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Takeaways: Biden uses D-Day events to warn against dictatorship’s rise

Trump threatens revenge as president honors World War II ‘heroes’

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, at a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Thursday.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, at a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Thursday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden did more than merely honor D-Day veterans in France this week. He used high-profile stages to cast the world, and the United States, as being in a struggle between dictators and freedom.

And he made clear that struggle includes both war-ravaged Ukraine and the bitterly divided United States.

Before beginning his remarks Friday, Biden peered off the steep cliff at Pointe du Hoc, which U.S. Army soldiers scaled to take out German artillery positions during hellish fighting on June 6, 1944. Biden used the speech to call on the world — and his fellow Americans — to join a fight against a dictatorial wave.

“The ground where we stand was not sacred ground on June the fifth,” he said of the day before the D-Day invasion. “That’s what it became on June the sixth. The [Army] Rangers who scaled this cliff didn’t know they would change the world. But they did. … We’re the fortunate heirs of a legacy of these heroes.”

During a Thursday ceremony in Normandy, Biden said that “to surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable,” adding: “Were we to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here in these hallowed beaches. Make no mistake. We will not bow down.”

Delivering a message to audiences foreign and domestic, Biden said Thursday that “democracy is never guaranteed, every generation must fight for it.” He then turned to a group of elderly D-Day veterans and said, “It’s the highest honor to be able to salute you here in Normandy once more — all of you. God love you.”

Here are three takeaways from Biden’s D-Day remarks in Normandy and Pointe du Hoc.

World War II veteran John M. Wardell and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken watch President Joe Biden deliver a speech Friday at Pointe du Hoc, France, where U.S. Army Rangers scaled cliffs over 100 feet high to destroy a heavily fortified German position in June 1944. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

‘Seize power’

The president did not utter the names Donald Trump, again the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, or Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who continues waging a brutal war with Ukraine.

But allusions to both hard-line figures were peppered through Biden’s relatively short remarks, set against the blue waters of the English Channel, where U.S. landing craft sent thousands of American troops to their deaths 80 years ago.

“They stormed the beaches alongside our allies,” Biden said Friday of those Army Rangers, before uttering what appeared a warning about Trump’s “America First” isolationist views: “Does anyone believe these Rangers would want America to go it alone today?”

“They fought to vanquish a hateful ideology,” he added. “Does anyone doubt they would move heaven and earth to vanquish the hateful ideologies of today? … Does anyone believe they would exact any less from every American today?”

And in what appeared to be a plea to American voters, Biden urged them to fight the “most natural instinct … to walk away” and to become “selfish.” Instead, he said Americans must resist those who intend to “force their will upon others to seize power.”

“American democracy asks the hardest of things: to believe that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” he said. “So democracy begins with each of us.”

His words came as Trump and his allies have talked about a major overhaul of the federal government and Justice Department, to replace career law enforcement and other officials with Trump loyalists. Trump on Thursday, during two television interviews, said he would be justified in carrying out “revenge” on his foes, if elected.

‘Hitler’s aggression’

The U.S. commander in chief also used the dictator whom D-Day forces arrived on the French beaches to fight to call on Americans to support an ongoing conflict with another.

Those Pointe du Hoc Army Rangers stormed the shore with a mindset that “the mission matters more than their life” and “country matters more than they do,” Biden said. “That’s what every soldier, every Marine who stormed these beaches decided. A feared dictator who had conquered a continent had finally met his match because of them.

“The war turned,” he said, having removed his aviator sunglasses to look directly into assembled television cameras. “They stood against Hitler’s aggression.”

He then returned to the speech’s foundation by asking more rhetorical questions, which cast the domestic and foreign challenges in historical context.

“Does anyone doubt that they would want America to stand up against Putin’s aggression here in Europe today?” Biden said. “These Rangers are remembered with reverence, those who gave their lives in battle. Could they or anyone ever imagine that America … wouldn’t do the same? They believed that America was a beacon to the world. I’m certain they believed it would be that way forever.”

Earlier Friday, during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris, the U.S. leader apologized for Washington’s bickering and sparring over an aid package for the war-torn Eastern European country that eventually passed both chambers of Congress.

“I apologize for the weeks of not knowing what’s going to pass in terms of funding because we had trouble getting the bill that we had to pass that had the money in it,” Biden told his counterpart. “Some of our very conservative members were holding it up.”

Many of the House GOP members who were holding up another Ukraine aid package are closely aligned with Trump, whose relationship with and positive assessments of Putin draw the ire of Democrats back home.

‘Dictatorship and freedom’

Biden delivered a similar message Thursday during a speech in Normandy, France, at the allies’ official commemoration ceremony there.

“Hitler and those with him thought democracies were weak, that the future belonged to dictators,” Biden said. “Here, on the coast of Normandy, the battle between freedom and tyranny would be joined.”

He called the thousands of American servicemen who died on June 6, 1944, and are buried there “the story of America,” and cast them in an image far different than Trump’s usual anti-immigration depiction of America.

“Officers and enlisted, immigrants and native born, different races, different faiths, but all Americans. All served with honor when America and the world needed them most,” Biden said. “Millions back home did their part as well. From coast to coast, Americans found countless ways to pitch in. They understood our democracy is only as strong as all of us make it together.”

The sitting U.S. president also took a veiled jab at Trump, saying: “Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago, and it is not the answer today.” Biden also touted NATO as “the greatest military alliance in the history of the world.”

In sharp contrast, Trump has issued vague threats toward other NATO members, calling on them to spend more on defense.

“We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago. They never fade. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change borders by force, these are perennial,” Biden said. “The struggle between a dictatorship and freedom is unending.”

Trump, on the other hand, had compliments to hand out about some of the world’s dictators and strongmen during an interview with Fox News that aired Wednesday evening.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are all “at the top of their game,” Trump said. He dubbed Hungary’s hard-line leader, Viktor Orban, “a very strong kind of a guy.”

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