Editorial: Endorsement: Why Joe Biden deserves to be president of the United States

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Since Donald Trump began his bid for the White House in 2015 with an appalling speech in which he warned of Mexican rapists and drug dealers preying on the United States, he has been a one-man assault on norms of decency and democracy. For more than five years now, our nation has been subjected to his almost daily displays of incivility, dishonesty and hostility to large categories of Americans. But it’s not just the president’s behavior that has been awful. Many of his policies on vital issues have been both mistaken and dangerous.

That he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus and are showing symptoms of COVID-19 after months of the president minimizing mask wearing and mocking mask wearers changes none of that — although the Trumps, like all infected Americans, deserve everyone’s wishes for good health.

An unprecedented series of events in American history have led us to this moment.

The question today isn’t Trump’s health. It’s his fitness for office. On the single issue that is the biggest existential threat to humanity — climate change — Trump has denied science and pulled the United States out of a global accord with the potential to seriously address the perils of greenhouse gases warming the planet.

On the issue that is the biggest immediate threat to the United States, Trump denied the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic for months, declined to wear and promote masks early on to save lives and decided against mass-producing and stockpiling personal protective equipment as Americans died by the hundreds every day. His tweet early Friday announcing that he and his wife had contracted the virus was both stunning and unsurprising. Given his recent public rallies in which he appeared without a mask, and his unmasked news conference introducing his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, and his many other unmasked meetings with aides and visitors over the last week, the potential fallout of the president being a coronavirus transmitter is immense. And it was avoidable.

On racial justice, Trump not only reacted with zero concern to a series of brutal, unjustified killings of Black people by police, he depicted subsequent protests as fueled by an anarchic loathing of America rather than as an expression of the belief that America is not living up to its ideals. And in both refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose and pledging instead to seek Supreme Court intervention to stay in power, Trump became the first president in history to explicitly embrace what can fairly be described as fascist authoritarianism.

Given this record, it’s clear that the United States would be better governed by many millions of Americans, from a competent middle-school teacher to an able engineer to a hard-working nurse-practitioner — really, almost anyone with a conscience and a humane spirit.

Longtime readers are accustomed to our criticism of the president of the United States. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board endorsed Ronald Reagan for president before the June 2016 Republican primary, writing, “Trump is the Great Excommunicator. He wants Muslims banned from the country; a wall built around our southern border; global deals ripped up and renegotiated; American made ‘great again’ through isolationism.”

And, in an endorsement that itself became an international news story, for the first time in the Union-Tribune’s then-148-year history in September 2016, we endorsed a Democratic candidate for president, recommending Hillary Clinton and warning about Trump that “Terrible leaders can knock nations off course. … We cannot take that risk.”

But Donald Trump’s despicable behavior and embarrassing record is not why The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board today offers its enthusiastic endorsement of Democrat Joe Biden for president. We do so because Biden in important ways is the right person for the moment.

Yes, of course, the former vice president and Delaware senator is not perfect. He makes gaffes and has for decades. His past behavior around women would be a bigger issue if his opponent was someone other than Trump. And his record as a tough-on-crime senator in the 1980s and 1990s has not worn well.

Yet at a time when political and societal polarization is as pronounced as it has been since the discord of the 1960s — and just maybe since the Civil War in the 1860s — Biden has an essential strength that’s been on display since he was elected to the Senate in 1972. He works with and alongside people and focuses not on petty and partisan fighting but on getting things done. No Democratic lawmaker of the past half-century has been the subject of as many kind remarks from Republican lawmakers as Biden. Arizona Sen. John McCain’s family asked Biden to speak at his funeral after he died of brain cancer in 2018 and spoke emotionally about how much support he had provided after McCain’s grim diagnosis. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Biden was “as good a man as God ever created.”

But affability and likableness are not why Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate in 2008 over more than a dozen other prominent Democrats initially vetted by his staff. Instead, the then-Illinois senator valued Biden’s foreign-policy experience and his deep relationships with lawmakers from both parties. Obama and Biden went on to have an unusually close relationship generally free of the divisions that emerged between President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore and between President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. It was striking that someone as confident in his own abilities as Obama delegated to Biden the task of getting Congress to approve a $787 billion stimulus package in 2009 in the first months of his presidency to respond to the Great Recession.

Biden isn’t just right for 2020 because of his government resume. The grief he has experienced in his personal life has imbued him with an extraordinary level of empathy for others. In 1972, his first wife and his baby daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, one of his two sons died of brain cancer. In 2020, when Biden offered encouragement and promises of help to a 13-year-old New Hampshire boy with a stuttering problem, footage of the moment brought people to tears — and surprised no one who knew him. A hurting nation could use a leader like this.

Biden also offers comfort to the millions of Americans who may not like Trump but are worried by the leftward lurch of many Democrats. Whatever the chorus of views amplified by social media, polls show most Americans don’t want radical changes in policing, more government control of the economy and attacks on free speech — and most don’t buy the idea that America is evil as opposed to flawed.

Biden’s smart selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate shows he would certainly be a progressive on many issues. But his call for improving Obamacare as opposed to shutting down private health care and insurance shows his incrementalism. And if he becomes president, it is certain that he would embrace traditional values scorned by Trump: a belief in the importance of international order and cooperation and strong ties with our historic allies; an appreciation that he should treat red and blue states no differently; and an understanding of the value of vigorous and thoughtful debate.

In short, he would be the anti-Trump. After four years of White House insanity, that sounds awfully good. We wish Donald Trump a full recovery. We recommend voting for Joe Biden for president.

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