A Handful Of Partisan Historians Appear To Be Helping Biden Calibrate His Presidency

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Laurel Duggan Social Issues and Culture Reporter
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  • President Joe Biden appears to be taking rhetorical cues from partisan historians who are pushing a historical narrative in line with Democrat talking points about Republicans threatening democracy.
  • Biden met with several historians in August to discuss threats to democracy, with the theme of their conversation very similar to that taken in Biden’s Thursday speech comparing certain Republican voters to fascists. 
  • “Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden wrote several weeks after the meeting. 

Several left-leaning historians appear to be influencing President Joe Biden’s presidential strategy as they craft partisan historical narratives that promote Democrat talking points about threats to democracy.

Famed historian Jon Meacham helped write Biden’s Thursday speech in Philadelphia in which he called “MAGA Republicans” extremists and a threat to democracy while comparing them to fascists, according to Politico. He and other left-leaning historians have lent credibility to Biden and other Democrats’ suggestions that their political opponents pose an existential threat to American democracy.

The Sept. 1 speech drew widespread criticism from commentators who viewed it as politically charged and divisive. Ann Althouse, a University of Wisconsin law professor, criticized Biden’s use of the “soul of the nation” theme, which appears to have been influenced by Meacham’s 2018 book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”

“I like to think of the idea that individual human beings have a soul, and when I hear of this composite soul of an entire country, I’m skeptical,” she said. “That’s what makes me think of fascism … so often, from the Democratic side, I get the sense that they view their opponents as being soulless… and I feel that they’re also antagonistic to individualism.”

Meacham’s influence on Biden long predates the August meeting: he also helped write Biden’s election acceptance speech in 2020 while he was working as an MSNBC contributor. The speech focused on moving away from “toxic” politics in an apparent reference to Trump and drew on historical themes of a gradual movement towards justice.

Meacham has a long track record of involvement with Democratic politics: he gave a speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, he characterized the GOP as the party of conspiracies and falsehoods and once he landed in hot water at MSNBC for failing to disclose his work with Biden before giving live on-air commentary on his speech. He is also a staunch critic of Trump.

Yet Meacham is not the only historian in Biden’s ear; weeks before the Philadelphia speech, Biden met with Meacham, along with Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, according to The Washington Post. They reportedly warned the president that democracy is on the verge of collapse.

Wilentz is a vocal Trump critic and has argued that the vilification of intellectuals is the “standard operating procedure” of the Republican party, and Black is a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter and routinely posts content in support of Democratic candidates and liberal commentators on social media. Beschloss is a frequent guest on NBC and MSNBC, and warned about the imminent global collapse of democracy in March, highlighting Trump and like-minded Republicans’ role in bringing about such a collapse.

Biden’s rhetoric has often mirrored the arguments made by these historians, particularly when it comes to threats to democracy they discussed in the closed-doors meeting in August.

“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden tweeted Sept. 2.

The historians had a “Socratic dialogue” with Biden and compared the present moment to the leadup to the Civil War, according to The Washington Post. They also compared the current political climate to the 1940 presidential election, at which time some Americans were sympathetic to foreign fascistic movements, they argued.

Attendees discussed how Biden’s presidency fit into a broader historical context, casting recent history as a “contest between democratic values and institutions and the trends toward autocracy globally,” one anonymous source told The Washington Post. Their arguments mirrored those made by prominent Democrats: that supporters of former President Donald Trump are a threat to the country and to Democracy.

Several of the historians who met with Biden have made public comments about the threat to democracy supposedly posed by critics of Democrats’ agenda.

“We’re on the verge of what Hamilton in ‘The Federalist’ called government by brute force,” Wilentz told The Hill.

“I think he has got to talk tonight about the fact that we are all in existential danger of having our democracy and democracies around the world destroyed,” he said ahead of Biden’s 2021 State of the Union address.

Meacham, Wilentz, Black and the White House did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment, and the DCNF was unable to reach Beschloss.

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