Vice President Harris warns of threat of fascism under Trump
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during an event at Discovery World Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Milwaukee. | Morry Gash/AP

PHILADELPHIA—In some of her sharpest words ever on the campaign trail, Vice President Kamala Harris warned the Service Employees—and, by extension, the country—of the fascist impact of a White House takeover by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Harris ended her 20-minute address on May 21 with that warning to the 3,500 union delegates meeting at their convention in Philadelphia. Her speech was repeatedly interrupted by chants of “Four more years!” And she urged the union to “get out in the streets to defend the country.”

Historically, vice presidential nominees, including incumbents, have been used as what much of the media described as “attack dogs” in both presidential and off-year campaigns. Two Republican examples: VP Spiro Agnew blasted the media as “nattering nabobs of negativism” in 1970 and Republican VP nominee Bob Dole, a badly wounded World War II veteran, called it and other conflicts “Democrat wars” in 1976.

Given Trump’s track record, and his “I’ll be a dictator on day one” statement, Harris went further with strong words that reflected the actual threats the country faces.

But before discussing the impact of a Trump triumph, Harris ran through a long list of accomplishments for workers by President Joe Biden. They included better pay for home healthcare workers, a $15 hourly minimum wage for federal contractor employees, mandatory nurse-patient ratios at nursing homes that get Medicaid money, and more job safety enforcement. Those issues were of particular importance to workers represented by SEIU. The White House posted the entire speech on YouTube.

One issue Harris was silent on, though, was the Biden administration’s unstinting support of the massive Israeli war on Gaza. The Israeli military, directed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an open Trump ally, has killed an estimated 35,000 people, produced widespread famine, wrecked the entire Gazan infrastructure, and turned 80% of the two million Gazans into refugees.

A small group of 50 SEIU delegates inside the convention hall tried to set up chants of “Free Palestine!”  Harris disregarded them and kept speaking.

Similar protests dog Biden on the campaign trail. And a group of about two dozen people, outside the other end of Philadelphia’s massive convention hall complex, raised similar protests, plus calls for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel.

Calling themselves Health Care Workers For Palestine, that group accused Israel of genocide and Biden and Harris of complicity by using U.S. tax dollars to aid Israeli purchase of U.S.-made planes, bombs, and bullets it uses to attack the Gazans.

“We say no more tax dollars going to the Zionist state,” said one speaker, who identified herself as the membership chair of the Philadelphia branch of the APALA, an AFL-CIO constituency group. The Philadelphia group got some sympathetic honks from passing motorists.

Inside the hall, Harris did not directly cite Trump’s incitement and direction of the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion, insurrection, and coup d’etat attempt at the U.S. Capitol, but used tough words—including a reference to Trump’s use the day before of the Nazi-associated word “Reich” to describe a future administration he would lead. The word was used by Hitler in his description of Nazi rule as the “Thousand Year Reich.” Harris said Trump’s use of the word underlines the threat to democracy that his administration would pose.

Why Biden runs

In doing so, Harris returned to the reason Biden entered the presidential race in early 2020, and that he has repeated since. Indeed, when Biden launched this year’s presidential bid, also in Philadelphia, he again cast it as a defense of democracy.

So did Harris. “We are here today because we are clear-eyed about the stakes of this moment,” she declared. “Across our nation, we see full-on attacks on hard-won, hard-fought freedoms and rights.”

The rights under attack the vice president listed were “The freedom to vote, the freedom to organize, the freedom to be safe from the horror of gun violence, the freedom from hate and bigotry, the freedom to love whom you love openly and with pride, and the freedom of a woman to make decisions about her own body and not have our government tell her what to do.”

The freedom to vote refers to both Trump and other Republicans halting the restoration and strengthening of the Voting Rights Act, which Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court justices gutted 11 years ago. But it also refers to Trump’s seven separate plans, all of them illegal and all of them documented, to reject and negate rightful vote counting in the 2020 presidential election.

And the freedoms from hate and bigotry and to openly love whom you want refer to Trump’s leadership of white nationalists and his accompanying longtime hatred of LGBTQ people.

Trump legitimized such hate, starting with his statement that neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville, Va., seven years ago, while killing peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer, “were very fine people.” Harris cited that, too.

And, of course, the three Trump-named U.S. Supreme Court justices, added to holdover GOP-named right-wingers Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, outlawed the constitutional freedom of abortion two years ago. It was enshrined in 1973, and opposed by white nationalists and misogynists since then.

Harris wasn’t done with her denunciation. “In this moment, extremists are trying to divide our nation,” she asserted, thus tying Trump and his Trumpite legions—including the 2021 attackers–to other, unnamed bigots and haters, and by extension, Republican politicians who are Trump-followers.

“We see them as they encourage xenophobia and hate,” said Harris. “Just yesterday, the former president, who praises dictators,” and the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, “took to social media and highlighted language from Nazi Germany.”

Trump has disavowed the “Reich” posting on his Truth Social site to describe his plans should he triumph this fall, and took it down after three hours. But Trump also previously admitted only he and one top aide are responsible for all postings there. “That kind of rhetoric coming from the former president is as unsurprising as it is appalling,” said Harris.

“Once again, it shows our freedoms and our very democracy are at stake.

“Let us continue to stand against those who dare attack our freedoms, and let us make real the promise of America,” she declared near the end of her address.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.