By Kate Scanlon
WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden delivered a sharp rebuke of white supremacy during a commencement address to a historically Black university this month, a signal he will make confronting that issue a key theme in his reelection campaign.
Biden, a Democrat who is the nation’s second Catholic president, told the 2023 graduating class of Howard University in a May 13 commencement address at Capital One Arena in Washington that white supremacy is “poison” and is “the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Biden told graduates that he had hoped the election and reelection of former President Barack Obama, his previous running mate, signaled that “the fear of violence and hate was significantly losing ground.” First elected president in 2008, Obama is the first African American to hold the office.
But Biden said the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — resulting in a clash that left one counter-protester dead — influenced his decision to run for president.
“In 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, crazed neo-Nazis with angry faces came out of the fields with — literally with torches, carrying Nazi banners from the woods and the fields chanting the same antisemitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s,” Biden said. “Something that I never thought I would ever see in America.”
“Accompanied by Klansmen and white supremacists, emerging from dark rooms and remote fields and the anonymity of the Internet, confronting decent Americans of all backgrounds standing in their way, into the bright light of day,” he continued. “And a young woman objecting to their presence was killed.”
Without naming his immediate predecessor, former President Donald Trump, Biden took aim at comments Trump made following the fatal rally, saying, “And what did you hear? That famous quote. When asked about what happened, that famous quote. ‘There are very fine people on both sides.'”
“That’s when I knew — and I’m not joking — that’s when I knew I had to stay engaged and get back into public life,” Biden said.
He added that “fearless progress towards justice often meets ferocious pushback from the oldest and most sinister of forces. That’s because hate never goes away.”
Biden’s comments signal what could be a key theme of his 2024 campaign should he face a rematch election with Trump, who has launched a campaign seeking to return to the White House after Biden defeated him in 2020.
Biden told graduates “the soul of America is what makes us unique among all nations.”
“We’re the only country founded on an idea — not geography, not religion, not ethnicity, but an idea,” Biden said.
The president argued that “sacred proposition” is “rooted in Scripture and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that we’re all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.”
“While we’ve never fully lived up to that promise, we never before fully walked away from it,” he said. “We know that American history has not always been a fairytale. From the start, it’s been a constant push and pull for more than 240 years between the best of us, the American ideal that we’re all created equal — and the worst of us, the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. It’s a battle that’s never really over.”
In a 2018 document titled, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a pastoral letter against racism, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote that racism is a “particularly destructive and persistent form of evil.”
“Despite many promising strides made in our country, racism still infects our nation,” the letter said.
The bishops wrote that “racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart.”
“This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts,” the bishops taught.