President Joe Biden invited me to lunch at the White House on Monday. But it was all off the record – so I can’t tell you what he said.
But I can tell you how I felt afterwards. For all the knuckleheads on Fox who say Biden can’t put two sentences together, here’s a news flash: He just brought NATO together, Europe together, and the entire Western alliance together — stretching from Canada to Finland and all the way to Japan — to bring Ukraine together to help protect its fledgling democracy from Vladimir Putin’s fascist attack.
By doing so, he has enabled Ukraine to inflict significant losses on Russia’s invading military, thanks to rapid deployment of US and NATO trainers and massive transfers of precision weapons. And not a single American soldier was lost.
It’s been the best alliance management and consolidation feat since another president I admired and admired—and said to be incapable of putting two sentences together: George HW Bush. Bush helped control the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, without firing a shot or losing a single American life.
Unfortunately I left our lunch with a full stomach but a heavy heart.
Biden didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t have to. I could hear it between the lines: he fears that even though he has reunited the West, he may not be able to reunite America.
I’m afraid we’re going to break something very valuable soon. And once we break it, it’s gone – and we may never be able to get it back.
I am talking about our ability to transfer power peacefully and legitimately, an ability that we have demonstrated since our inception.
We are now staring into that abyss. Because it’s one thing to elect Donald Trump and pro-Trump candidates who want to limit immigration, ban abortions, cut corporate taxes, pump more oil, curb sex education in schools and free citizens from mask mandates in a pandemic . That’s policy where there can be legitimate disagreement, that’s the stuff of politics.
But the recent primaries and investigations surrounding the January 6 Uprising in the Capitol reveal a Trump move that is being propelled by a giant lie — that Biden did not freely and fairly win the majority of the electoral college votes and therefore an illegitimate president.
So their top priority is to install candidates whose primary allegiance is to Trump and his big lie — not to the Constitution. And they more than hint that at any election in 2024 they would be willing to deviate from established constitutional rules and norms and award that election to Trump or other Republican candidates who didn’t actually get the most votes. They don’t whisper this platform. They walk on it for the office.
Don’t tell me it can’t happen here.
Not when people like Sen. Pennsylvania State Doug Mastriano — an election denier who marched with the Jan. 6 crowd to the Capitol — just won the GOP primaries to run for governor. Do not doubt it: these people will never do what Al Gore did in 2000: submit to a court decision in very close elections and recognize his opponent as the legitimate president.
To defeat Trumpism, we only need 10% of Republicans to leave their party and join a center-left Biden, which he was elected for and is still at heart. But we may not even be able to get 1% of Republicans to shift if far-left Democrats are seen as defining the party’s future.
And so I left my lunch at the President’s with a full stomach but a heavy heart.
Thomas Friedman is a New York Times columnist.