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John M. Crisp: The election few want will tell us who we are

John M. Crisp, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

Somehow the undesired appears to have become the inevitable.

In January, 76% of respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos poll said that President Joe Biden should not seek re-election, and 56% said that former President Donald Trump should not run.

Nevertheless, unless something drastic occurs, in six months America will endure a replay of the 2020 election. Count me among the many who wish we had different candidates.

On the other hand, this rematch provides an opportunity to experience something that is comparatively rare in politics, and in life, for that matter: unalloyed clarity.

In fact, this election will tell us a lot about who we are as a nation.

The choice between Biden and Trump could not be more stark. Some of the difference between them has to do with policy. If you favor abortion rights, you’ll probably vote for Biden; if you favor gun rights, Trump is your candidate. If you think climate change is a threat: Biden; if you think it’s a hoax: Trump.

But something about this election feels much more fundamental than is suggested by the ordinary differences of opinion that voters have about taxes and tariffs or immigration and inequality.

In fact, the traditional big-government-versus-small- government tension that has characterized American politics since our founding seems almost irrelevant as we flirt with a different sort of government altogether.

This part of the conflict is difficult to describe without betraying my preference for one candidate over the other, so I might as well come clean: I will be voting for Biden. If you’re planning to vote for Trump, you and I probably disagree on the quality of Biden’s term, but those are the legitimate points of contention inherent in ordinary politics.

Still, I’d contend that Biden is a conventional, left-leaning (not a communist, however!) politician and administrator who’s performing at an above-average level in very difficult circumstances. The idea that his administration is a disaster is pure campaign hyperbole.

Is he too old? Maybe. But he’s far from a senile, doddering fool. And if he doesn’t survive four more years in office, that’s what vice presidents are for. (Kamala Harris’ “inadequacies” are campaign hyperbole, as well.)

But Donald Trump is not merely Joe Biden’s conservative counterpart. He brings something entirely new into American politics. If you’re already a committed Trump voter, you may not like this part, but it’s difficult to deny that it’s accurate.

 

The ways in which Trump is different from Biden are myriad, but here are two:

All presidents lie at some point. Trump isn’t the first president to cheat on his wife, though he may be only the second to lie about it in public. Trump is also, however, the first president to lie about an election, the first to attempt to change the result of an election and the first to refuse to concede power peacefully or to commit to doing so in the future.

Trump is simply wrong about this, but he tells this lie at every rally, and he requires everyone in his circle, as well as everyone in his new administration, to accept it. His reelection will force our nation to accept it, as well.

Second, Trump has a dubious commitment to the liberal world order that the United States implemented after World War II, which is based on democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equality and individual liberty. This way of living is far superior to autocratic or theocratic alternatives, but it’s also fragile, and it requires constant recommitment.

Of course, millions of Americans share Trump’s view of the 2020 election and his wobbly allegiance to the liberal world order. But his reelection will be a genuine break with America’s past, a difference in kind, not in degree. It will be a new way of being in the world, one where we can no longer depend on elections or on allies who share our commitment to democracy. It’s not an attractive prospect.

Sometimes we like to say that we’re better than that. But are we? We’ll find out in November.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Texas and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com

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