Opinion: Final act in Trump-Biden contest is testing America

Final act in Trump-Biden contest is testing America
Originally Published: 06 SEP 20 07:57 ET
Updated: 06 SEP 20 09:28 ET

In 2020, not so much.

This time around Americans are coping with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and millions who have lost their livelihoods are still looking for work. But this is far from the first Labor Day to take place in a troubled nation. In fact, in 1894, in the weeks after President Glover Cleveland signed the law designating the first Monday in September as a national holiday, he sent in federal troops to end a crippling nationwide work boycott and strike of Pullman railroad workers. In a confrontation, national guard troops fired into a crowd, killing as many as 30.

Labor Day this year comes as early voting is beginning in one of the most tumultuous presidential races in decades, as President Donald Trump tries to make the election about violence in some American cities arising out of protests over police conduct. Meanwhile, his 2020 rival, Vice President Joe Biden, is zeroing in on the failures that have contributed to the deaths of more than 188,000 Americans from Covid-19 — as experts predict that hundreds of thousands more will die by the end of the year unless more precautions are taken.

Julian Zelizer contrasted these rival narratives. “Last month, Democrats spent their convention telling the story about a good person,” Joe Biden, he wrote. “Republicans told a very different story. Understanding that it would be impossible to turn Trump into someone that he is not, the party placed its bets on spinning a tale that downplayed the multiple crises facing American citizens — a devastating pandemic, a frail economy, and a deeply polarized nation. The GOP painted a picture of a country where lawlessness and disorder are winning out on the streets of America and cast Trump, who has spent most of his life telling wildly inflated stories about himself and his businesses, as the solution to this problem…”

Writing in advance of Trump’s Tuesday visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the scene of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the killing of two people by a suspected 17-year-old police supporter, Frida Ghitis wrote, “President Donald Trump is right in believing most Americans don’t want violence in their streets. But it’s America’s profound tragedy and grave danger that he, Trump, seems to want more of it … Desperate to win reelection amid the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and the worst public health catastrophe in a hundred years, Trump is playing with fire.”

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson was reminded of Trump’s tactics during the midterm election two years ago: “As President Trump frantically tries to frighten voters with the specter of ‘anarchists’ and ‘looters’ and planes full of black-clad ‘bad people’ coming to menace your suburban neighborhood, take a trip down memory lane. Recall those desperate days of 2018, when the nation was sacked, pillaged and reduced to smoking ruins by vast, unstoppable caravans of marauding Latino migrants. Except the invasion never arrived; the invading force, as Trump depicted it, never even existed.”

Historian Joseph J. Ellis recalled Benjamin Franklin’s famous line about what the Constitutional Convention had accomplished. “A well-dressed Philadelphia matron spied America’s elder statesman and asked, ‘Mr. Franklin, what have you done?’ ‘Given you a republic,’ Franklin replied, ‘if you can keep it.’

Keeping it is indeed the question in 2020, Ellis argued. “This is the chief reason why the looming election is the most important political event of our lifetime. This is not an election about personalities, the pandemic, the economy, or Black Lives Matter, though they are all on the ballot. This is an election to decide whether we wish to remain the American republic. Though the founders are busy being dead, their voices still linger in the atmosphere with a resoundingly clear answer to that question.”

There is another issue, wrote Nancy Altman. “Donald Trump once claimed that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City and not lose any voters. He’s now seeing whether the same is true if he kills Social Security. His unilateral, unprecedented step of deferring the collection of payroll taxes, the backbone of Social Security, is the murder weapon he would use.”

Trump denied charges in a piece by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg alleging he privately expressed contempt for Americans who die or are wounded in war. “Unfortunately, none of this is surprising,” wrote Brandon Friedman, a veteran and former Obama administration official, in the New York Daily News. “The scandalous private comments are only versions of what we’ve all heard him say in public. Trump has disparaged the military time and again, from when he said, ‘I like people who weren’t captured’ to his denigration of the Khan family, whose son was killed in Iraq.”

No one knows

1948 or 1992? That’s the question about presidential polls and Labor Day. In the Gallup poll following Labor Day 1948, President Harry S. Truman trailed New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey by eight points but went on to win the election by five percentage points. In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton enjoyed a nine-point advantage over President George H. W. Bush in post-Labor Day polling and his lead mostly held on Election Day. Is Biden’s edge in the polls like that of Clinton — or Dewey? At this point, there’s no way to tell.

“Nearly everything about this race is so different, which should make everyone think twice about their assumptions as the voting begins,” wrote David Byler in The Washington Post, laying out seven reasons why the result is particularly uncertain this year.

“Clean comedian” Jim Gaffigan normally keeps politics out of his standup act, wrote Dean Obeidallah. But Trump’s RNC acceptance speech changed that. Gaffigan “unleashed a profanity-infused Twitter storm where he warned Trump supporters, among other things, that the President is ‘a traitor and a con man who doesn’t care about you.‘”

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr left the door open to announcing politically sensitive law enforcement actions despite the Justice Department’s longstanding norm against such matters during the 60-days preceding an election, wrote Elie Honig. In addition, Honig noted, “Barr has made entirely clear that he intends to continue parroting Trump’s most paranoid, cooked-up conspiracy theories about massive fraud in mail-in voting. If we end up in a dreaded (but eminently possible) contested election scenario, Barr is offering plenty of reason to expect that he would be prepared to use the might of the Justice Department to swing the outcome towards Trump.”

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