Opinion: Biden’s D-Day Speech Nailed the Threat of Modern Fascism

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Watching the small parade of elderly men and women—many in wheelchairs, some wearing military insignia—receive the gratitude of the President of the United States and the leaders of the Western world on the 80th anniversary of D-Day was profoundly moving. So, too, were the vistas of row upon row of white marble grave markers of those who gave their lives on June 6, 1944 and in the days and weeks and months that followed.

“You saved the world,” said Joe Biden to one of the veterans of the battle. And we know there was no hyperbole in the comment. You could hear in Biden’s emotional and inspiring remarks during the commemoration ceremonies that he appreciated and understood in a visceral way what happened on those beaches so long ago.

Infused in the remarks however, there was a sense that while the D-Day landings marked a turning point and the beginning of the end of World War II, even that great victory had not put an end to the kind of threats the world faced from the Nazis and fascists of the middle of the last century.

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You could hear it in the words of President Biden when he said, “To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable! Were we to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

Surveying the last few surviving heroes of that long-ago war, he made it clear that we had an obligation to them—and to those who had fallen beside them—to continue to fight threats against democracy, against our values, against our allies as they had once done.

He was specific about the nature of one of those threats, another war raging in Europe as the result of the aggression of a ruthless dictator. He said that to be “worthy” of the sacrifices made on D-Day and throughout the Second World War, we must now fight against tyranny once again, this time in Ukraine.

“The fact that they were heroes,” he reminded the audience of world leaders and those watching worldwide, “does not absolve us of what we have to do today.”

Biden’s remarks were pointed and powerfully delivered. He underscored that NATO, the successor to the Allies that achieved victory in the most costly war the world has ever known, was “more united than ever.”

“Make no mistake,” he intoned, “we will never bow down.”

Joe Biden greets a WWII veteran at a ceremony in Normandy.

Joe Biden greets American World War II veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery on June 6, 2024.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

But his message was not intended solely for our one World War II ally that has over the decades since become one of our principal adversaries: Russia. There were in his words messages for political adversaries at home who did not seem to understand why we fought in World War II.

Some of those were the members of the GOP MAGA alliance that for months blocked aid to Ukraine and who have made—much like those who opposed U.S. involvement in the Second World War—“America First” their rallying cry. To them, Biden said, “Isolation was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today.”

But in his remarks, he also subtly but unmistakably evoked perhaps the darkest of the specters haunting Thursday’s ceremonies, the U.S. and our modern alliance. “We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago; they never fade. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control… these are perennial. The struggle between dictatorship and freedom is unending.”

With these words, Biden addressed the bitter irony that haunted the commemoration ceremonies. While D-Day occurred eight decades ago, America is now just five months from an election that could bring to power a man and a movement who embody and celebrate the twisted authoritarian values of the enemies we sought to defeat so long ago.

Fascism has not gone away. The tactics of the Nazis to employ racism and demagoguery to divide society and enable their seizure of power and their gutting of democratic institutions currently are the playbook of Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.

Biden’s respect and profound appreciation for those who died fighting Hitler and Mussolini stood in stark contrast to the remarks of Trump, six years ago, on a similarly intended visit, when he reportedly called the fallen heroes “suckers” and “losers.”

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But the day and night differences between the two leaders, as we now know, go much further.

Trump has, according to his own chief of staff, said Adolf Hitler “did some good things.” Trump, according to his own ex-wife, kept a book of Hitler speeches by his bed. Trump has hosted one of America’s most prominent antisemites, a Holocaust denier, at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump defended white supremacists who chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Trump’s core campaign tactic in the wake of his defeat in 2020 was “the big lie.” The origin of that approach can be traced directly to Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

He even recently boosted a video containing subtle support for “a unified Reich.”

Trump has said he would be a dictator on “day one.” He has fully embraced fascism. His embrace of fascist techniques and ideas has even been cited by leading experts on fascism.

Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Emmanual Macron and Brigitte Macron stand on stage.

President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, France's President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife, Brigitte Macron, attend the ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Biden did not mention Trump by name. But he did not have to. Everyone present understood that the threat the allies sought to defeat in World War II was resurgent in domestic American politics. Indeed, they knew full well of the ties between Biden’s 2024 opponent and the tyrant Biden did cite as threatening Ukraine, Vladimir Putin.

They knew that, once again, the world faces a threat from a global right-wing ethno-nationalist alliance that has contempt for democracy and wants to dismantle the international order the U.S. and our allies erected in the wake of the last world war.

It was clear listening to Biden and the other leaders’ speeches that Donald Trump, like Vladimir Putin, is not on the side of those heroes we were celebrating.

Trump and the MAGA movement are on the wrong side. They are, in terms that World War II leaders would understand, the enemy. They are no different in many key ways from those who 80 years ago sought to obliterate our institutions and destroy our democracy.

The difference, made clearer than ever with Thursday’s ceremonies, is that stark. It is that threatening. Given the nature of the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, it is that extraordinary and chilling.

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And the implicit message for those who understand where we are today is that our generation faces a test just like those faced by our parents and grandparents in the 1930s and 1940s. How (and even whether) future memorial exercises will take place on the bluffs overlooking the beaches of Normandy will be determined by how we respond to that test.

Unlike prior generations, however, we are fortunate. Thanks to them, at least right now, at least in the United States, we do not have to lay down our lives to defeat fascism. All we have to do is take the threat seriously and do our duty as citizens by voting.

There could be no greater dishonor done to those who died on D-Day and around the world in World War II than to allow authoritarianism and fascism to triumph in November after so many had sacrificed so much so many years ago to defeat them.

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