The Star-Ledger Endorsement: Joe Biden for President

Posted Oct 12, 2020

By now it is clear that the country is desperate for a leader with a unifying vision, one who can get Americans to recognize their commonality — fairly, reasonably — and bring them within shouting distance of each other, only without the shouting.

Joe Biden must be that man, if only because the sitting president is appallingly ill-suited for the task.

As the country careens toward chaos, Donald Trump has flaunted either alarming indifference or sneering contempt for matters that would normally consume an American president, such as social injustice, the rule of law, the degraded environment, foreign intrusions, decaying institutions, yawning income inequality, a desperate working class, the victims of Hurricane Maria, farcical corruption, and a public health catastrophe that has taken more American lives than those lost in combat during the Civil War.

Along the way, he has purposely divided Americans in an attempt to convince enough of them that these problems are political contrivances, designed to undermine his presidency. He has sought to divide them by race, by class, by religion, by zip code, and by politics.

His acuity is manic, often amoral, and sometimes it dictates policy. He vilifies immigrants, slanders Muslims, empowers white supremacists, demonizes peaceful protesters, glorifies traitors, endorses credibly-accused child molesters, belittles experts, denigrates heroes, encourages violence, stokes culture wars, and punishes blue states, even implying that their deaths don’t matter as much to him.

In each instance, he violates a bedrock principle of American democracy by transforming his office from a sacred public trust to a burlesque of partisan spoils.

That is disqualifying for anyone who pledges to be president for all the people.

And it is a critical reason why Biden must be elected on Nov. 3.

At this moment, the former vice-president is an ideal fit. After four years of being traumatized by a president who shows a fondness for conflict and cruelty, the country is looking for a man with Biden’s compassion and integrity, someone dedicated to improving the lives of Americans who have fallen behind. He is, as a Washington Post columnist once described him, “startlingly human.”

He holds the rarest of commodities in politics — character, decency, and principle — but with five decades in government, Biden also has a comprehensive understanding of how it can be a force for good. He does not flinch at challenges. When the nation faced another panic in 2009, he was entrusted by President Obama to negotiate a bipartisan recovery package, and Biden’s leadership saved the auto industry and perhaps the economy itself.

He knows how to build a consensus, and even though proposals such as Medicare For All, the Green New Deal, wealth taxation, and defunding the police were rejected during the primaries, they do allow Biden to propose the most progressive platform since the Great Society.

Some notable examples:

Trump has systematically sabotaged the Affordable Care Act through executive action, and is pressing a case before the Supreme Court to overturn the law altogether, without offering any replacement.

Biden’s plan is to expand on Obamacare’s success with two historic initiatives. He will introduce a public option, similar to Medicare, that would compete with private insurers, using the power of the federal government to negotiate lower prices with hospitals and other providers. He will also bypass the 14 Republican governors who rejected federal money for Medicaid expansion and provide the public option directly for the 4.9 million Americans left out.

Trump has been a climate arsonist from the moment he pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, and systemically dismantled Obama’s efforts to remove gas guzzling cars and force coal plants to clean up or shut down. He also rolled back scores of environmental regulations after appointing an oil industry darling and climate change denier to lead the EPA.

Biden will treat climate change like an existential threat and a national security priority by rejoining the climate accord, and starting the US on a path toward a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. To get there, he will increase taxes on the rich and corporations, and make the largest investment in climate research and energy innovation in US history.

Trump’s record on the opioid epidemic has been mixed, but deaths of despair are soaring, with 68,000 Americans dead from substance abuse in 2018. Biden is bringing might to this fight: He will direct the FDA and Justice Department to hold Big Pharma and their executives accountable for triggering the epidemic. He will also make Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) available to all who need it, with universal access no later than 2025.

Our national shame of racial violence and police misconduct is usually met with willful blindness and scapegoating from Trump and his profusely corrupt Attorney General, William Barr. That is always followed with a jingoistic depiction of the subsequent protests as an anarchic rejection of America itself, rather than a demonstration against the surrender of American ideals.

With his party’s progressive flank pushing hard on police reform, Biden has rejected the defunding drumbeats, and proposes incentives for community policing, which would be conditioned on departments embracing new training and diversity initiatives. Unlike Trump, he has called for a ban on chokeholds, the end of weapons of war in police arsenals, increased federal oversight, and the establishment of a national use-of-force standard.

Trump has driven the international reputation of the United States into a ditch, with a Pew global survey showing that people have less confidence in the American president than Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

Biden, a longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is uniquely equipped to repair the damage by rebuilding our fractured NATO alliances and working as a team to repel the threats posed by Russia and China.

And then there’s the pandemic.

The US represents 4% of the world’s population but has suffered 20% of the coronavirus deaths, largely because Trump responded to the crisis with lethal incompetence from the moment he ignored a warning from national security adviser Robert O’Brien. “This virus will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” he told Trump.

That was on January 28th, 2020. Now there are 213,000 Americans dead. The economy is shattered. More than 60 million unemployment claims have been filed. And Trump’s own illness was inevitable: Mitch McConnell, his chief enabler, says he hasn’t been to the White House since August 6 because — this is not a joke — he is frightened by the president’s disdain for masks and social distancing. In the past week, the White House had 34 Covid cases. That was nine more than New Zealand.

Biden’s approach to this calamity was summarized Tuesday in Gettysburg, in what will be remembered as the “Cost of Division” speech:

“Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It’s a scientific recommendation,” he said. “Social distancing isn’t a political statement. It’s a scientific recommendation. Testing, tracing, the development and all approval and distribution of a vaccine, isn’t a political statement. It is a science-based decision. We can’t undo what has been done. We can’t go back. (But) we can do better starting today. We can have a national strategy that puts politics aside and saves lives.”

If any of that has resonated with Trump — who doesn’t even pretend to unite the country anymore — there is no evidence of it. Since Covid swept across the planet, he has been preoccupied by political consequences and the construction of Potemkin villages.

This country made a tragic mistake in 2016. It’s true that more Americans voted against him, and that he was rewarded the office through the archaic and undemocratic Electoral College. But we were left with a leader whose idea of a bold initiative is to nuke hurricanes, buy Greenland, ingest bleach, and partner with Putin.

His most treacherous plan of all is to discredit fair elections with disinformation, voter suppression, and litigation.

Americans deserve better.

It is a watershed moment. This election must be a repudiation of demagoguery and lies as tools of governance. It must reflect the overwhelming national demand for affordable health care, a healthier planet, racial justice, and gun control. It must validate the honor of professional civil service. It must be an affirmation that the US presidency is largely about character. And the end of Trump must also be the end of the veneration of celebrity.

The choice is between a TV reality show host with autocratic impulses and a statesman who brings 47 years of public service, allegiance to American values, and a track record in moments of crisis. The future of our democracy is in the hands of the electorate. This is not the one to sit out.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-13 03:22:58 -0700