2020 may be the first election in American history when a majority of voters will cast their ballots against a sitting president rather than for his challenger. Joe Biden doesn’t have the burden to convince Americans why they should vote for him. The incumbent is disliked by enough voters to render irrelevant how uninspiring and slippery the former vice president is.
Early voting has commenced in some states, and many reports indicate that Biden is benefitting from widespread disillusionment with Trump’s presidency—the boorishness and crassness, the flouting of diplomatic norms, the anti-Democratic and authoritarian impulses, the scaremongering and wedge-driving, the apparent self-dealing, and the poor moral example he has set for the country. For these voters, any achievements of the Trump administration must go unmentioned. There is too high a risk of some having a change of heart at polling sites. Best to let the disgust linger.
And there has been plenty of disgust to go around. The mainstream press, for instance, voted earlier than anyone. Their minds were made up immediately after Trump’s inauguration. And they have been voting ever since with unfavorable coverage of the president.
Of course, all of Trump’s unpresidential “fake news” and “enemy of the people” chants didn’t win over the Fourth Estate, although he was a ratings sensation these past four years. Biden’s blandness doesn’t sell papers, but the mainstream media, like many voters, has been rooting for the vice-president anyway.
And in so doing, they have actually proven Trump’s case that news is not simply censored, it can actually be “fake”—as in, slanted, not objective, and agenda-driven rather than painstakingly true. The disinterest in the Hunter Biden story is but one example. Or look at the scant mention of Joe Biden’s predilections for plagiarism, given that every personal failing of the president is scandalized.
Biden’s ambivalent support also includes some of the cool kids. A gnarly blue wave of A-list academics, writers, artists, and student bodies have long lined up against the president even though many of them preferred Senator Bernie Sanders or Mayor Pete Buttigieg to Biden. Undeniably, for most Democrats, Biden is the safe, lackluster choice in an aberrational election where any candidate who can deny Donald Trump a second term will do.
But is such one-dimensional, single-hatred voting a good idea?
First, counting out this president is a huge mistake. After all, Democrats have had trouble winning elections, often because their read on red states borders on the illiterate. “The Hillbilly Elegy” — a bestselling memoir that addresses the failure of social welfare policies and the virtues of self-reliance and hard work in Kentucky — became a manifesto for conservativism, the kind of text that, for blue-state Democrats, is as alien as a page from the Talmud. Sneering contempt for white, non-college-educated Americans is a bizarre partisan fetish. And Biden’s propensity for ill-advised remarks should be of concern to anyone who still fails to grasp how calling half the country “deplorables” (as Hillary Clinton did in 2016) will result not in the punching of the Democrat ticket, but the punching of smug Democrats!
But there’s also an elephant in the room, and it involves Democrats, not Republicans. We have no way of knowing the true extent of Trump’s electoral support, because far too many are afraid to acknowledge that he’s their man.
Who can blame them? We live in such a polarized, balkanized political culture that a vote for Trump is likely to detonate nuclear families and torpedo friendships. Exercising the franchise in favor of this loathsome candidate could not possibly be more unfashionable, if not downright lethal. It is the kind of hatred that has brought us to the brink of civil war — even within families. Moral banishment and social ostracism are the new ethic, all because only one opinion of Trump is tolerated.
Moral banishment and social ostracism are the new ethic, all because only one opinion of Trump is tolerated.
And so undecided voters sit silently while neighbors bicker and talking heads seethe. But why are they undecided — especially if they are Democrats? Doesn’t everyone know the chaos of this presidency?
Yes, they do. But casting a vote against Trump is not without risk. After all, Biden is not really the people’s choice. His support is tenuous, his candidacy a ricochet, his campaign beside the point. He’s the man behind door number two, but standing behind him is a cast of avowed Democratic Socialists who may transform America in ways that would make the Age of Trump seem tame by comparison.
Biden is not really the people’s choice.
Those who are wary of Biden have reasons to fear his presidency — a doddering man who by all accounts is a placeholder and not a leader. He was nominated as a moderate who could win. In order to accomplish that, he may become indebted to those who wish to abolish and transform. There are many waiting in the wings, the left wing to be precise, for this very purpose, like Senator Sanders, who better reflects the new zeitgeist of the party, which pays allegiance to a political philosophy that has little in common with mainstream liberalism.
Will Biden be able to hold them back?
Look, for instance, at the fresh-faced leaders of this new brand of American Democratic Socialism: the sisters of the congressional “Squad,” who bring with them more woke than wonk. A politburo of progressive wildcards seeking universal college tuition and healthcare coverage with no means to pay for it, school admissions guaranteed without regard to merit (including the end of blind auditions for orchestras), a rewriting of history that demands a snubbing of Founding Fathers, prison reform where paroled offenders roam the streets, Occupy Wall Street decimations of businesses, the defunding of the police with soft spots for rioting and looting, social conditions that could replicate the crime rates of the 1970s, a blind commitment to intersectional catechisms and moral absolutes, a return to the misguided Iran deal, a BDS-based foreign policy that seeks an end to the Jewish state, and the flight of young professionals and families from urban areas in search of shelter and security elsewhere.
This is the kind of transformational change that hasn’t been seen since the New Deal of FDR. Do we believe that this new progressive agenda will change the country for the better, or will the mere prospect of such policies influence enough voters to consider another four years of Donald Trump?
It was an ominous sign that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rebuffed a memorial to Israeli peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin. Biden may head the ticket, but this might become the Democratic Party of Bernie Sanders, not Bill Clinton.
Biden repeatedly states that he’s not a socialist. That may be true. But he may end up defenseless to the progressive voices within his party. That’s where all the energy and excitement is nowadays. But it’s also where illiberal assaults on free speech and open inquiry, in the name of racial justice and white atonement, are alarmingly located. This mass movement is bound to accompany Biden to Washington. And its leaders might serve as his entourage in the White House.
Be careful what you wish for, America. What’s behind door number two looks like a bounty of buyer’s remorse. Wouldn’t it just be awful if whiplash left you longing for the madness of Donald Trump.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”