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The Guardian view on the 2020 US elections: It’s time to dump Trump. America’s only hope is Joe Biden

Editorial
·6-min read

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Donald Trump’s presidency has been a horror show that is ending with a pandemic that is out of control, an economic recession and deepening political polarisation. Mr Trump is the author of this disastrous denouement. He is also the political leader least equipped to deal with it. Democracy in the United States has been damaged by Mr Trump’s first term. It may not survive four more years.

If the Guardian had a vote, it would be cast to elect Joe Biden as president next Tuesday. Mr Biden has what it takes to lead the United States. Mr Trump does not. Mr Biden cares about his nation’s history, its people, its constitutional principles and its place in the world. Mr Trump does not. Mr Biden wants to unite a divided country. Mr Trump stokes an anger that is wearing it down.

The Republican presidential nominee is not, and has never been, a fit and proper person for the presidency. He has been credibly accused of rape. He displays a brazen disregard for legal norms. In office, he has propagated lies and ignorance. It is astonishing that his financial interests appear to sway his outlook on the national interest. His government is cruel and mean. It effectively sanctioned the kidnapping and orphaning of migrant children by detaining them and deporting their parents. He has vilified whistleblowers and venerated war criminals.

Mr Trump trades in racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. Telling the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has endorsed violence, to “stand back and stand by” was, in the words of Mr Biden, “a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn”. From the Muslim ban to building a wall on the Mexican border, the president is grounding his base in white supremacy. With an agenda of corporate deregulation and tax giveaways for the rich, Mr Trump is filling the swamp, not draining it.

A narcissist, Mr Trump is incapable of acknowledging the suffering of others. Coronavirus has exposed a devastating lack of presidential empathy for those who have died and the families they left behind. Every day reveals the growing gap between the level of competence required to be president and Mr Trump’s ability. He is protected from the truth by cronies whose mob-like fealty to their boss has seen seven former aides sentenced to prison. A post-shame politician, Mr Trump outrageously commuted the sentence of one of his favoured lackeys this summer. The idea that there is one rule for wealthy elites and another for the ordinary voter damages trust in the American system. Mr Trump couldn’t care less.

The people’s enemy

Like other aspiring autocrats, Mr Trump seeks to delegitimise his opposition as “enemies of the people” to mobilise his base. In 2016, the institutions that should have acted as a check on Mr Trump’s rise to power failed to stop him. This time there has been some pushback over a Trump disinformation campaign about Mr Biden’s son. It is an indictment of the Trump age that social media companies acted before politicians in the face of a clear and present danger to democracy.

Mr Biden has his flaws, but he understands what they are and how to temper them. Seen as too centrist in the Democratic primaries, his election platform has borrowed ideas from the progressive wing of his party and incorporated a “green new deal” and free college for the middle class. Mr Biden should not retreat into his comfort zone. The failures of capitalism have been thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic. If elected, he will raise taxes on richer Americans and spend more on public services. This is the right and fair thing to do when a thin sliver of America has almost half the country’s wealth.

It’s not just Americans for whom Mr Biden is a better bet. The world could breathe easier with Mr Trump gone. The threat from Pyongyang and Tehran has grown thanks to President Trump. A new face in the White House would restore America’s historic alliances and present a tougher test to the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing than the fawning Mr Trump. On climate change, Mr Biden would return the United States to the Paris agreement and give the world a fighting chance to keep global temperatures in check. With a President Biden there would be a glimmer of hope that the US would return as a guarantor of a rules-based international order.

Perhaps no country has so much to lose from Mr Biden’s victory as Britain. It has the misfortune of being led by Boris Johnson, whom Democrats bracket with Mr Trump as another rule-breaking populist. Mr Biden, a Catholic proud of his Irish roots, has already warned the Johnson government that it must not jeopardise the Good Friday agreement in its Brexit negotiations. Having left the EU, the UK can no longer be America’s bridge across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, Britain has a prime minister who led the country out of Europe just when an incoming President Biden would be looking to partner with it.

Faustian pact

Whether Mr Trump is defeated or not next week, Americans will have to learn to live with Trumpism for years to come. The first impeached president to run for re-election, Mr Trump avoided being the first to be removed from office because the Republican party has lost its moral compass. The party of Abraham Lincoln has become subsumed by the politics of grievance and entitlement. The GOP turns a blind eye to Mr Trump’s transgressions in return for preserving the privileged status of white Christian America.

The most obvious sign of this Faustian pact is the Senate’s confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the US supreme court — Mr Trump’s third justice. Conservatives now have a 6-3 advantage in the highest court in the land. Compliant judges are key to retaining the status quo when Republicans face a shrinking electoral base. The Republican strategy is twofold: first is voter suppression; if that fails, Mr Trump appears ready to reject the result. He has spent years conditioning his supporters, especially those armed to the hilt, to mistrust elections and to see fraud where it doesn’t exist.

We have been here before. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by more than half a million ballots. The election turned on a handful of votes needed to capture the electoral vote in Florida. But the votes that counted were not found in the Sunshine State. They were cast by the five supreme court justices named by Republican presidents who gave the election to George W Bush.

In the 2018 midterms, a coalition of millions marched into polling booths to disavow the president. It is heartening that more than 60 million people have cast their ballot in early voting at a time when the president is doing much to call US democracy into question amid baseless claims of a “rigged election”. Americans are busily embracing their democratic right, and a record turnout in this election may show that voters, worried about whether democracy would endure, strove to save it. Anything other than a vote for Mr Biden is a vote to unleash a supercharged Trumpism. All pretence of civility would be dropped. The divides of race, class and sex would become even wider. Mr Trump is a symptom of America’s decline. Finding a solution to this problem begins with a vote for Mr Biden.