Biden marks D-Day anniversary as he aims to shore up ties with Europe - and underscores Trump’s looming threat

When President Joe Biden appears in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, he will invoke the memory of that fight against the forces of fascism and draw contrasts with his own predecessor who rejected the alliances of Europe, and world order that emerged from the wreckage of the Second World War.

Biden is set to join more than 24 world leaders, and some of the last surviving veterans of the 1944 battle, to mark the day that British, American, and Canadian soldiers landed in France to begin the ten-month process of liberating Europe that would end with the death of Hitler and defeat of Nazi Germany.

According to the White House, Biden is set to deliver remarks at the D-Day commemoration ceremony on Thursday, as well as give a separate speech on the topic of democracy and freedom the next day in Paris.

Both speeches are billed as official events which have no ties to his ongoing re-election fight against former president Donald Trump. But even if he doesn’t mention his predecessor by name, the timing of his visit and the possibility of a change in administration after the US election make the contrasts undeniable.

That contrast will be underscored by the official theme of the D-Day commemoration, one of nations unifying against the renewed, rising threat of authoritarianism. It’s a theme that dovetails closely with the main thrust of Biden’s 2024 White House bid, which has portrayed Trump as an authoritarian threat and the US election as just one front in a larger war between democracy and autocracy.

US President Joe Biden is welcomed by France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal upon arrival at Paris Orly airport near Paris, on June 5, 2024, as he travels to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day (via REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden is welcomed by France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal upon arrival at Paris Orly airport near Paris, on June 5, 2024, as he travels to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day (via REUTERS)

Biden’s campaign has also argued that Trump, a convicted felon who has threatened to jail his political opponents in retaliation for his prosecution on nearly 100 charges across four jurisdictions, is a singular threat who could end America’s nearly 250-year existence as a democracy if given another four years in the White House.

The president’s trip to Normandy will highlight stark contrasts with a similar visit made by Trump in 2020, during which he refused to visit a cemetery where American marines were buried after falling in battle during the First World War. At the time, he described the honored dead as “suckers and losers” in remarks which have been widely reported and confirmed by his second White House chief of staff, retired US Marine general John Kelly.

Biden, the father of a combat veteran who will visit the cemetery where Trump refused to tread on Friday, has repeatedly referenced his predecessor’s disdain for America’s fallen, including during remarks at a fundraiser earlier this week when he angrily said Trump “does not deserve to be president, whether or not I’m running”.

He’s also drawn contrasts with Trump on the subject of Nato, the transatlantic defense pact baptized in blood on the Normandy shores eight decades ago. While Biden has led efforts to bring two new members — Finland and Sweden — into Nato as a result of Russia’s ongoing invasion against Ukraine, Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull America out of the alliance, which he routinely describes incorrectly as a protection racket or a country club with allied nations paying “dues” in exchange for US security guarantees.

John Kirby, the retired US Navy admiral who serves as Biden’s national security communications advisor, told reporters this week that the president “has made revitalizing our relationships a key priority, recognizing that we are stronger when we act together and that today’s challenges require global perspectives, global approaches, global responses, and multilateral effort and cooperation.”

He also noted that Biden’s visit to France comes amid tensions between the US and Europe over the response to Russia’s war on Ukraine and Israel’s continued war against Hamas in Gaza.

While Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron are expected to discuss the importance of long-term support for Ukraine by the West, the specter of Trump — and the consequences of the Republican’s possible victory in November — will loom over the talk. Trump has indicated that he would end all support for Kyiv in a second term.

The Gaza conflict will also be a possible point of contention between Biden and Macron, as he and other European leaders have criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct of the war, which according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has killed more than 36,000 people since it began, following the October 7 terror attacks.