By Dr. Dennis Acop
This article will look into the backgrounds and career highlights of Republican US President Donald Trump and Democrat President-elect Joseph Biden. It will also attempt to identify some critical factors that may have influenced voters to vote the way they did: some 78 million for Biden and 72.7 million for Trump as of this writing. The article will then try to inject some personal analysis on the differences between these two leaders including the impact they have upon the world around them. It may be a bit lengthy so please bear with me.
According to BBC 2020, Donald Trump was and probably still is America’s most famous and colorful billionaire. Now 74, this son of a real estate tycoon was reared working through the ranks of his father’s organization. He was sent to a military academy at 13 for misbehaving in his civilian class. Trump attended Wharton and then founded the Trump Organization in 1971. He expanded the family business from just real estate to entertainment owning Miss Universe and Miss America beauty pageants and appearing in The Apprentice (NBC, 14 seasons) between 1996 and 2015. The Donald married thrice and incredibly paid only a measly amount of USD750 federal income tax in 2016 and 2017 according to the New York Times. The first union with Czech athlete and model Ivana Zelnickov bore three children: Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric). The second marriage to Marla Maples in 1993 was blessed with a daughter, Tiffany. Following another divorce (1999), Trump married Slovenian model Melania Knauss in 2005 bearing a son, Barron William. He attacked President Barack Obama’s birthright beginning in 2008 after joining the ‘birther’ movement. The accusation against Obama’s illegitimate American birthright was effectively debunked when it was proven that the now-former President was born in Hawaii. Trump never apologized for his wrong allegations and decided to run for president after Obama. Running under the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’, Trump financed his own campaign and promised to strengthen the US economy if elected. He also promised to build a Mexican Wall to check illegal incursions from the southern neighbor and to ban Muslim migration into America. Inspired by BREXIT, Trump was an advocate of the US going it alone in the world if necessary. He was likewise the same domestically threatening to ‘drain the swamp in Washington’ and strike a blow against the political establishment. Trump is the first president never to have held elected office or served in the military.
Also, according to BBC 2020, Joseph Biden, Jr. was born on November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The son of a car salesman, Biden married Neilia Hunter in 1966. The couple bore three children but the union was short-lived as Biden lost both his wife and daughter to a car crash in 1972. Both sons were injured. Biden then got remarried to current wife Jill Jacobs in 1977 with whom he has one child. He is only the second Roman Catholic to be US President after John F. Kennedy. Biden has a BA from the University of Delaware (1965) and a JD from Syracuse University Law School (1968). A stuttering problem as a child did not prevent Biden from becoming Delaware’s longest-serving senator (20 years) beginning at age 29 (1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002). Biden has compiled the following additional resume: Wilmington criminal defense attorney (’68-’70), New Castle County Councilor (’70-’72), Senate Committee Judiciary chairman (’87-’95), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman (’01-’03 / ’07-’09). Biden suffered from an aneurysm in 1988 and had to undergo surgery. 2020 is the third time Biden made a run for the White House. He failed in 1988 and 2008. Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act which was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994. In 2002, he voted to authorize military intervention in Iraq but later became a vocal critic of the conflict. Biden has published two memoirs (2007 and 2017). He resigned from the senate in 2009 after becoming Barack Obama’s VP in 2008. Biden got re-elected as US Vice President under Obama in 2012 defeating the Mitt Romney – Paul Ryan tandem. After his attorney-general son Beau died from cancer in 2015, Biden said he will no longer run for the presidency as his opportunity had closed. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama in 2017 and the Congressional Patriot Award by the Bipartisan Policy Center also in the same year. Biden and his wife established the Biden Foundation advocating: foreign policy, cancer initiative, community colleges, and military families, protecting children, equality, ending violence against women, and strengthening the middle class. Biden was named Benjamin Franklin’s presidential practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania and founding chairman of the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute. Despite attacks, Biden announced his presidential bid on April 25, 2019, choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate on August 11, 2020. November 3, 2020, came and the rest is global history.
As of this writing, President-Elect Joe Biden leads over President Donald Trump even if the counting and recounting of votes continue. Biden has 306 electoral votes over Trump’s 232. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win and Biden is clearly that at this point. Biden likewise leads Trump in the popular vote, with 78,072,070 (50.8%) over Trump’s 72,723,126 (47.4%) (CNN 2020). Most world leaders including Pope Francis have already recognized Joe Biden as the bonafide winner in the just concluded electoral race. Only a few leaders, like those of Russia, Mexico, Brazil, North Korea, and Slovenia have not, according to the Washington Post. Even leaders allied with Trump have already congratulated the incoming president: Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel), and Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Arabia). Trump has strangely claimed fraud in the elections even if he has yet to present any solid evidence. US authorities including Homeland Security are increasingly coming out stating that they find no physical evidence supporting Trump’s claim. Trump’s defiant refusal to concede victory to Biden is preventing a smooth transition of power between the two leaders. Even essential intelligence briefs due to the incoming commander-in-chief are being denied at the moment. Meanwhile, Trump is keeping true to form about firing his own people. He just fired his defense secretary with just a few days remaining in his term as well as two mid-level officials at Homeland Security. The heads of the FBI and the CIA including the attorney general are believed next on the chopping block. All are believed to have not been loyal enough to Trump. Trump is also hastily implementing a revolving door in the Pentagon as we write.
Elections are opportunities for change in governance. Naturally, it is the incumbent who is put on the spotlight for the electorate to see whether he should be re-elected or replaced with a better leader. Compiled by Business Insider Intelligence 2020, let us review Trump’s accomplishment highlights and failures as the 45th US president ‘taking into account general responses from Congress, the public, and the world’. First, Trump has reshaped the federal judiciary. He installed three Supreme Court justices and a total of 220 judges to the federal bench, all for lifetime appointments. As of December 2019, Trump nominees numbered 25% of all circuit judges according to the Washington Post. He appointed 53 judges on 13 US circuit courts. To better see the significance of this initiative, his predecessor Obama only appointed 55 circuit judges in his two terms. It must be noted that the courts get the final say in US politics setting precedents that can influence the country for years to come. The sheer number of these federal judges installed means predominantly conservative rulings on litigations. Second, Trump established a 6th branch of the US armed forces, the Space Force, with initial spending of USD738B. Defense observers though say that the initiative is simply a more centralized version of military missions in space that already existed with the Air Force (established as a separate branch in 1947), the Army, and the Navy. The move resulted in a unified chain of command for space operations. Third, Trump implemented a tax reform through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which reduced the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. The law is doing well for individual corporations but is not achieving its ambitious overall goals according to observers. Fourth, Trump strengthened the criminal justice system with his First Step Act (December 2018), a first legislative victory in years for advocates of criminal justice system reforms. Fifth, Trump defeated the ISIS’ caliphate and killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It can be recalled that in 2014 ISIS took Iraqi and Syrian lands to reestablish its caliphate at the height of Islam in its early days. In March 2019, ISIS’ caliphate was defeated after five years of its existence by a US-led effort. Later a US raid resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. To date, ISIS lost its territory (caliphate) but still has some 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Despite his successes in office even as a neophyte politician, Trump also has had many failures. First, there was Charlottesville and George Floyd whose handling illustrated a divisive leader instead of a healing one. A black suspect, Floyd, suffered a brutal death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Public indignation over the incident led to open protests on the street. But, peaceful protesters near the White House were tear-gassed so Trump could pose for a photograph with a Bible at a nearby church. Demonizing anti-racism demonstrators, Trump sent federal agents into US cities to ‘squash unrest and intimidate the population’. Some retired generals loudly expressed their sentiment criticizing the commander-in-chief’s threatened use of combat troops against American citizens. Among them was retired General Vincent Brooks, who was the brigade commander of the Cadet Corps at West Point when I was a ‘plebe’ (freshman). A retired four-star, Brooks has the distinction of being the first black First Captain as a member of the USMA’s class of 1980. A scathing article he wrote about the abuse of power demonstrated by Trump. The president elevated conspiracy theorists and individuals with a history of displaying racist tendencies including people who have threatened protesters with guns. Trump has employed racist rhetoric that prompted black Americans to think of him as a racist and give him an only 8% approval rating (Gallup). Second, America’s global image deteriorated with Trump in charge. Trump insulted key US allies while cozying up to dictators’. He pushed important allies away and pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. A survey of 32 countries by the Pew Research Center in January 2020 found that 62% did not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs while only 29% expressed confidence that he would. Third, Trump’s policy led to family separations and the deaths of migrant children. While his migrant policy reduced undocumented immigration, it also led to human rights abuses and violations of international law by the UN. His ‘zero tolerance’ policy on illegal border crossings led to the ‘separation of around 5,500 families and saw children placed in cages’. ‘Lawyers were still locating parents of 545 children separated at the US-Mexico border. ‘At least 6 migrant children died in US custody since September 2018. Trump has since halted the separations in June 2018.
Fourth, US involvement in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan under Trump has not been successful. The Trump decision to unilaterally withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 induced chaos throughout the Middle East, and is now considered one of Trump’s most unpopular decisions in the global arena. The nuclear deal was meant to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Trump’s disastrous decision to pull out US troops from Northern Syria abandoned US-allied Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led fighting against ISIS to a Turkish military invasion. The withdrawal led to a humanitarian crisis and created a security vacuum that Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (an accused war criminal) all benefited from. Although Trump had wanted to remove all US forces from Afghanistan, this did not happen as planned. Relatedly, the New York Times reported that US intelligence determined Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked Afghan militants to kill US soldiers. It also reported that Trump had taken no action from the intelligence assessment. Fifth, Trump never replaced Obamacare with a phenomenal healthcare plan as he had promised. Trump had told the Associated Press and ABC that he would come up with ‘insurance for everybody and a replacement to the Affordable Care Act’. Neither took place during his term although Trump dismantled parts of the landmark Obama law for instance the rollback of the tax penalty for no healthcare enrollment and regarding the individual mandate provision. The late Senator John McCain had denied Trump his desired repeal of Obamacare early on in the Trump administration with his now-iconic ‘thumbs-down’ vote. He was disrespected by Trump following his dissension.
Sixth, Trump is only the third commander-in-chief to be impeached (on December 18, 2019, by the House of Representatives) for abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal and obstruction of congress by stonewalling the impeachment. As testified by a credible witness, Trump dangled USD400M of congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine fighting pro-Russian separatists in exchange for any dirt against rival Biden. Although acquitted in the Senate version of the impeachment process, Trump was notably voted in for conviction by fellow Republican Mitt Romney. Seventh, Trump’s handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is going down as one of the worst disasters in US history with over 237,000 dead and millions unemployed. The US is actually the worst in the world dealing with the virus as it has over 6.3M confirmed cases. ‘More Americans have died from the virus than the number of US soldiers killed in action in every war since 1945’. This has been the case for the US as Trump downplayed the threat and contradicted his top public health experts listening only to advisories from his own White House COVID Task Force. ‘In March 2020, Trump admitted to Bob Woodward on tape that he was misleading the public to avoid panic’. Public health experts cited Trump’s nonchalant approach to COVID and his tendency to reject science, blaming China instead.
Eighth, contrary to much-ballyhooed economic growth under Trump, the US economy has actually suffered during his tenure more for his incompetence than the virus. The Trump administration has taken much credit for the robust US economy before the pandemic ignoring that much of the growth began during the Obama administration. The US is now facing one of the worst economic crises in its history under Trump, which is intrinsically linked to a disastrous response to the pandemic. Lockdowns in early 2020 and much decreased consumer spending led to tens of millions of job losses as whole segments of the economy sputtered. The economy has since begun adding back jobs but is far from a full recovery as the US struggles to contain the virus. The unemployment rate in America is now at an all-time high of 7.9% (about 12M people) from a pre-pandemic low of 3.4%. According to the Washington Post, the US national debt is at its highest levels since World War II. The US economy averages just above 0% from Trump’s first (and only) term because of the pandemic recession. Trump also failed to convene Congress for a second coronavirus stimulus package to address rent and other bills prior to the election. The GOP-controlled Senate instead prioritized confirming Trump’s Supreme Court nominee essentially placing the economy and American livelihood as a lesser priority. Until election day, Trump never signed a coronavirus relief bill in roughly half a year. Ninth, being the most heavily protected person on the planet did not prevent Trump from contracting COVID. It became a catastrophic failure and a national security crisis for the US. A major event in the Rose Garden at the White House to announce the latest Supreme Court nominee did the job. Attendees to the event did not social distance and many were seen not wearing masks. As a result, at least twelve in Trump’s circle (including him) tested positive for the virus following the event.
Tenth, much in terms of eroding democratic norms in many ways occurred during the Trump administration. Trump attacked the media, a known vanguard of democracy, especially in America. He threatened to deploy combat troops to American cities over the objections of their elected leaders. Trump ordered illegal actions like demanding poll workers to stop counting ballots. His relentless disinformation dissemination on an array of topics has led historians and experts on fascism to compare him to dictators like Benito Mussolini. In its 2020 Report, Varieties of Democracy (V-DEM), a project monitoring the health of democracy across the world, cites that the US has become more autocratic in the Trump era. Specifically, the report said that the ‘US is the only country in Western Europe and North America suffering from substantial autocratization’. Trump’s rhetoric has become the source of encouragement by far-right extremist groups and he equivocated when asked to condemn such groups. Although multiple major news outlets declared Biden the projected winner, Trump has refused to concede. As of November 13, Trump has rejected the election results and made baseless allegations of electoral fraud. Even as world leaders have begun congratulating Biden, a major sign of Biden’s legitimacy, Trump has continued to deny reality. His refusal to concede breaks from a democratic tradition in the US that dates back to its earliest days when President John Adams lost the 1800 election and peacefully handed power over to Thomas Jefferson, a member of another political party. He is undermining the political system in the US and sowing doubt about the integrity of the country’s elections. Every president prior to Trump allowed for a peaceful transition of power after they had served two terms or lost an election.
Let us now look at some critical factors that may have influenced voters to vote the way they did: some 78 million for Biden and 72.7 million for Trump. First, states that have traditionally voted either predominantly Democrat or Republican the last three or four elections did the same in 2020 but there were states that flipped for Biden from four years ago. The Republican strongholds include Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alaska. The Democrat strongholds are Washington state, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii. In 2020, the following states flipped in favor of Biden from four years ago: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Second, early mailed-in ballots generally favored Biden as Trump discouraged his voters from mailing their ballots strangely believing that the method was untrustworthy. Third, although both Biden and Trump benefited from votes across states, Biden appears to have had the advantage among urban voters in general over Trump. Fortunately for Biden, the urban centers also had a better deal in terms of voting population size. Fourth, it is no secret that Trump carried on somewhat racist rhetoric through his term thereby alienating Afro-Americans and other minorities. This showed in the just-concluded elections if assessed along racist lines. Fifth, class and education lines also influenced voter preference of candidates as voters who felt better protected for their domestic concerns like local jobs leaned toward Trump while those with more universal values like the common good and human rights gravitated toward Biden. Sixth, voter preference along religious lines was also self-evident in the last elections. A significant percentage of the Christian voting population doggedly went for Trump as a repudiation of the Democratic Party’s pro-choice position on the abortion issue. The Christian population is a monolithic voting bloc in America and Trump understood this. He rode on this voter sentiment even if he was a non-practicing Christian. This is not to say that not many Christians voted for Biden. For millions actually did. Christians behind the Republican fence may not recall that pro-choice is not pro-abortion. Pro-choice calls for free will from any side of the political fence. A Republican Christian vote does not necessarily mean a practicing Christian ethos of free will in favor of the morally good. And a Democrat Christian vote does not necessarily mean a repudiation of the morally good exercise of free will in favor of sinning towards the unborn. To this observer, Trump is a non-practicing Christian Republican while Biden is a practicing Catholic Democrat.
Finally, we look at some personal analysis of the differences between the two leaders including the impact they have upon the world around them. First, Trump is selfish. Not having served in the military but calling POWs and dead soldiers as ‘suckers and losers’ is selfish. Not doing enough to address the coronavirus pandemic and save the US economy is selfish. Not conceding and effecting a smooth transition of power even in the face of a clear mandate for Biden is selfish. Claiming electoral fraud where there is none is selfish. Not stepping down is selfish and dangerous. Second, Trump is a master of the scapegoating strategy. Instead of taking effective action to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump simply blamed China. Instead of admitting electoral defeat, Trump blames systematic cheating allegedly by the electoral system or his rival party. Instead of accepting accountability for the do’s and don’ts of his appointees, he keeps firing them as if they were responsible for his unilateral decision way above their pay grade. Trump keeps blaming the so-called Deep State each time he does not get his way. As the University of San Francisco faculty Rebecca Gordon (January 27, 2020) explained, ‘President Trump’s frequent references to the ‘deep state’ are generally meant to cast blame when his administration does not get its way’. ‘The idea of a ‘deep state’ is not new and Trump is not the first to argue the US has one, even if his description is imprecise’. ‘The US under Trump resembles the original Turkish conception of a deep state. That kind of shadow or parallel system of government in which unofficial or publicly unacknowledged individuals play important roles in defining and implementing state policy’. An example is the actions of the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in relation to US policy towards Ukraine which he had been coordinating for some time. Trump also wrongly alludes to the permanent civil service bureaucracy when he refers to the ‘deep state’ as these tenured servants serve beyond the terms of elected administrations. This civil service bureaucracy performs every public service that needs to get done in the absence of appointed government officials who are never enough when needed.
Third, Trump is divisive. Though hidden and unacknowledged, the cracks along with race and religious lines, among others, have been unmistakable during his tenure. Fourth, Trump is shameless. He lost the US elections but refuses to leave. If this is not the height of shamelessness, I do not know what is. America, this is your problem. Better do something.
The only difference I can see that really matters between Trump and Biden is character. As Tom Rapsas wrote for Patheos (November 11, 2020), ‘character is important because it sets the tone for those around you. What you do and how you act rubs off on others, in positive or negative ways.’ In David Brooks’ book ‘The Road to Character’, the author defines what makes a person of character. It starts with having a certain set of universal traits that include a code of ethics, an inner knowing of what is fair and just. These values have nothing to do with your political affiliation, your social or economic status or your religion. They have everything to do with what makes you tick.’ Brooks outlines 11 traits of people with character. These are: 1) They possess an inner cohesion; 2) They are calm, settled, and rooted; 3) They are not blown off course by storms; 4) They don’t crumble in adversity; 5) Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable; 6) They answer softly when challenged. They are silent when unfairly criticized .. restrained when others try to provoke them; 7) They get things done. They recognize what needs doing and they do it; 8) They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them; 9) They move through different social classes not even aware they are doing so; 10) You’ve never heard them boast, you’ve never seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain, and 11) They don’t drop hints of their own distinctiveness and accomplishments.
‘Brooks also tells us about the flip side of the character, pointing out that those who lack it ‘never develop inner constancy, the integrity that can withstand popular disapproval or a serious blow. They find themselves doing things that other people approve of, whether these things are right or not. It is more about trying to be popular than trying to be right. Men of character live their lives with a different set of priorities. They have learned to suppress the ego and find it better to give than to receive. They are humble. The humble person is soothing and gracious, while the self-promoting person is fragile and jarring. Humility is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time, but egotism is a ravenous hunger in a small space — self-concerned, competitive, and distinction-hungry. Humility is infused with emotions like companionship, love, and gratitude. The act of being humble requires some effort, especially in a world where boasting and self-congratulation are now so commonplace. No one can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. We all need assistance from the outside — from family, friends, role models, rules, traditions, institutions, and, for believers, from GOD. The character begins within and blossoms when we move beyond our own self-interest and act for the greater good. We realize that we are here on this earth not merely to pursue our own agenda but to care for and uplift those around us.
In conclusion, more Americans have seen the absence of character in their leader of the past four years. They suffered as a result. They have learned a great lesson. And came out in unprecedented droves to vote him out in favor of a leader of character. The American people fired Donald Trump. And put Joe Biden in his place.