Our country, buffeted by the COVID crisis, economic unsteadiness and ongoing political rancor, is in dire need of leadership. Steady, capable leadership that provides a sound moral compass and brings Americans together to meet our many national challenges.
President Donald Trump is failing that all-important test. In this year’s election, Joe Biden, the former vice president and U.S. senator, provides the sounder choice for moving the country forward — together.
Biden’s critics argue that he offers little to our country. But they sidestep the enormous value of his background: Biden has witnessed and participated in Washington’s national policy debates for decades, and that experience has informed him deeply about our country, its principles and the best ways to achieve national progress.
Biden has seen statesmen and stateswomen achieve great accomplishments in the Senate, and he has seen layabouts and buffoons waste their privilege of service as senators. He has witnessed how bipartisan cooperation can bring about landmark change, and how petty political warring needlessly fritters away vital opportunities for progress.
The list of issues Biden has seen debated, and helped address, in the Senate is impressively long and notable. Here is a small sampling: Renewals of the federal Voting Rights Act. The extent of presidential war powers. Strategies for strengthening U.S. military effectiveness. Details of environmental regulation. Restructuring the nation’s intelligence community. Support for disabled Americans.
Biden participated for decades in Foreign Relations Committee hearings that explained the fundamentals of American foreign policy and analyzed the key challenges facing us on the international front. He has closely studied the ebb and flow of international relations for nearly half a century.
That wealth of experiences has deepened Biden’s understanding of our country and of the world — of their complexity and challenge — and prepared him for thoughtful public service.
It’s especially encouraging, in the Trump era, that Biden understands the proper roles of the three branches of the federal government — including the boundaries that limit executive power under the Constitution, and the abiding need to respect the role of an independent judiciary as it interprets the law and restrains, if needed, executive-branch actions. Such an understanding by a president is essential to responsible American government and contrasts directly with Trump’s self-serving complaints whenever courts rule against him.
Trump’s actions last week illustrated key weaknesses of his presidency. On Tuesday, Trump reversed his administration’s virus-aid strategy by abruptly calling a halt to negotiations with Congress to provide support to families and businesses. Financial markets plummeted, recognizing the threat to the country. Trump later backtracked and said — amid issuing juvenile tweets on a range of topics — that he supported some federal action after all.
It’s no surprise that discussion of the COVID crisis dominated the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, given the nation’s more than 200,000 deaths and the frequent disconnect between the recommendations from federal public health authorities and the president’s public statements.
A particular stain on the Trump presidency is that he has failed so thoroughly at the task Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, underscored many generations ago. A president, Lincoln showed, has a duty to speak to the nation’s “better angels.”
To promote unity, not division. To champion virtue, not pettiness. To lead Americans toward reconciliation, not resentment.
Too often in his presidency, Trump has done the opposite. His weak and strange public statements on race relations have emboldened white extremists. His claims that any criticism of him is illegitimate have stoked division and helped poison our national political life.
Most troubling of all, he has devoted extraordinary energy to sowing paranoia about the nation’s election system. That irresponsible step — unthinkable by his predecessors — is pulling our country toward what could be a very dangerous moment, possibly threatening a peaceful transfer of power in Washington.
The country needs a break from such recklessness. Our politics needs a break from it.
Trump’s departure from the White House would benefit not only the country but also the Republican Party, by unshackling GOP officeholders from the slavish deference they’ve felt obligated to display to the president’s years-long series of eccentricities and embarrassments.
No one is calling Joe Biden the new Messiah or a superman. He’s simply a decent, straightforward American — and that’s a good thing, a reassuring thing. Our country has allowed the presidency to descend into a cultish adoration of the chief executive by his followers. It’s time to sever the presidency from such excess and normalize it around a practical respect for the chief executive.
A Biden administration has an opportunity to demonstrate that the presidency can be — should be — about more than the chief executive’s vanity or need for constant attention. It would show to Americans and the world that a president can provide leadership grounded in principles of fellowship, cooperation and decency.
It would show that the presidency, post-Trump, can still speak to our country’s better angels.
That’s a goal Americans of all political stripes ought to share. That’s the pre-eminent reason Biden is the better candidate in this election, and why The World-Herald endorses him for president.