The man that launched a thousand memes apparently hasn't lost any his fight or fervor since leaving the White House. Former Vice President Joe Biden called out Donald Trump on Wednesday for the president's battle against the media and the judiciary. In his remarks, delivered as he accepted the Patriot Award at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., Biden warned about the dangerous consequences of Trump's attacks both apparent hallmarks of Trump's communications strategy.
"When you delegitimize the courts," Biden said on Wednesday, "you delegitimize the legislative body. It's corrosive, and it makes it impossible for us to reach compromise." Trump recently criticized Judge James Robart — a George W. Bush appointee — for issuing a stay on his executive order banning travel from Muslim-majority countries. In case you somehow forgot, when a higher court upheld Robart's decision, Trump posted a truly bizarre, all-caps tweet: "SEE YOU IN COURT."
The former vice president also denounced Trump's negative rhetoric about and restrictions on the press. "To question the actual legitimacy of a free press is one of the most dangerous things out there," he said. Biden added, "The degree that we depart and denigrate our institutions and the fourth estate, I think we really, honest to god, honest to god, weaken our ability for self-government. We undermine it and become weaker and not stronger."
Biden's defense of both principles is a reminder of how recently respect for the media and the judiciary were normal in Washington. It's also a reminder of why Biden was beloved during his time in office. The former vice president has been heralded as a true straight-talker since being named the nominee in 2008. While sometimes criticized as gaffe-prone, Biden's apparent penchant for honesty, even uncomfortable honesty, was a defining quality of his time as VP.
biden: cmon you gotta print a fake birth certificate, put it in an envelope labeled "SECRET" and leave it in the oval office desk— jomny sun (@jonnysun) November 11, 2016
obama: joe pic.twitter.com/UTtv1JkE5o
He seemed to get himself into trouble with the White House, for example, when he announced during a 2012 interview that he was in favor of gay marriage before Barack Obama did. His comments seemed to force Obama to announce his support much sooner. While this Biden moment seemed like a gaffe to some was a bold moment of courage to others: Slate's Mark Joseph Stern later wrote that Biden's true legacy was as "Obama's conscience on LGBTQ rights."
That characterization persisted in other arenas as well. After the 2016 presidential election, there was an enormous outpouring of memes that captioned pictures of Biden and the president. In many, Biden begs Obama to allow him to prank Trump. Obama, the consummate professional, rejects the plan, but Biden usually does it anyway. While lighthearted and humorous, these memes are significant because the Biden "character" essentially speaks on behalf of the author. "19 Times Joe Biden Understood What TF We Were Going Through" was one BuzzFeed headline on a collection of these memes — and in all seriousness, Biden served an important role of expressing beliefs and actions without the filter of political propriety.
Even after the Biden meme craze subsided, the former vice president still seems to understand what we're going through.
The off-the-cuff honesty that made him a popular figure as vice president was still in full force on Wednesday. Biden, speaking plainly and honesty, is warning everyday Americans about the serious dangers of Trump's rhetoric. I only hope that people listen. As Biden himself indicated, America's democratic institutions are at stake.