President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden bro embrace

Obama & Biden Had a Pact to Stay Silent on Trump, but It Didn’t Last Long

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At a recent dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Biden gave a speech in which he revealed a pact he and President Obama had made. They had decided to “remain silent for a while” after Donald Trump was elected, “to give this administration a chance to get up and running its first year.”

That may not sound like a laugh line, but whether it’s Biden’s reputation for not keeping his thoughts to himself, or the unprecedented turmoil of the current administration, the idea of these two not sharing opinions on Trump’s disastrous term did make the audience laugh. When Biden crossed himself and asked for God’s forgiveness, they cracked up.

But then Biden shared what it was that made him change his mind regarding that agreement: the violence in Charlottesville. The audience cheered, but Biden quickly got heated and made it clear he was being “deadly earnest,” telling them to “hush up.”

It was the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville that left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead, and Trump’s response that there were “very fine people on both sides” of that protest, that drove Biden to end his silence. In August of 2017, just seven months after Trump’s inauguration, he wrote an essay for The Atlantic titled “We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation.”

“You, me, and the citizens of this country carry a special burden in 2017,” he wrote. “We have to do what our president has not. We have to uphold America’s values. We have to do what he will not. We have to defend our Constitution. We have to remember our kids are watching. We have to show the world America is still a beacon of light.”

President Obama waited longer to break his silence. He did wait the full year and then some, making his first public comments about the Trump administration just earlier this month. (Or, at least, this was the first time he’d used Trump’s name when criticizing him. He’d previously made comments that were clearly referencing Trump and his policies, but didn’t mention his name directly.)

In his scathing speech, Obama also referenced Trump’s response to Charlottesville: “We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” he said. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

In his speech this weekend, Biden echoed his Atlantic essay, saying, “We are in a fight for America’s soul. And we have leaders who, at the time when that occurred, when these guys were accompanied by white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan … making a comparison saying there are good people in both groups. What has become of us? Our children are listening. And our silence is complicity.

Speaking to the LGBTQ rights group, Biden said he does feel confident that this wave of outspoken bigotry and silent complicity will not be the new American narrative. “As we stand up in the face on this onslaught, the vast majority of the American people are with us.” He praised activists as well as everyone in the audience for “coming out, living with pride, telling [their] stories.”

Biden quoted Kierkegarard, saying, “Faith sees best in the dark.”

“It’s so dark for so many people,” he went on, “and you remind us, we all have a lot of work to do to stand up to the abuses of power and ensure everyone is treated with dignity.” Refusing to stay silent is an important step.

(via HuffPost, image: Obama White House by Pete Souza on Flickr)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.