Joe Biden and John Kasich discussed freedom of the press and respect in a political forum at the University of Delaware

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich addressed the climate of America in a Newark forum Tuesday.

The discussion, held at the University of Delaware (Biden’s alma mater), was presented in partnership with the newly established Biden Institute, part of the National Agenda Speaker Series. NASS is an annual series established in 2010 by UD’s Center for Political Communication. The Center director Lindsay Hoffman moderated the forum.

“This is a time of real crisis in America and the world,” said the 47th vice president, who served under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. “We’re in the midst of this digital revolution, this war as law continues to escalate in ways that a lot of ordinary people see their future as being in the rear view mirror. They wonder what jobs they’re going to have.”

Biden explained he and Kasich were talking over lunch about the country’s alarming rate of suicide, divorce, opioid abuse and how “life expectancy is diminishing for white males between 40 and 48 years old, because there’s hopelessness,” Biden said.

Empowering demagogues 

Hopelessness, Biden added, opens the door to demigods or individuals who appeal to people’s fears in order to gain power.

“You see these demagogues talking about how it’s just about whatever the majority thinks,” Biden said. “Every time there’s a problem, why doesn’t the guy in coal country have a job in Ohio? Oh, an immigrant?

“What the hell does an immigrant have to do with the coal problem in south-eastern Ohio?” or “Why [don’t] people have a job here in Delaware? ‘Well, you’re catering to blacks. You’re giving special preference.’ It goes on and on. They need a target to pick. But we have to start to reinvigorate and remind people what is the unique element of this country.”

The UD grad explained America isn’t special because the Constitution says “All men are created equal.” But rather “we set up a political system that guaranteed you can assert that,” Biden said.

'Not America's soul'

The former vice president brought up the white supremacist rally in August in Charlottesivlle, Va., where an anti-racism supporter was killed and several were injured after a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counter protesters.

“I think what you saw in Charlottesville was seeing these people come up from under rocks and out of fields carrying torches, Nazi flags and the same rhetoric that occurred at Kristallnacht in Germany in the ‘30s,” he said.

“The idea you’re seeing that again is beyond comprehension; and the failure for America’s voice, the President of the United States to condemn it” has “embolden people to think they can do this type of thing. You see it in every walk of life. You see it in every circumstance where bad things happen.”

Biden said the racism of Charlottesville doesn’t represent the majority of Americans and “it’s not America’s soul.”

Kasich chimed in saying the country is getting away from an important commandment.

“I think if you love your neighbor as you want your neighbor to love you and if you practice humility, you kind of have an obligation to live your life a little differently,” he said. “Embrace people. Tell them you care about them. Give them a hug. You’ll feel 10 times better. That’s the strength of our country, [it’s] you.”

'Abuse of power'

Kasich also pointed at politicians in Washington, D.C. and said they need to focus more on serving the people more than themselves.

Biden tasked UD’s journalism students with holding people in power accountable.

“You’ve seen that the right[-wing] attacked for a year and a half on the courts, the illegitimate courts, [that’s] coming from some quarters in our government now,” he said. “The second thing we’ve seen is this direct attack on the free press.

“What are the two things that protect and prevent the abuse of power? The courts and the press. So you [students] have to get engaged and remember why we are who we are: because we’ve built institutional structures to guarantee that all men and women are treated equally."