The campaign has established important things. Joe Biden, who continues periodically to insist he is running for the Senate, is a nice man, empathy oozing from every pore. Trump is not a nice man, not an empathetic bone in his body. Trump supporters are hoping that Leo Durocher, then manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was right when he said, “Nice guys finish last.” Biden supporters are hoping that is not true of nice old guys. On to policy differences, broad brush poised.
Biden likes and would spend taxpayer money on immigrants, legal and otherwise, to ease the difficulties they face and secure their permanent allegiance to his party. Trump wants fewer immigrants and no illegals, and continues building his wall.
Biden looks at the streets and sees peaceful protestors and cops behaving badly. Trump looks at the streets and sees rioters smashing windows, looting and torching shops.
Biden will follow the line of the teachers’ unions, which oppose charter schools, micro-schools and other efforts to increase parental choice. Trump would continue policies that favour parental choice.
Biden believes deeply in pro-union policies. Trump worries more about corporate profit margins.
Trump would keep corporate taxes at current levels, and lower payroll taxes. Biden would raise corporate taxes and taxes on everyone earning more than $400,000 per year as one means of redistributing income, and eliminate some provisions of the tax code that favor oil companies and high-income individuals, including real estate developers.
Trump would continue deregulating. Biden would reinstitute environmental regulations and continue to seek safe ground on financial regulation between Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders and his Wall Street funders.
Trump believes global warming is a hoax. Biden would adopt some presumably less expensive version of what he misremembers as “the new green deal”. Trump loves coal and other fossil fuels; Biden would limit fracking and rely on renewables to fuel the American economy.
Biden favours a Covid relief package that, among other things, channels funds to over-stretched cities and states, most of them run by Democrats. Trump does not, except on days when he does.
Biden would outsource anti-Covid policy to the “scientists”, and if they advise, “I would close it [the economy] down.” Trump views the current infection and death rates from Covid-19 as unfortunate but tolerable prices to pay for the greater economic and health benefits of a reopened economy – “It is what it is.”
Biden is surrounded by advisors who, to borrow from columnist Rod Liddle, are “further to the left than a salad fork”. Trump is satisfied, as biographer Benjamin Taylor said of one subject, with the “splendid sufficiency of his own point of view…”.
The candidates’ foreign policies are more difficult to compare. But here goes. Start with China. Both candidates promise to be tough on China. Trump will stick with his tariffs, a favourite policy tool. Biden worries that those tariffs are raising the prices American consumers pay, and evoke retaliation that is damaging farmers. Both want to reduce reliance on China for vital medicines and products such as rare earth metals, and promise domestic subsidies. Biden would emphasize rallying support from allies in this as in other matters. But he would have to consider the views of his Wall Street backers, who have a stake in continued profitable commercial relations with the Chinese regime.
The Middle East is an easier call. Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, where Biden now says he would leave it. Trump broke the log-jam between Israel and key Arab states, and drove a wedge between those states and the Palestinians who have, as Israeli diplomat and scholar Abba Eban put it, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make a deal with Israel. A durable peace draws closer as Saudi Arabia signals a willingness to make a deal with Israel, with which it already has significant security and other relations.
Trump is more unequivocally pro-Israel than is Biden, although Biden is no enemy of the Jewish state. He expresses none of Barack Obama’s personal animosity toward Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, once telling him, “I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.” But he has a problem on his hands. Sixteen House Democrats (and one Republican) voted “no” on a congressional resolution condemning the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. The resolution passed 398-to-17. Biden also must deal with anti-Israel “progressives”, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.
Finally, we have the question of allies, whom Trump serially insults. He proudly claims his threats (and discourtesies) forced America’s Nato allies to increase their financial support. Biden would be more solicitous of the needs of allies, more willing to court them and file their loyalty for future use, in part because unlike Trump he does not see alliances as series of transactions but a rallying around shared values and interests. But allies often exact concessions for their support, and we don’t know the price Biden is willing to pay.
Put all of these together and you have policies that Trump claims will wreck the great economy that he has created and is in the process of re-creating. That may be true in the short-run if Biden shuts down the recovering economy.
But Biden is planning to increase spending more than taxation, meaning fiscal policy will be even looser than it now is. Add to that some sort of infrastructure package that will emerge from the senate, no matter which party is in control, and an end to Nancy Pelosi’s stall on a new relief package, and you have all the ingredients of a “sugar high”.
Pelosi has been figuring that the pain inflicted on those whose benefits ran out is a small price for them to pay to help elect Biden by enduring suffering until the Democrats win both the White House and the Senate. Like Biden, Pelosi sees herself “as a bridge to the next generation of leaders”. She promised to step down in 2022 as a price for winning the needed votes to remain speaker until then. That was in 2018. Having helped Biden into the Oval Office, she can reasonably expect him to ask her stay on until 2024 to help him build America back better, at which point the two octogenarians can walk into the sunset hand in hand. Just a guess.
In the longer run, much will depend on whether taxes on the “rich” reach levels that create disincentives to investment, or continued zero interest rates drive investors to excessive risk-taking, as the Fed now worries they will, or if a wave of new regulations introduces costs that wildly exceed their social benefits.
There you have it – a very broad-brush guide to a battle in which about 20 million Americans have already voted, with about 130 million more yet to cast a ballot against the man they like least.