In our March primary endorsement of Joe Biden, we cited his moderation as a value Americans could embrace. In a field of diverse, left-leaning candidates promising free public college, student loan forgiveness, “Medicare for All,” universal child care, free rural broadband access — at times the Democratic primary resembled an Oprah Winfrey show giveaway — Democrats across the country settled on Biden.
Why? Because he is viewed as a commonsense man of decency who could beat President Donald Trump. Those are, essentially, his top selling points. And they are enough for us, too, to offer a Biden endorsement.
Biden is an experienced legislator and a unifying figure at a critical moment for this country as we navigate a deadly pandemic, a teetering economy and a burst of racial tensions and civil unrest we haven’t seen in a generation. Biden’s leadership style and temperament represent an essential contrast to the current president’s exhausting slash-and-burn theatrics.
We say that while reminding our readers: This editorial board has not spent the past four years stricken by every Trump tweet or off-the-cuff remark. On issues of the day, we have opined on the specifics of his record while refraining from overwrought, knee-jerk criticism, recognizing the disenfranchisement felt among the 63 million Americans who elected him. We understand that millions of voters were drawn to him precisely because he is unconventional and pugilistic, and that is not necessarily a drawback. An example: Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem did not start a war; it preceded diplomatic progress in the Middle East.
We have supported Trump’s approach on the economy that, pre-COVID-19, ushered in the lowest unemployment rate in decades, and we have applauded his advancement of regulatory rollbacks that were overly burdensome.
But at the end of the day, Trump flopped in key areas of basic decency and discipline that did real harm to the country. We called him out on that too.
He behaves as a bully who cannot control his impulses, offering biting, defensive and childish responses to those who question his tactics. In moments when the country needed inspirational words from a president to unify, Trump could not deliver. Ever the partisan, rarely the statesman, Trump used his bully pulpit for self-aggrandizement, and in so doing often stirred the worst impulses in others too.
No, we do not solely blame President Trump for “divisiveness,” as many do. We blame him for not calming divisiveness, for not shutting down his radical base in the same way we have said liberals and progressives should condemn the radical, destructive factions within their own ranks.
To supporters of Trump: You deserve a president committed to “draining the swamp” of corruption, to rolling back harmful trade policies, to calling out partisan media and to talking frankly with the American middle class, and you deserve a president who does not lean on ugly impulses that make progress toward worthy policy goals harder. Trump’s accomplishments have been overwhelmed by his failings. He would not be any different in a second term.
By endorsing Joe Biden, we are emphasizing that there is value in electing a president of the United States who does not engage with others with petulance. There is value in electing a president who does not insult, mock or demean. Our country can and must do better.
©2020 Chicago Tribune