Editor’s Note: Al Franken, a Democrat, is a writer, former Senator, and currently host of the Al Franken podcast. In the Senate, he served on the Judiciary, Health, Education, Labor, and Pension, Energy and Natural Resources, and Indian Affairs committees. He is the author or four New York Times number one bestsellers. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
When your opponent is digging himself a hole, you let him keep digging. By design or necessity, Joe Biden has laid low since we all sheltered in place, allowing President Donald Trump to turn the November election into a referendum on Donald Trump.
And right now, Donald Trump appears to be losing badly to Donald Trump.
Given Trump’s inability to admit and learn from mistakes, there is the real possibility that he will continue to crash and burn all the way through to November 3. But Biden and Democrats can’t count on that. Instead, they must offer the American people a real rationale for voting in the fall for three reasons.
The first, of course, is that a Trump victory would be a disaster for everything Democrats hold dear. Here’s a short list – democracy, economic justice, social justice and justice. That leaves out a whole bunch – for instance, providing health care for all Americans and global warming. Stuff like that.
Secondly, between now and November, Trump and the Republicans will do everything they can to cheat. That means using every tool possible to suppress votes, including a full court press to prevent vote-by-mail, even if we are still deep in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Third, if Trump loses a close election, he may very well refuse to leave.
Biden has to win by a lot. And to do that and carry Democrats to a majority in the Senate, he has to offer Americans a vision of what America can be. Recent polls show that pride in the US is at it’s lowest in nearly 20 years, with Republicans showing the steepest decline. Americans have, ironically, lost the sense that America is great. That we are exceptional. That we are still the world’s indispensable nation.
It’s not that Americans don’t want us to be that. But just looking around, most Americans might think that we’re no longer up to it. Especially right now.
The pandemic has laid bare weaknesses that already existed. A dysfunctional and corrupt federal government. A hopelessly divided political class, unable to address problems that we used to tackle – like our crumbling infrastructure (or, more immediately, providing personal protective equipment to our frontline health care workers). An economy in which most workers deemed essential are paid barely enough to get by. Racial disparities in income, wealth and health care. And in criminal justice.
Internationally, we have ceded our leadership, made alliances with brutal dictators, and alienated allies. The Kurds lost 11,000 men and women fighting ISIS on our behalf in Syria, only to be abandoned by Trump – a move he justified by pointing out that the Kurds had not been at Normandy. Well, you know who was at Normandy? Our big NATO ally, Germany! Hell, if it weren’t for the Germans, there would have been no D-Day!
Last month, Trump whiffed on the ultimate softball question when Sean Hannity asked him what he hoped to accomplish in a second term. Actually, he didn’t whiff. He took a third strike lobbed waist high over the heart of the plate. He had nothing. Nothing. Zero goals for a second term.
Joe Biden needs to remind Americans what leadership is supposed to look like. Worldwide, we need to engage our allies if we are to challenge China’s emergence as the world’s preeminent economic and political superpower.
Domestically, we must restore Americans’ confidence in our ability to solve problems and make progress. Most Americans want to build on Obamacare, not abandon it. We want our government agencies run by competent professionals, not crooked cronies. We want a system of taxation that rewards work, not capital and that raises enough revenue to meet the needs of American families. We want to meaningfully address systemic racism. We want an educational system that works for every American child and every adult who wants to further herself in a 21stcentury economy. We want roads and bridges and trains which at least resemble those in other developed countries.
We want a president who can not only answer Sean Hannity’s softball question, but also inspire us with his answer. We are America. Not so long ago that meant something. We are capable of restoring our place in the world and of being a nation that remembers that, as Paul Wellstone put it, “We all do better when we all do better.”
Joe Biden is not Franklin Roosevelt. But he is Joe Biden, a fundamentally decent man who could begin healing some of the divisions that this President has deliberately exploited and deepened.
He is a man of deep empathy who would inherit a wounded nation from a man incapable of caring about anyone other than himself.
But, first, he has to win. Which means he has to bring it.