Wages are rising, unemployment is at record lows, and the economy is booming. But if you ask Joe Biden, the world might end tomorrow unless we toss President Trump out of office.
In a Tuesday afternoon stump speech in Iowa, the supposedly moderate 2020 candidate is set to paint a bleak vision of life under Trump. In his prepared remarks, Biden says that “Trump is an existential threat to America” and that he hopes “we choose hope over fear. Unity over division. Truth over lies. And science over fiction.”
This likely won’t resonate with voters. In the eyes of sane people, the last two years of the Trump presidency have been full of ups and downs, but it’s been far from the nightmare scenario Biden describes. Almost 60% of Americans, whether they personally approve of Trump or not, approve of his handling of the economy. And almost half either approve of Trump’s performance as president or have no opinion. You’d expect an “existential threat” to generate a broader resistance, not just a louder one.
The alarmist rhetoric distracts from Biden’s actual message. After all, does anyone really know what his candidacy stands for? He launched his campaign by bashing Trump, and since then, he has rambled on incessantly about the Oval Office’s current occupant, describing this election as a battle for “the soul of the nation” and saying the president is a “threat to this nation, to our democracy.”
Give me a break. If you want to be president of the United States, you’re probably going to need a more compelling pitch than “pick me, I’m not that guy.”
Still, it’s worth engaging with the apocalyptic argument that Trump’s presidency poses a threat to America, even if it’s absurd when taken at face value.
Is it that Trump’s climate policy will doom us to death by global warming? This is quite the stretch. Trump has exited a voluntary climate agreement and rolled back a few environmental policies, but U.S. emissions fell in his first year in office — the last one for which we have data. Besides, many states such as Pennsylvania and Oregon are taking their own initiatives to decrease carbon emissions, and the global climate crisis is really driven by emissions in developing countries such as India anyway.
Or is it that President Trump is a buffoon with the nuclear codes, who will drag us into a war? So far, he’s done more to end wars (in Afghanistan and Syria) than start them. Also, his record in North Korea might be a mixed bag, but on balance, he has succeeded in de-escalating very high tensions.
But surely, as Biden says, Trump is a threat to our democracy who won’t accept the result of our elections? That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as the GOP suffered landslide losses in 2018 that went into effect without a hitch, and the president allowed an entire investigation into his campaign to reach completion without firing special counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise shutting it down.
This is the great flaw with Biden’s — and, to a lesser extent, the other 2020 Democrats’ — approach rooted in Trump-alarmism. There’s a portion of American voters that may always swear by Trump, and another base that might hate him no matter what. But many reasonable people are open to criticism of the president, be it of his foolish trade policy, his overly harsh immigration stances, or the multiple outlandish or offensive things he’s said (or tweeted) since taking office.
When criticism of Trump becomes extreme and overblown, as Biden’s often has been, those of us in touch with reality may start to tune out. For now, Biden is still beating Trump in most head-to-head polls. If he wants that to continue, Biden should stand for something — not just against someone.