The United States presidential election of 2020 is in an unfortunate — but ultimately predictable — state. The race between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, a race which the former has described as a “battle for the soul of the nation,” is shaping up to be one of the most important elections in living memory. The issue with this race is that it’s a farce of what an election year is supposed to be. As opposed to a battle over strategy and policy, both campaigns are little more than schoolyard arguments declaring “at least I’m not you.” While this rhetoric is only a part of strategy that Trump and the Republican party have employed, the notion of being the lesser of two evils seems to be the base around which Biden and the Democrats have built their entire platform.
Now, one could argue that for the past decade or more, elections, presidential or otherwise, have been little more than candidates dodging policy questions and slandering the other side. But that fact that previous campaigns have been sloppy does not excuse the mess that is this race.
When it comes to issues over which the president exerts the most influence, the two candidates are unfortunately quite similar. Both men pledge their undying support to Israel, support U.S. interventions in sovereign countries, and fall over themselves to increase the military budget. In addition, both candidates have had substancial rape and sexual misconduct allegations levied against them, further blurring the moral distinctions between them.
The substantative difference between Biden and Trump largely boils down to the Democrat’s much greater respect for constitutional amendments, particularly those pertaining to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, voting rights, a woman’s right to choose abortion, and other established constitutional doctrines.
Trump advocates for criminalizing flag burning, uses executive power to terminate citizens’ peaceful assemblies, targets the United States Postal Service, and pleases his base by explicitly nominating “pro-life” judges. Biden is less likely to abuse executive power in this way, and he is more likely to select judges that respect these norms.
U.S. foreign policy will be a disaster either way, but Biden’s domestic policies regarding healthcare, immigration, climate change, and regulation will be slightly better than Trump’s. He will also nominate better judges that won’t overturn Roe v. Wade and cabinet members who are more qualified than being the wife of a big donor or Senate Majority Leader. Biden pledged to veto Medicare for All, but he also promised to protect Obamacare. Yes, his policies show he’s a Republican in Democrat clothes, but Trump’s amorphous extreme right-wing positions indicate he will go as far right as he needs to maintain power.
Biden is unlikely to stray left, but he’s also unlikely to ever wander off the right-wing deep end. Though he’s far from being the trojan horse for socialism that right-wing commentators make him out to be, he can be a means to an end for progressives seeking to improve the lives of Americans at the margins.
For many, the choice between Trump and Biden is crystal clear. Those who backed Trump in 2020 are reaffirming their position, but for Democrats, the choice is less obvious. The Democratic primaries showed once again that a significant proportion of young voters seek the sweeping changes that were proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders in both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
Biden also faced competition from Senator Elizabeth Warren who had promised much needed social reform. Following both of their exits from the Democratic race, Biden proceeded to sweep up the remaining nominations needed to secure his place as presidential nominee. While the endorsements from Senator Sanders and Senator Warren somewhat healed the split that had formed in the Democratic party, many voters still refuse to back Biden, leading to the creation of a the new “Settle for Biden” movement that hopes to rouse apathetic voters to action.
The spiritual successor to the hashtag “vote blue no matter who” that became popular on Twitter as it became clear that Biden would win the nomination, “Settle for Biden” argues that regardless of his past actions and current competency he cannot be a worse President than Donald Trump, and that alone is reason enough to vote for him.
The main idea with this movement is that any Democratic President, despite the party’s harsh treatment of its left-wing portion, would be pressured to undertake some progressive reforms and nominate at least a couple left-leaning department heads. Biden, therefore, would be a placeholder candidate meant to put out the fire of Trump’s civil rights abuses, nominate judges that will treat future progressive legislation fairly, and run the federal bureaucracy with less chaos.
The “Settle for Biden” movement argues that Sanders and Warren supporters should cut their losses by voting for a better present in Biden, as snubbing Biden out of anger won’t lead to better policy. They advocate that in fact, doing so will concretely lead to worse living conditions for millions.
As the electorate becomes increasingly young and progressive, there will be more opportunities to build a better future. There’s nothing to be done about Warren’s and Sanders’ loss in the primary — the Vermont senator himself urges his followers to unite behind Biden, and progressive stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have bitten the Biden bullet. That leaves the voters themselves as the last party needing to move on from this upset.
Right now it may seem as if casting a ballot for a third party option such as the Green or Libertarian parties may seem like the best option. This could either be because you live in a non-swing state like New York, you genuinely support their policies, or you want to protest your current major party options.
But right now, the electoral systems we have in place are not structured for it. A vote for Biden could be paired with pressure to change the system that leads us to such miserable choices. If you are a Democrat, then this election is far and away a choice between which figurehead you want to fight against for policy reform: Biden or Trump. 2021-2025 may be lost, but it can be used to build support for electoral reform that presents us with better choices in the future.