This election is about civility. It’s about character. It’s about making sure Joe Biden returns to the White House as president. We don’t pretend that our endorsement will change the minds of staunch supporters of President Donald Trump. But it’s an opportunity to remind you of the principles we believe in, and to encourage Biden supporters to vote “like our lives depend on it” — because they do.
Vote by mail, or vote early when the two-week period leading up to Election Day opens up, or vote in person Nov. 3. Just vote.
Joe Biden is a decent man with enormous experience. He knows how government works, and he understands party politics. He’s also the best candidate to heal the country. We wish he were 10 years younger, but even Kamala Harris, his vice presidential choice, is a safe down-the-middle bet in these turbulent times. If we worry about anything, it’s that Biden will be too decent. This election is all about disinfecting Washington after four years of Donald Trump. Everything about this election is a Trump referendum. There were some chances to make ideological, intellectual, or romantic choices, and it’s heartening that diversity is beginning to show up in the Democratic Party tent, but happily the party settled on job No. 1 (No. 2 and No. 3) and turned to Joe Biden as the most likely to gather all of the votes needed to cut Trump off at the knees.
Joe Biden’s election needs to be understood as the bright ultraviolet light, the disinfectant Trump urged us to inject. Biden is a decent man with experience, yearning to do the right thing. We hope that he’ll use his four years to gain back administrative ground, but more important that he’ll push and lead us to reach for the shared good, the collective good that America is built on, and that we and the whole world rely on.
Trump is a monster, of the Frankenstein variety — he’s not a freak of nature; he’s manmade — that is, we the people animated him. It’s fun to talk about Trump and what made him who he is, but the worthwhile questions are why we made him, how he got so far, and who enabled him. These are hard questions, painful looks into our history and our dark political selves.
For the first, the why of his success, it’s because his unrestrained amorality and narcissism unlocks the dark American secret, that the racism and classism and misogyny we like to think we’ve conquered, no later than at Appomattox, still lives within us, not just close to the surface but actually right there even as we say it’s not. It’s why we agree that systemic racism remains, but it’s not us, that we rode the bus and we’ll pull the statue down, so — it’s bad cops. It’s why we can say that the battle for women’s rights has been won, except for the shrill thing, and the women’s body thing and the emasculating thing.
So with Trump, perhaps the greatest political grifter ever, lightning struck: His willingness to do anything at all and his gift for sensing our deepest social and political secret unleashed millions willing to tell their truth. They need women to be possessions, Jews need to be kept in their place, and Blacks and browns sent back to where they came from. You can see the pleasure washing over Trump when the dog whistles boil up his crowds. He built a movement of racists, of misogynists, of anti-Semites and authoritarian nationalists, yearning to be free. They’re not deplorable, they’re unshackled.
The answer to the question, who or what enabled him, is also painful but more apparent. It showcases the open, unguarded back door of American democracy. Trumpism took over because our institutional protections, the guardrails the columnists told us would protect us, are voluntary. Like much of a functioning democracy, informal norms mean that we don’t put children in cages, we don’t send armed troops into cities controlled by the other party, we don’t pillage the environment, we don’t abandon plague victims — all just because we can. But Trump can, because he can make political capital from inhumanity without missing a beat, and thugs-in-suits Bill Barr and Stephen Miller guard the gates for him. Trump doesn’t understand that the norms and not the loopholes are what hold a democratic society together.
As for the who, we are hostages to a Congress gripped by its own ambitions and vanities, and disconnected from we the people. We need coordinated and honest pandemic policies along with massive economic relief now, and can’t get them. Why? Basic gun control? Nope. A healthcare system as good as the one in the Netherlands? Uh-uh. Environmental protections? Infrastructure investment? Equitable tax structures? No, no, and no. These are enormous failures deriving from the egos, the self-interests of a club of career politicians whose votes coincide with ours only when we match up with their pecuniary interests.
And worst of all, the trophy for sheer cynicism and self-interest? The 2016–2020 class of Republicans, signing on for one last fling. There is nothing too obscene or too monstrous, there are no norms of governance or decency, no jokes about disabled reporters (let alone silence about a reporter actually dismembered by Saudi hacksaws) too offensive, and no failures in the face of 200,000 dead by virus that this crew of spineless, self-serving Republicans can’t live with. Maybe he won’t accept electoral defeat and Republican legislators can’t bring themselves to mouth the right words? And why? Because they can’t imagine a world of politics, even a Trump world, without them in the limelight.
Or because they actually agree with him, and he provides cover.
We need Joe Biden now more than ever. We need the guy who grew up in Scranton. We need the guy who understands the real art of the deal — compromise — to get things done, but who won’t compromise principles to do it. We need a president who will show compassion and empathy for people stricken by illness. We need a president who will show outrage over Black men and women being killed because of the color of their skin. We need a president who will mend fences with our allies, and hold dictators accountable.
Joe Biden may not have been our first choice or our second choice, but in perhaps the most consequential election of our lifetimes — he is the clear choice.