The rest of the free world will never look at America the same way again.
Donald Trump’s election in 2016, coming on the heels of a disastrous Iraq War few Canadians and Europeans supported, disillusioned even the most fervent Atlanticists. The land of the free was no longer impervious to the dark forces of nativism that necessitated the Atlantic alliance in the first place.
A restoration under Joe Biden may be unlikely. America is drawn to Asia and Europe must take responsibility for security in its own neighborhood. But four more years of Trump could shatter even pragmatic cooperation between nations that are still committed to an open and just world. Biden would pull America from the brink and rejoin the West.
Trump treats dictators with respect and allies with contempt. He has weakened NATO, the linchpin of transatlantic security, by withdrawing troops from Germany — for seemingly no other reason than his dislike of Angela Merkel — and throwing doubt on America’s commitment to the defense of the old continent. He has strengthened Vladimir Putin by tearing up the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies Treaties, which protected Russia’s neighbors. He supported Brexit, but has done little for the UK. He claims to be clear-eyed about China, but pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would have enforced copyrights and environmental protections, prohibited child and forced labor, and guaranteed union rights across the Americas and East Asia — and put pressure on China to do the same. Trump never spoke up for the freedom of Hong Kong, nor for China’s persecuted Muslim minority, the Uighurs. He betrayed the Kurds, who fought alongside the West to defeat the terrorists of the Islamic State; ceded postwar planning in Syria to Iran, Russia and Turkey; encouraged Sino-Russian rapprochement; and risked war in the Middle East by undermining the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
The sole foreign-policy accomplishment of Trump’s presidency has been the normalization of relations between several Arab states and Israel. It is no small feat, but it doesn’t excuse the damage he has done to the liberal world order, which produced the long peace after World War II.
The world’s faith in America has plummeted. Australians, Canadians, Europeans and Koreans have more confidence in Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping than they do in Donald Trump.
Trump promised to put “America first”. He has left America standing alone.
Promises and plans
The Republican’s domestic policy has been no more impressive.
He promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He hasn’t. He promised to “take care” of opioid addicts. He hasn’t. His tough-on-drugs policy is a throwback to the 1990s. He asked black Americans to vote for him, musing, “what do you have to lose?” — and encouraged white supremacists to come out of woodwork.
Trump claimed credit for a growing economy he inherited from his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, before presiding over one of the steepest downturns in American history.
His tax cuts did little for growth, but did blow a hole in the deficit. Republicans may have stopped caring about fiscal discipline as soon as they returned to power, but we haven’t. Trump added $7 trillion to a national debt that was already $20 trillion, or equivalent to a year’s economic output, when he took office.
And that was before COVID-19, which Trump initially denied and now plays down.
His tariffs have destroyed some 300,000 American jobs and created a regulatory nightmare of bailouts and exemptions that benefits insiders and hurts small businesses.
Biden unfortunately wants to raise America’s corporate tax above the rich-world average, but his proposals to apply the Social Security payroll tax to incomes over $400,000 and tax capital gains as ordinary income are reasonable when high earners and investors pay a lower effective tax rate than the middle class.
Biden has promised to end the “artificial trade war” with Europe, raise the minimum wage, ban noncompete clauses and no-poaching agreements that stifle labor mobility, and end the second-class status of “gig economy” workers by treating them as employees rather than contractors.
He has sensible plans for child care, health care, higher education and housing, which are the four main drivers of America’s affordability crisis: tax credits, a public health insurance option, cheaper pharmaceuticals, free public university and housing vouchers.
Trump has no housing plan. His daughter, Ivanka, authored a child-care plan, but it was only partly implemented by the Republican Congress. Four years into his presidency, Trump still can’t tell Americans how his health-care plan (which no one has seen) would be “better” than Obamacare. He himself ran an unaccredited, for-profit “university” for five years that even conservatives described as a “massive scam,” and has done nothing to make college more affordable.
Average Americans have gained little from Trump’s presidency. Trump, his family and his friends have reaped the benefits.
More than 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments received favors in return for patronizing Trump’s golf courses and hotels. Trump appointed business partners to his cabinet. He put Republican donors in charge of regulatory agencies. He gave White House jobs to his daughter and son-in-law. He has violated numerous norms, and at times the law, to shield himself and his allies from the consequences of their corruption.
Trump still refuses to disclose his tax returns. He ignored ethics guidelines and rules for security clearances. He barred public officials from testifying to Congress. He refused to answer congressional subpoenas. He barely cooperated with Robert Mueller’s investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia — and then invited foreign interference in this year’s election by conditioning foreign aid to Ukraine on the country opening a faux investigation into the Bidens. He fired the director of the FBI for refusing to profess his “loyalty” to him. He purged inspectors general from the government and punished whistleblowers. He pardoned political allies and friends who were guilty of bribery, breaking campaign finance laws and lying to Congress.
Trump has treated government as his personal fiefdom and subjugated the entire Republican Party in the process. A party that once stood for Atlanticism, family values and free trade now defends a Putinist, philanderer and isolationist.
The Democratic Party is not immune to infatuations with great men, but it has rediscovered institutionalism. It is debating much-needed reforms to reinvigorate American democracy, including abolishing the Senate filibuster, which Republicans have abused to block anything but fiscal reforms, and extending statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, where almost 4 million Americans live without federation representation.
Pre-Trump, many Democrats doubted American primacy and free trade were worth the tradeoffs. Having lived through four years of the alternative, they are more likely to support both.
Trump ignores the climate crisis. Biden would return the United States to the Paris Agreement and invest $2 trillion over four years in the green economy.
Trump has turned a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Biden would end America’s support for the Saudi-led war in the country.
Trump banned Muslim travelers and cruelly separated migrant children from their parents. Seven died in custody. 545 have yet to be reunited with their parents. Biden would increase refugee admissions and allow immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children (so-called Dreamers) to stay.
Trump has encouraged police violence and inflamed racial tensions. Biden would revoke mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which disproportionately lock up African Americans, invest in community-oriented policing and allocate 40 percent of green investments to disadvantaged communities.
Trump opposes gun control. Biden would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and institute universal background checks for gun purchases.
Trump has brought out worst in Republicans: nativism, know-nothingism, disdain of experience and expertise, mistrust in science and the media, and a disinterest in the rest of the world.
Biden is bringing out the best in Democrats: moderation, dealmaking, prioritizing bread-and-butter issues over identity politics, respect for science and institutions, internationalism and multilateralism. He deserves America’s support, and the world’s.