“Democracy itself is in peril – here at home and around the world,” U.S. President Joe Biden warned Monday in remarks to commemorate the Memorial Day holiday.
Biden made the comment after he, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and the nation’s top military officials, took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
“What we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure,” the president said, in a veiled reference to the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by those seeking to overturn the results of last November’s election in which Biden, a Democrat defeated incumbent Republican President Donald Trump.
Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a House-approved bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the rioting.
Biden, as he has done numerous times, spoke of a struggle for the “soul of America” that “is animated by the perennial battle between our worst instincts — which we've seen of late — and our better angels.”
As the country observed the annual holiday honoring its war dead, Biden, at the cemetery located just south of Washington, also referenced “the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently.”
Hours prior to the president’s speech, Democrats walked out of the Texas House chamber to prevent Republicans from passing a bill that would create new limitations to voting in the second most-populous U.S. state.
“The right to vote, the right to rise in the world as far as your talent can take you, unlimited by unfair barriers of privilege and power — such are the principles of democracy,” the president said.
In his 22-minute speech honoring the fallen, Biden also called for the media to pursue “the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, preceded Biden in remarks at the cemetery’s memorial amphitheater.
The previous day, in his home state of Delaware, Biden addressed a crowd of veterans and families of fallen service members.
“We must remember the price that was paid for our liberties. We must remember the debt we owe those who have paid it, and the families left behind. My heart is torn in half by the grief,” he said.
Biden’s Sunday remarks came on the sixth anniversary of the death of his son Beau, who served as a major in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a tour of duty with U.S. forces in Iraq, before dying of cancer in 2015.
“I know how much the loss hurts,” Biden said. “I know the black hole it leaves in the middle of your chest. It feels like you may get sucked into it and not come out.”
The United States has commemorated Memorial Day to honor its war dead at the end of May since 1868 after the Civil War. The national holiday is now held each year on the last Monday in May.
To coincide with the holiday, flags are placed by the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery and at many of the other national cemeteries across the country, where many who served in the U.S. military are buried.
The holiday also marks the unofficial start of summer and what traditionally has been a busy travel season in the United States.
While travel suffered last year because of coronavirus restrictions, this year, Americans are looking to get back to their pre-pandemic routines.
More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports on Thursday and Friday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
The American Automobile Association said it expected a 60% jump in travel this Memorial Day from last year, with 37 million Americans planning to travel at least about 80 kilometers from home, mostly by car. The travel boom comes despite higher prices for gasoline.
The price index for typical Memorial Day activities rose this year about 4.3%, faster than the overall consumer price index, according to the Reuters news agency. It listed higher prices over pre-pandemic rates for cookout fare such as hamburgers and hotdogs, as well as higher prices for dinner and drinks out, amusement parks, concerts and car rentals. Prices are below pre-pandemic levels for airfare and hotels.
Prices for many goods have been rising because of surging consumer demand, as well as supply issues for both materials and labor.