Editorial: Time to make a choice while we still can. Vote for Biden.

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves as he boards his campaign plane at New Castle Airport in New Castle, Del., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020., en route to Arizona.  ap

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., arrive to speak at a news conference at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.   AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Published: 10/9/2020 12:08:19 PM

It’s been almost four years, and at times we’ve wondered if we would make it through a full term of Donald Trump as president. From the moment he came in, with his appeals to xenophobia and isolationism — “Build the wall!” and the Muslim ban — there’s never been any doubt about what kind of president he would be. His approval ratings have never risen above 50%, nor have they sunk below 35%. Yet he won the election four years ago, and he could do it again.

It’s hard to see what would change anyone’s mind now. Trump has conspicuously mismanaged — failed to manage — the coronavirus pandemic, the clearest leadership challenge one could imagine. Not only has he failed to manage it, he has sabotaged the efforts of those who are trying to manage it on his behalf. Now he’s even caught the virus, and he still can’t tell a straight story about it.

He’s a crass, blustering, humorless mob boss who is either bloviating about himself or attacking his critics to gain the respect of the other bullies in the room-slash-Twittersphere. At the same time, he’s just as inappropriately deferential to dictatorial foreign leaders — witness his treasonous kowtowing to Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the July 2018 Helsinki Summit. Wherever he goes, he sows chaos while spouting empty self-aggrandizement and dredging up well-worn grievances. The “fake news” media are so mean to him, always making stuff up. (We know you are, we say, but what about us?) Last month’s income tax story just filled out a few details in the picture we had a long time ago. His self-interest is bottomless. He’s wholly unfit to be a leader.

His policy initiatives are mostly a reaction to hard-fought advances made in ecology and social welfare — installing corporate henchmen at key federal agencies to roll back environmental protections, packing the courts with zealous protectors of 1950s family values, denouncing and undermining the Affordable Care Act, the most important step forward in America’s patchwork health care system in 50 years.

But he’s a master at taking up all the oxygen in the room, keeping all the focus on him. Whatever calumny it takes, if he sees an opening to shift people’s attention to him, he’ll take it. Based on the first debate between him and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, his strategy seems to have shifted from winning the election to undermining confidence in America’s electoral system. If the result is not to his liking, he’ll go on blaring his wild assertions about a rigged election and the “disaster” of mail-in voting. His other line of attack focuses on his opponent’s supposed plans to turn the country socialist. He doesn’t have to specify what he means; the word itself is sufficient.

The term “malignant narcissist” has been applied to Trump. Take the way he jousts with his scientific advisers, just to keep everybody off balance. These are his government scientists, and he openly undermines them. Who’s he doing it for? He’s creating noise where none existed before, and the talk becomes about him again. Talk about a textbook definition.

Biden distinguishes himself by being nothing like that. He’s a decent old-school Democrat who not only has a heart, he wears it on his sleeve. A U.S. senator since 1973, he wanted to be president as long ago as 1987. He retired hurt from that campaign after being busted for padding his resume. He tried again in the 2008 election and ended up becoming vice president, to the nation’s first African American leader, and we never doubted he was proud to be so. His “bromance” with Barack Obama helped cement his appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate.

Now he has a chance to be president. But he’s going on 78, and the years are telling. He’s not the ideal candidate, for many on the party’s progressive wing in particular. He’s not a proponent of single-payer health care, nor is he an advocate for the Green New Deal. Still, pressed by supporters of former rivals Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have come up with a plan that aims to eliminate carbon pollution from power generation by 2035 and achieve net-zero emissions nationally by 2050. His positions on health care, climate and the environment may not please all the progressives, but they’re still diametrically opposed to Trump’s. And he has shown he’s willing to listen, to be persuaded to take a stronger stance.

For all the policy pronouncements, the election probably rests on the same old question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? If we leave out the wealthy and a few corporations, probably not. Many of those fortunate not to have been sickened by the coronavirus have seen their jobs evaporate, their sense of worth damaged, their lives pushed into limbo. Parents have had their routines upended, children have had their expectations of normality shattered. We’re all pushing on, hoping we can survive the short days and long months of a pandemic winter. It seems like most of us see it the same way: Following the precautions that scientists and other experts tell us to take is our best hope of avoiding viral infection. Who’s trying to tell you otherwise?

Imagine a president who sees a value in having people pull together, who stands behind the science — on climate, viruses, you name it — who has a concept of fealty to international organizations and treaties, who believes in people having affordable health care, who has a feeling for those left behind and suffering, who pays his taxes, who isn’t talking about himself every time he opens his mouth.

It isn’t hard to do. Step up, America. Make it happen.

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