Not since the first time I voted in a presidential election — I was young and politically naive when I voted against the Vietnam War by voting for George McGovern — have I felt my vote potentially makes as much difference as it does this year.
I’m not the only one, obviously. 2020 looks almost certain to smash 2016’s record of 139 million voters; as I write this, 19 days before the election, almost 18 million have voted. Donald Trump, the most polarizing figure ever in modern American life, gets the credit.
The politically correct thing now would be to detail the reasons I cast my vote today for Joe Biden. And I will give some of those reasons, but the truth is that my emotions centering around the election are far more against Trump than they are for Biden. I make no apologies for that. A vote against the wrong can be every bit as principled as a vote for the right.
For me, this election isn’t so much about specific traditional issues — although I broadly agree with Biden’s center-left political philosophy on issues such as the environment and the social safety net — as it is about the direction toward authoritarianism that Trump has been taking the country. Here, then, are my top five reasons, in order, for casting my vote as I did, for Joe Biden:
1. The tilt toward autocracy
I’ve long had an interest in Latin America, and as such I have observed dictatorships and other forms of autocracy surface repeatedly. It doesn’t matter whether the move toward despotism comes from the right (as in Guatemala) or the left (as in Venezuela), the would-be dictatorships all follow the same pattern, the pattern we’re currently seeing: They defy historical norms, they discredit the news media, they repeatedly apply disparaging labels to the political opposition, they use the powers of government for personal ends, they challenge judicial independence, they use the military for domestic goals, they elevate their own friends and family members to position of high power regardless of qualifications, and they challenge the legitimacy of elections.
on or before Election DayI was no fan of Trump in 2016, but even I wouldn’t have predicted then that less than one month before the next election he would be refusing to promise a peaceful transition of power if he loses. This isn’t what leaders in democracies do. Every president in my lifetime whose party was voted out of office has cooperated with the following president and done everything reasonable so that his successor could take over the government as easily as possible. Trump refuses to make such a commitment, and our republican form of democracy is weaker because of it.
2. The colossal coronavirus failure
The numbers tell the story: The United States has suffered well over 200,000 deaths from the covid-19, about 20 percent of the world’s total, even though we have not much more than 4 percent of the world’s population. We’re doing worse than nearly every other country with a similar level of economic development, and even worse than some countries, such as India, that lag behind in development.
Obviously, the toll from the virus would have been significant under any president. But Trump has repeatedly ignored the advice of medical experts and politicized semi-independent agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control. He also has ignored the heath needs of even his closest staff as he has an inconsistent (at best) example in matters of personal responsibility such as wearing masks.
We’ll never know how a different president would have done under the same circumstances. But Biden has given every indication that come Jan. 20, he will be working hand in hand with the nation’s top medical scientists rather than undermining them.
3. Decency, civility and competency matter
Simply put, Trump doesn’t come close to meeting the basic standards of decency and competency that should be expected of any president. Frankly, I don’t see how anyone could vote in good conscience for a bully who brags about sexually assaulting women, who engages in constant name-calling, who lies and/or gaslights literally dozens of time a day, who doesn’t understand basic science and doesn’t seem to want to learn, who simply ignores those parts of the Constitution he doesn’t like (such as the emoluments clause), who fails to condemn conspiracy theories such as QAnon, who is incapable of building bridges with the opposition, who doesn’t seem to have empathy, and so on ad nauseam.
The question for me would never be whether to vote for Trump or an opponent; it would be which opponent to vote for. Trump doesn’t meet any kind of basic standard.
It’s difficult to think of an issue with racial overtones that has Trump on the right side: Only court decisions kept him from deporting immigrants who have no memory of life outside the United States, he has struggled to explicitly condemn white supremacy without qualifiers or whataboutism, he has seemed more intent on “law and order” than the development of policies that value black lives, he fails to see those aspects of U.S. history that have elevated white privilege, and he continues to tweet racially tinged remarks.
Biden, on the other hand, has a long history of supporting civil rights and working with racial minorities. Where Trump would incite racial conflict, Biden would seek not only to defuse it but to tackle its causes.
5. Health care
The Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare isn’t perfect. But it provided millions of America the ability to get health insurance despite chronic or preexisting conditions that used to make it impossible to get health insurance not provided through am employer’s group policy. It also made health insurance much more readily available for young adults before getting established in a career.
Trump has promised for nearly his entire term that he would keep those popular provisions while abolishing Obamacare — but he has yet to say how. Biden, meanwhile, can be expected to take the best provisions of Obamacare and expand on them.
These five concerns aren’t the only ones important to me, but they are the ones where the country could least wait another four years to start putting things in the right. Biden isn’t the flashiest candidate, and he wasn’t even my first choice for the Democratic nomination. But he offers at least the hope that we could start restoring democracy and take politics out of constant crisis mode. He more than earned my vote.
Photo by Terrianne Webster; all rights reserved.