In approaching a half-century of writing about politics, I’ve never written a candidate endorsement before. Now, in this fearsome fall of 2020, it’s beholden on us all to speak up.
This is an endorsement of Joe Biden for president.
I’ll try to keep this as short and simple as I can. The case can be made best at length – whole shelves, maybe libraries, of books make the case either for why Biden should be elected on November 3, or – especially – why the incumbent, Donald Trump, should not. But there seems little point in rehashing all of it; I’d be writing and you’d be reading (if you were that determined) for weeks.
You could argue that I made an endorsement – or, actually, anti-endorsement – four years ago. Then, I published a series of 100 posts outlining 100 leading reasons – not the only reasons, just those I thought most crucial – why electing Trump would be an enormous mistake. Nearly all of it, I think, holds up; the negatives those 100 posts pointed out then have sprouted over the last four years into much of the walking catastrophe we’ve seen since. Still, that was only an argument against, and it applied only to what might happen: Once in office, Trump should be judged primarily on the basis of what he has done there.
And we should remember a few of those reasons …
Trump has been the most dishonest public figure – not just president, not just political figure, but the most dishonest public figure of nearly any sort – in recent generations. Nothing he or the people who work for him can be relied upon, and that has been the case since day one. The outright lies alone number in the thousands.
Trump cannot be depended on to protect our country. We cannot even tell, from the weight of his actions and statements, whether his loyalty is primarily to this country. He repeatedly has taken the side of dictators and adversaries of the United States over our own people, over the troops he commands and the intelligence agencies that work for us. We know that he has held secret conversations – under unusual, even unprecedented conditions – with leaders of countries adversarial to us, and not reported back to us what was said. He and his family have had business dealings with several of them. He owes, we are told (and this appears to be undisputed) hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, we know not to whom.
Trump has done whatever he can to turn the government of this country – the government we pay for and that operates under our authority – into a service bureau for his personal benefit. He sees the Department of Justice not as an agency to deliver legal service for the country, rather as a personal legal service for him. One agency after another is seen in a similar light: The Department of State, in one atrocious example, has been perverted for use as a political dirty tricks operation. (And let it be remembered: The case for impeachment from a year ago was and remains rock solid.)
Trump has divided this country more than any president before him. The election of Abraham Lincoln may have helped trigger the Civil War, but he spent his whole presidency in a crusade for union and unity. In contrast, Trump has declared flatly his loyalty to people who “like” him and virtually declared war on everyone else. He has tried to start baseless criminal actions against his political opponents, leading supporters in chants calling for imprisoning his opponents. He has tried to undermine and damage one institution in this country after another, including the news organizations which are among the few checks on him. He has found one group after another to serve as a target to inflame his base, to the point of repeatedly encouraging white supremacists and their activities. He has lent implicit egging-on support to the id of his base to attack other Americans – which led with easy predictability to the recent conspiracy to kidnap and possibly kill a state governor; to which his response was to blame that conspiracy on the governor. The Trump Administration’s own FBI has called groups like this one of the top threats facing the country today; Trump offers them comfort and support. (The frequently extremist court appointments many of Trump’s supporters like so much also have contributed, badly, to this nation’s divisions.)
Trump has demonstrated no awareness or understanding of the principles of justice and liberty this nation always has aspired to. He does not even give lip service to such concepts as freedom and the aspirations of individuals. He has made clear that in his world view, only one individual matters – himself.
Trump has undermined our ability to govern ourselves by making repeated statements and actions aimed at undermining our elections – most notably the next one, and perhaps worst of all by refusing to say he would accept the verdict of the election results. Or maybe worst of all his (and often his party’s) efforts to jam, manipulate or suppress the vote – to deprive Americans of their right to choose their leaders. Either way, his statements and action show he is uninterested in a government of, by or for the people: He is a dictator wannabe, and will be if he can get away with it.
Trump is hopelessly incompetent. He was a vastly overrated businessman – by many accounts failing badly and needing his 2016 presidential campaign as a personal marketing gimmick – but as president he has been much worse. “I alone can fix it” was a lie from his first nominating convention; like a large wild animal in an antique shop, he has demolished or damaged nearly everything he has touched, not least the reputations of the people so unwise as to work in his administration, and the once-proud political party whose banner he carries.
Trump has turned fact and science into an irrelevancy. In a universe of “alternative facts,” we have a government of only incoherence, whether the subject is climate change, foreign policy, education or almost anything else.
Trump has damaged our standing internationally. He has mindlessly torn up useful agreements and damaged our key alliances, and given priceless assistance to almost every nation around the world that wishes us ill. He has managed to get wrong almost everything about our most complex relationships – notably China.
Trump has damaged and continues to try to further damage the well-being of our people. The most obvious example is in his thoughtless and self-centered approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, a weak and counterproductive miasma that has made him the reason tens of thousands of Americans have died. Not content with that, his administration has moved aggressively to take health insurance coverage away (formerly through legislation and now through a still-alive legal case his administration is backing) from tens of millions of Americans – a breathtaking attack on his fellow Americans at any time, but bad almost beyond belief in a time of pandemic. He has damaged the governmental agencies he is supposed to manage; his attempts to wreck the Post Office, on an apparent mission of personal spite and for his attempted political benefit, is only one recent example. Trump’s base likes to credit him for an economy faring well pre-Covid-19, but that was simply a continuation of the economic structure set in place during Barack Obama’s second term; the economy’s collapse this year (by no means over) would have been far less painful under reasonably capable administration.
Much else – many other issues or concerns that ought to be disqualifying for a president or any other office of public trust, and probably ought to be included here – may be debatable. But these points are clear, established and for all meaningful purposes irrefutable. You need no more than the public record and Trump’s own statements and actions to anchor them. There is no substantial positive case, for anyone other than a true believer, for the incumbent.
These problems are not ideological: They do not relate to a “liberal” or “conservative” point of view (whatever those may be). These problems are worse. Each and every one of these problems should constitute a clear disqualifier from the presidency.
Donald Trump is by a very long shot the worst president in the nation’s history, and whoever your choice for second place was a whole lot better.
And the subtext of all this, across the board, is that all of it would get much worse in a second term.
But enough about the incumbent. I write here to endorse Joe Biden.
The first point in doing that is to emphasize that none of what I just said about Donald Trump is or would be true of Joe Biden. Unlike the incumbent, he is not ignorant of the nation, its operating principles and aspirations, the needs of its people, or the functioning of its government. His loyalty to the nation and its people is without question. How successful he would be at healing the divisions is an unknown, but he would at least try, rather than deliberately become the human wrecking ball the incumbent is. He would almost instantly improve our standing in the world and our relationships with other nations. He would re-establish some stability and an ability to practically cope with problems (Covid-19, for one example), an ability the current leadership lacks completely.
But the case for Biden doesn’t rest just on a relative absence of negatives.
He is deeply experienced in governing, and he has a good track record. He was a loyal and from all appearances highly capable vice president, and a central advisor in the Oval Office for eight years; he knows how the place runs, and could step in competently on day one. He served respectably in the United States Senate for decades. His own state – during periods both when it was dominated by his own and by the opposing party (it has shifted over time) – approved of the job he did. He chaired two major committees, and was commonly spoken of positively by members of both parties. Republican John McCain famously was a close friend. Biden has not served in the military (and neither did Trump) but family members have, and he has had a close tie to the national defense (and he does not trash it, as the incumbent so often has).
Probably more important than all this, you can hear in Biden’s speeches and his interactions with people – not just now, in the campaign, but through the decades – his awareness and understanding of what the United States is, the principles that animate it and make it a special place. He understands those things and internalizes them.
Biden also has an understanding of the substance of the presidency, the serious problems and the changes coming, foreign and domestic. He does have a grasp of the real world, not the construct of fantasy-conspiracy illusions so sadly popular in his opposition.
Biden has shown a level demeanor, a calm temperament and an ability to cope intelligently and appropriately with setbacks and problems. He has shown that he understands the office of the president and the federal government are not about him but about the people of the country, and he has not only said explicitly but demonstrated that he can and will act in the office in the larger good, not on the narrow behalf of himself and his most intense supporters.
Oh, and while this ordinarily wouldn’t be so big a point of distinction between two presidential candidates, it is in this case: Joe Biden, from all appearances, history and description, is a decent guy who cares about other people. When that quality is so completely absent in the opposition, it does matter.
Much of this does not, in itself, make Joe Biden a super-spectacular choice for president. Many people I have known, including quite a few politicians of both parties, have had many of these qualities too. They are not on the ballot. Joe Biden is. And he has what it takes to be a good president.
Some elections I have seen over the last half-century have involved difficult choices. This is not one of them. Considering the alternative – and don’t delude yourself that anyone other than the Democrat or the Republican is a real option – this should be the easiest presidential choice of our lifetimes. Of our nation’s history, for that matter.
So here’s the endorsement: In the general election, vote for Joe Biden for president.