Thus the platform that existed because of a user base forced out by the mainstream was then labeled by the same people as “dangerously extremist,” which then justified its collective deplatforming.
Chris Hedges, a former award-winning investigative reporter whose work was recently shut down by YouTube, described the phenomenon this way: “They push you to the margins and then, they demonize those spaces on the margins.” He goes on, “So they push you into a space that they then demonize, and then use it as an excuse to shut you down. But they’ve already in essence created the space in which you exist.”
For all the clownish supervillain feel of Biden’s staging outside of Independence Hall, his message was very real: Hate your neighbor because he’s a danger to the country. Biden’s speech gave official permission to his fellow ideological and political travelers to fully demonize their political opponents in every arena in which they find them — a public message soon to be enforced by very private means, from the heights of social, political, and corporate power.