This coming November, I’ll be voting for Joe Biden for President. During the primaries, I was an Elizabeth Warren supporter. But unlike some progressives, I liked Biden and thought he was generally a good Senator and Vice President. If he does get elected this Fall, I expect to agree with Biden on some policies and disagree with him on others. This is true with all Presidents. Because I’m a liberal Democrat, I’m going to agree with Biden more than disagree. But all Presidents are human, they’re going to make mistakes.
One of the things that has troubled me these past couple of years has been the cult of personality that has developed around President Trump where he and his followers make very demeaning personal attacks against any person who doesn’t agree with him 100%. It’s good to support a leader. But no leader deserves that kind of blind 100% support.
My favorite Presidents are Lincoln, the 2 Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy and Obama. But they all made some terrible mistakes and had some bad policies. For instance, I admired Teddy Roosevelts Square Deal programs and his efforts to preserve the natural environment. But I thought his imperialist ambitions caused great suffering. I liked Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and thought he was a great war leader during World War II. But I thought FDR compromised too much with Southern segregationist Democrats in ways that did great harm to the African American community.
When I look at good Presidents, one of the qualities that they had was the ability to change and grow and to learn from their mistakes. Do they listen and learn from people with different viewpoints and experiences? Do they have to ability to listen to debates of differing ideas and be willing to change their views when facts present themselves?
Lincoln is my favorite example of a President who had that capacity to grow. Lincoln was always an opponent to slavery. But before the Civil War, Lincoln shared many of the same racist views on African Americans as his fellow white Americans. During the war, however, Lincoln’s views began to change. He met with capable and intelligent black leaders like Frederick Douglass who engaged with Lincoln as intellectual equals. Lincoln read about the courage of black Union soldiers. By the end of the Civil War, Lincoln’s views on race were very different than they were at the beginning of the war and he adopted many policies that championed African American civil rights.
If Biden does become President, there are some important things that I hope he addresses.
Most immediate, I hope he adopts policies that help gets us out of this pandemic and helps revive our economy.
I hope he tackles the structural racism that has bedeviled this country since its founding. I think there are two types of racism that we need to deal with: personal racism and structural racism. On a personal level, I think we all have prejudices and biases that we need to deal with. I think we need to deal with personal racism one-on-one. But structural racism is a tougher problem to deal with. It has to do with the racism that has been embedded in our housing policies, our criminal justice system, our employment policies and our economic system from centuries of institutional racism. The people inside the system do not have to be racist in order for the system to inevitably produce outcomes that always negatively affect the black and other minority communities.
A concurrent issue that I hope Biden deals with is helping out those white blue-collar communities in the Midwest and the South that were severely impacted by globalization. I don’t agree with their support of Trump. But I do think these white communities have legitimate grievances about the negative effects of trade deals like NAFTA. These communities saw the jobs that had provided them with stable middle class incomes get shipped overseas and the jobs that remained provided only half as much pay and with no healthcare benefits. Due to this, these communities have seen a steep rise in poverty, suicide rates, crime and an opioid crisis.
I hope Biden deals with the climate change crisis and transitions our country towards a clean energy economy. The effects of climate change are already becoming apparent, with more severe hurricane seasons, worse droughts, greater weather extremes around the country. This is causing great havoc to agriculture.
I hope Biden makes an effort to bridge the racial divide in our country. Past leaders like Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Robert Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and others sought to heal the racial divisions and bring poor whites and poor minority groups together in fighting the economic inequalities that hurt all blue collar Americans. I agree with King and Kennedy that issues of race are inextricably bound with issues of economic inequality.
I hope Biden is able to finally resolve the issue of illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants are just as much victims of trade deals like NAFTA as the white blue collar communities in the Midwest. During the NAFTA negotiations, Mexico agreed to eliminate their subsidies on Mexican corn and agricultural produce. When cheap American corn flooded the Mexican market, small Mexican farmers could not compete and over 2 million Mexican agricultural workers lost their jobs. These displaced agricultural workers went to the United States to fill in the worker shortages in American agricultural fields. Before NAFTA, illegal immigration was declining. After NAFTA, illegal immigration saw a steep rise. I find it despicable that demagogues are scapegoating illegal immigrants for problems that they didn’t cause and that they are just as much victims of.
Whoever the next President is will face great challenges. If Biden becomes President, he’s going to need Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress to enact his policies. I’m hoping for the best.