Cathartic. That's what it was.

Page through the whole dictionary looking for a better word to describe President Biden's speech on the first anniversary of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and you will not find one. The address, delivered from Statuary Hall, which was so memorably besieged one year ago, was an act of catharsis — a purging of emotional toxins built up from too much time hearing too many lies too brazenly told by those who seek to deny or minimize what happened.

The insurrectionists were patriots, they say. The violence was peaceful, they say. The things we saw we didn't see, they say. And down is left and up is sideways and monkeys drive rainbow-powered cars and flowers sing reggae and yada, yada, yada, Republicans and their media henchmen shoveling diversionary bushwa by the metric ton.

Biden wasn't having it. In Thursday's speech, he cut through it all like a blowtorch through butter, calling out "the former president" — he never used the Florida retiree's name — for weaving "a web of lies."

"He's done so," said Biden, "because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country's interest . . . and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can't accept he lost."

Some of us needed that. One suspects the president did, too.

It's not that Biden said anything we had not heard before. But we've heard it from pundits. The relief felt on Thursday lay in the fact that the president was the one saying it, that he brought to bear the authority and prestige of his office to speak the truth bluntly and without equivocation.

"You can't love your country only when you win," he scolded. And there was an urge, as when the preacher gets going good in a Black Baptist church, to tap your foot and say, "Amen."

Yet, invigorating as it was to hear the president take a rhetorical claw hammer to the ex-president and his enablers, the speech was also sobering. "We are," Biden said, "in a battle for the soul of America," facing an "inflection point" in our national life and called upon to answer a question: "What kind of nation are we going to be?"

That this even bears asking reflects the fact that American democracy is in mortal peril. And when you consider how quickly — we're talking about five years — that assessment has risen from fringe fear to mainstream consensus, you get a chilling sense of the speed at which events are moving.

"What kind of nation are we going to be?"

For generations, the answer was a given. We were a nation of laws. A nation of democratic principles. A nation that knew its greatness sprang from its goodness. And most of all, a nation that aspired. Meaning that, even when — as frequently happened — America failed its lofty ideals, it at least had ideals to fail.

If that was the answer not so long ago, things have since changed. Now a headline in The New Yorker asks, "Is A Civil War Ahead?" and what's remarkable is that it's not remarkable at all, that it accurately reflects the zeitgeist.

What kind of nation are we going to be?

For most of us, the answer would be the same as that given by generations before us. But the point of this anniversary and of Biden's speech, is that last year, Republicans gave another answer, and it was starkly at odds with our aspirational ideals. They showed us what kind of nation they want us to be.

Heaven help us if they get the final word.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

(12) comments

phydeaux994

When the Republiban Party prevails in 2022, and it will, and when Donald John Trump or some “s__mb_g” like him is elected in 2024, which is likely, America will become a “s___hole” Country governed by “s___heads”. This is what a “minority of people” living in America want and what their beloved Electoral College gave them. There is no stopping it. Just my opinion.

bhall74

Fido, you are exactly the kind of "useful idiot" who is the target of the Democrats latest campaign of fear mongering. Not only do you eat it up with a spoon, but you regurgitate it for other "useful idiots" to eat and then regurgitate. Kudos to the Democrats propaganda team.

phydeaux994

Someone who is a Trumper calling anyone else a “useful idiot” is the height of denial and ignorance. Anyone like you that believes anything the Republibans say is an unEducated or deplorable gullible loser.🦧🐑🐑🐑🐑🐑🐑🐑I am and always will be a moderate pre-1994 Real Republican. Trump’s greatest desire is to be like his Idol Vladimir Putin. And he and Kim Jong Un “fell in ❤️LOVE❤️“, remember that Mr. Hall? And Trump bragged that he and Xi were good friends. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Satan was another of his favorites, killing and chopping up his critics, something Trump would like to do to anybody who wasn’t “LOYAL” to him. So maybe you should rethink who the “useful idiot” might be. Hint, look in here.🪞Peace.✌️😷

bhall74

Fido, I find it hard to believe that at any time in your life you were a moderate Republican, much less now. Your anti-Republican screeds and insults are a testament to your true nature. You suggest that I should rethink who the "useful idiot" might be. I have, and there is absolutely no doubt that YOU are the "useful Idiot", spelled with a capital "I". 10. You should carry a plant around with you to replace the oxygen you waste.

phydeaux994

Temper, temper Mr. Hall. So you don’t agree with me that the Republibans will take the House and Senate in 2022 and 2024 and most likely the Presidency in 2024 and turn America into a White Supremacist Country? Unfortunately, I believe that in the privacy of the voting booth their are a lot of closet Racists that will carry on the real American Ideal that has been it’s history since Columbus stepped onto Plymouth Rock. Half the States in America prove that every day.

shiftless88

That the ex-President broke precedent by refusing to attend the swearing in of his predecessor tells me everything I need to know about his character.

bhall74

shifty, and what did it say about the 60 Democrat members of Congress who refused to attend his inauguration because he was not a "legitimate" President. Something to do with Clinton's Russian Collusion Hoax as I recall.

bhall74

Mr. Pitts, it's almost as if you were channeling Nancy Pelosi in your column, or did she write this column for you? It's obvious that you have taken up the latest Democrat talking point that Republicans, and more importantly Trump supporters, are a grave danger to our country, all in an effort to fear monger Democrat supporters and independents into voting for Democrats in 2022. Your column is just another in a long line of Democrat talking points that all have one thing in common, they ask the voters to believe the Democrats instead of their lying eyes. Based on the current polls, that lie is not going to work in 2022.

gabrielshorn2013

So, which point are you refuting, and why?

Hayduke2

bhall, What parts of Biden's speech were incorrect?

Hayduke2

bhall says "they ask the voters to believe the Democrats instead of their lying eyes.

" So you're saying if they don't believe the Democrats they are being mislead by their own "lying eyes?"

public-redux

Why do you hate the rule of law so much?

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