Four years ago, the Editorial Board — an ideologically and demographically diverse group of journalists that is separate from the news staff and operates by consensus — broke with tradition and took sides in the presidential race for the first time since USA TODAY was founded in 1982. We urged readers not to vote for Donald Trump, calling the Republican nominee unfit for office because he lacked the “temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.” We stopped short, however, of an outright endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. This year, the Editorial Board unanimously supports the election of Joe Biden, who offers a shaken nation a harbor of calm and competence.
Recent polls show that more than 90% of voters have decided between Biden and Trump, and nothing at this point will change their minds. This editorial is for those of you who are still uncertain about which candidate to vote for, or whether to vote at all. It’s also for those who settled on Trump but might be having last-minute doubts.
Maybe you backed Trump the last time around because you hoped he’d shake things up in Washington or bring back blue-collar jobs. Maybe you liked his populist, anti-elitist message. Maybe you couldn’t stomach the idea of supporting a Democrat as polarizing as Clinton. Maybe you cast a ballot for a minor party candidate, or just stayed home.
Now, two weeks until Election Day, we suggest you consider a variation of the question Republican Ronald Reagan asked voters when he ran for president in 1980: Is America better off now than it was four years ago?
Beset by disease, economic suffering, a racial reckoning and natural disasters fueled by a changing climate, the nation is dangerously off course. We spoke to dozens of people in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, battleground states that helped propel Trump into the White House in 2016. Many declined to comment, citing a general disgust with the election or fear of speaking out publicly. While some said they were personally better off, most of those willing to talk on camera expressed anguish and dismay about the nation’s direction:
Yes, Lucinda, it is too much. Yes, Mecca, it is time for a change.
When Trump was elected as the nation’s first president without previous experience in government or the military, we hoped that he would become, as he promised during the 2016 campaign, “more disciplined” and “so presidential that you people will be so bored.” After all, when you are a passenger on an airplane, you root for the pilot, even one who has never been in a cockpit before.
Whether you are a pilot or the president, the most important part of your job is crisis management. But when confronted with an emergency — COVID-19, the biggest public health threat in more than a century — Trump didn’t land the plane safely on the Hudson River. His shambolic response to the coronavirus pandemic has inflated a national death toll that is equivalent to the crashes of more than 1,000 Boeing-737 jetliners.
The United States, with 4% of the world’s population, has 20% of its reported coronavirus deaths. If America is at war against COVID-19 and “I’m a wartime president,” as Trump declared in March, the invisible enemy is winning and now has even penetrated the White House grounds.
COVID-19 pandemic in President Trump’s words
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, the United States has recorded more than 8.2 million cases of COVID-19 and over 220,000 deaths.
Mike Thompson, USA TODAY
There is little doubt that Biden would have handled the crisis more capably. He surely would not have become a superspreader of coronavirus misinformation. Back in January, in a column for USA TODAY, the former vice president warned that the novel virus emerging in China “will get worse before it gets better,” and that Trump is “the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.” During the campaign, Biden has modeled mask wearing and other public health recommendations that Trump has flouted while downplaying the threat. A Biden administration would follow the science and build trust in emerging vaccines.
It’s no secret that the Editorial Board disagrees with Trump not just on his approach to the coronavirus but also on fundamental issues, from health care and climate change to immigration and trade. Policy differences, however, are not the reason behind our first-ever presidential endorsement. Diverse views, even ones we think are wrongheaded, are a staple of American politics and something to celebrate.
If this were a choice between two capable major party nominees who happened to have opposing ideas, we wouldn’t choose sides. Different voters have different concerns. But this is not a normal election, and these are not normal times. This year, character, competence and credibility are on the ballot. Given Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, so, too, is the future of America’s democracy.
For nearly four decades, the Editorial Board has stood for certain core values: truth, accountability, civility in public discourse, opposition to racism, common-ground solutions to the nation’s problems, and steadfast support for First Amendment rights. These aren’t partisan issues, or at least they shouldn’t be.
Donald Trump has trampled each of these principles, making more than 20,000 false or misleading statements, ducking responsibility for his actions, spewing streams of invective at his critics, trafficking in racial fearmongering, governing more as the leader of the red states than of the United States, and relentlessly attacking the free press.
Everything about Biden’s nearly half-century political career suggests he would do a far better job of respecting these values. “We need to revive the spirit of bipartisanship in this country, the spirit of being able to work with one another,” the Democratic nominee said in a recent speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Biden is a worthy antidote to Trump’s unbounded narcissism and chronic chaos. Having surmounted heartbreaking personal loss — his first wife and year-old daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer — Biden exudes decency and empathy. Ask yourself: Can you imagine Joe Biden denigrating servicemembers as losers? Cozying up to autocrats abroad? Shaking down a foreign leader for dirt on a political opponent?
All politicians, of course, have flaws, and Biden is no exception. He turns 78 next month and, like the November foliage in New England, is somewhat past peak.
For someone billed as a foreign policy expert, he managed to be wrong about both the Persian Gulf War (he opposed the 1991 effort to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait) and the Iraq War (he supported the 2003 U.S. invasion, which turned into a debacle). His handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claim against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, when Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not aged well. He is capable of cringeworthy gaffes, and his sentences can wander off into uncharted territory.
Nevertheless, Biden is an experienced hand with working-class roots who understands the American dream. He knows the levers of power and how to wield them. He has a history of working across the aisle on such issues as health care, racial justice and the environment. He has the knowledge and the personality to begin repairing America’s tattered reputation around the world.
Maybe you’ve heard Republican operatives and commentators trying to paint Biden as a puppet of far-left radicals. But if he was able to resist such unaffordable progressive ideas as “Medicare for All” and the “Green New Deal” during the heat of the Democratic primaries, it is hard to envision him embracing them once he is in the White House.
Biden is well positioned to repair the wreckage Trump has made of the federal government, from the foreign service to the science agencies Trump has tried to politicize. As vice president in the Obama administration, Biden played a central role in the last economic recovery and is equipped to handle another one.
Even before the pandemic struck, Trump did no better than the Obama-Biden administration on job creation, the stock market and economic growth. (Remember his promise to pay off the national debt in eight years? It’s now $27 trillion, up more than $7 trillion from four years ago.) Biden knows that the recovery process will require, first and foremost, a comprehensive national response to the COVID-19 crisis that has upended Americans’ lives and left large sectors of the economy reeling.
This extraordinary moment in the history of our nation requires an extraordinary response. With his plans, his personnel picks, his experience and his humanity, Joe Biden can help lead the United States out of this morass and into the future. Your vote can help make that happen.
Will this endorsement have any effect on what you read about the presidential campaign in USA TODAY’s news reports? No. Will it cause the Editorial Board to pull its punches if Biden were to become president? Also no.
We may never endorse a presidential nominee again. In fact, we hope we’ll never have to.
USA TODAY Editorial Board on Biden endorsement: ‘Trump has trampled on … values’
For the first time in USA TODAY’s history, the Editorial Board is endorsing a presidential candidate. Several board members explain why.