Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Joe Biden’s presidential announcement video on Thursday clocked in at just over three minutes and did something urgently needed in the 2020 race: put President Donald Trump’s history of hate front and center. By doing so, Biden acknowledged the pain – the real pain – that so many marginalized communities have felt since Trump launched his campaign in June 2015 and demonized us.
Biden began his video with two powerful words that set the tone for what followed: “Charlottesville, Virginia.” He then explained that Charlottesville is the home to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the iconic words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” The former vice president added bluntly that neither our nation nor Jefferson, who was a slave owner, “always lived up to these ideals.”
Then Biden turned to the event that has become synonymous with Charlottesville when he explained, “It was there on August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging and bearing the fangs of racism – chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s.” Biden noted how these despicable racists were “met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued and a brave young woman lost her life.”
It was here that Biden reminded us of Trump’s appalling response to this act of violence when he stated there were “some very fine people on both sides.” He paused and then repeated, “Very fine people on both sides.” Biden hammered Trump for that response: “With those words, the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
But Biden didn’t change the subject after that. Instead, he continued to explain that Trump is a threat to our nation. He warned us that in this election, “everything that has made America, America, is at stake,” as he declared that if Trump is re-elected, he “will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.”
Some may see Biden’s words as over the top. They are not. In the age of Trump, there’s no time for moral ambiguity or timidity. Trump and his dangerous rhetoric must be called out each and every single time – or it risks becoming normalized.
The former vice president ended his video by returning to where he began – with the words, “We can’t forget what happened in Charlottesville. Even more important, we have to remember who we are.”
I can tell you that many in the progressive base, especially those in the communities that Trump has demonized, want to see more of this from the 2020 Democratic field. I saw an example of this three weeks ago when I watched many of the leading 2020 Democratic candidates speak at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference in New York. The candidates laid out their policy prescriptions to a varying degree of applause. But one of the biggest rounds of applause came when Sen. Bernie Sanders told the primarily African-American audience bluntly: “Donald Trump is a racist.”
It’s not that members of the audience didn’t know that. They have seen Trump attack prominent African-Americans – calling them “the dumbest” and having a “very low IQ,” his reference to Africa as being comprised of “shithole countries” and, of course, his horrifying reaction to Charlottesville. But what Sanders did was make it clear that he understands the pain that the black community has been subject to under Trump.
Now, other 2020 Democrats have also slammed Trump as a racist, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. But what sets Biden apart is that he made the focus of his announcement video Trump’s response to a racist rally where, Biden says, he equated “those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
My hope is that Biden pushes the other Democrats in the 2020 field to make Trump’s history of hate a more central part of their campaign.
Of course, the Democrats must continue to talk about the policies that affect people’s lives. Their campaigns cannot be just about Trump and his offensive and bigoted rhetoric.
But I can assure the 2020 candidates that Trump’s demonization of communities from blacks to Latinos to the disabled to transgender Americans to my own – Muslim Americans – must not be ignored. We deeply feel the impact of Trump’s attacks. And we want to know that the 2020 Democratic candidates understand that and are willing to respond accordingly.