It’s a remarkable — and frightening — time in America. This country has withstood wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and civil unrest, but the division and chaos, incompetence, and intolerance that we have witnessed from Donald Trump in the last few months — to say nothing of the last four years — are unprecedented.
The 2020 presidential election between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has grave and serious consequences — for the future of America, and for Pennsylvania specifically.
That is why we are taking a different approach to this endorsement for the next president.
For decades, Editorial Board endorsements — including presidential endorsements — have followed a time-honored and standard format, carefully laying out the merits and flaws of two candidates, comparing, contrasting, and arguing for the board’s choice of candidate.
Yet this moment demands a departure from that tradition.
For one thing, in December 2019, The Inquirer Editorial Board called for President Trump to be impeached, writing that he’d “severely disrespected his office and the document he swore to protect and uphold.” That opinion stands.
But more fundamentally, there is no common ground shared by Trump and Biden. Trump’s lack of respect for the office he holds, his disregard for the country who looks for sound, informed, and unifying leadership, and his contempt for the democratic principles this country was founded on, make such comparisons both futile and absurd. To contrast Trump with a candidate like Biden, who has spent his life in public service, who has gravitas as well as experience in domestic and foreign affairs, and who, frankly, has a healthy relationship with reality, would do a disservice to Biden.
Trump’s own recent COVID diagnosis was the exclamation point on a president’s failure to take seriously a pandemic that has killed 210,000 of his fellow Americans.
We believe Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, have the ability to get America back on a healthy, unified track to regain the country’s strength and its standing in the world. Their priorities must be to confront the twin health and economic crises that face us and to address the social divisions and upheaval that tear the nation.
This editorial is not just a strong endorsement of Joe Biden for president, but a loud alarm about where the Trump administration has failed in key areas, and what continuing those failures may mean for the state of Pennsylvania, widely hailed as the most important swing state in this election.
The road to the White House goes through Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes. That means Pennsylvanians have tremendous power in this election, and the ability to put the country back on its course.
That also means Pennsylvanians have the responsibility to understand what is at stake and to vote to reset the course for this country. In the sections below, The Inquirer Editorial Board unpacks five critical issues — public health, environment, economy and jobs, racism and justice, and education — for Pennsylvania in the presidential election, and makes the case for Joe Biden to be America’s next president.
COVID-19 has delivered far more than a pandemic that upended the world and claimed a million lives. In the United States, it has provided the public with a crash course in epidemiology, revealing how economic, environmental, and social disparities are intertwined with the well-being of the population.
While COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, it has been especially brutal for the economic and physical health of low-wage workers, as well as people of color, people in poverty, and those lacking access to health care. This situation will be made even worse if the Affordable Care Act gets repealed.
The pandemic has also exposed our weakened public health infrastructure that left the country unprepared to respond. The Trump administration’s lack of a national coordinated response, its failure to fund public health infrastructure, or to marshal the existing infrastructure, especially the CDC, has been devastating. Clear and coherent communication with the public is critical in any public health crisis.
Trump not only failed on this score, but his politicization of the pandemic made the virus even more deadly. In late September, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf urged the president to cancel a large Harrisburg rally amid concerns about spreading the coronavirus. The president refused, highlighting his bold disregard for the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.
With his own diagnosis two weeks ago, Trump has now paid a personal price for his denial of widely accepted precautions, even as he foolishly tells the public not to be afraid of this disease, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans. Whatever the outcome of his own infection, we as a country remain crippled by these structural failures. Coping with a major pandemic, economic failure, and social upheaval has left us a very sick country — and we are equally unequipped to grapple with the long-term trauma that will remain.
The stakes for Pennsylvania: As the eighth-oldest state in the nation, Pennsylvania’s elderly have been hit harder than most by the coronavirus. Although we rank 41st among 50 states for the number of coronavirus cases, we are 17th among all states in deaths per 100,000. The brunt of the pandemic in Pennsylvania fell on nursing homes, where fatalities represented nearly 70% of all COVID-19 deaths. Critics attributed this in part to early missteps by Gov. Wolf to allow nursing homes to admit patients with COVID-19, but it also represents a wider crisis in elder care that will continue to affect this state’s future.
The ACA reduced racial disparities in the uninsured rate in Pennsylvania, but a gap persists — and the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the ACA threaten to reverse that progress.
The case for Biden: Biden’s support and defense of the Affordable Care Act is particularly important at this moment. He supports Medicaid expansion, controls on pharmaceutical pricing, and increases in public health spending, including restoring the office designed to deal with pandemics. Maybe most important: He believes in science, and has repeatedly used his powerful position to encourage Americans to wear masks and listen to experts, and has a robust plan to treat addiction.
There used to be a popular game show whose motto was “It’s not what you say … it’s what you don’t say.” That’s also the basis for the alarm with which America’s scientific and environmental communities view the prospect of a second Trump term — and all he’s not saying about keeping carbon pollution in check, amid Earth’s highest temperatures on record.
The problem is less a question of what Trump would do — in rolling back more environmental regulations, or favoring the fossil-fuel industry — and more of what he won’t do to help America meet the immediate goal of cutting carbon pollution in half this decade.
He won’t undo the plan for the United States to become the only major nation to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, signaling his unwillingness to cooperate with other nations on tackling the issue. He won’t promote policies that will finally end Washington’s bias toward fossil fuels, or offer government aid to speed the development of clean energy such as wind and solar — even as more of the overheated West Coast chokes on wildfires and stronger hurricanes pummel the Gulf.
And while climate fires are blazing through the West Coast, much of Pennsylvania was under drought watch in early September.
The stakes for Pennsylvania: Local environmentalists expect four more years of Trump would strengthen the push for giant new petrochemical plants in the Ohio River Valley to keep the state’s fracking wells flowing — even as those plants become major new pollution sources and create tons of plastic waste. They expect Trump’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to boost fossil fuels in Pennsylvania at the expense of renewables. With the third-highest cancer rate in the nation, the commonwealth’s disease clusters will remain uninvestigated under Trump, and its Superfund sites will continue to fester.
Nationally, another 48 months would give a second Trump administration time to strengthen its pro-business, anti-environmental rollback of Obama-era regulations that had aimed to stop methane leaks at fracking wells, and mandate stricter fuel standards for vehicles or energy-efficient lightbulbs. It’s a downward spiral that wouldn’t let up any earlier than January 2025 — the midway point of a lost decade on climate.
The case for Biden: Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and has more recently worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives on strengthening his climate plan with the goal of making America carbon-neutral by 2050. He wants to spend $2 trillion over four years on a green-energy program that would create thousands of jobs building electric cars or solar panels or cleaning up waste dumps.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the U.S. economy to a recession, Trump boasted that he built the greatest economy in American history. Like the myth of his business acumen, this is an exaggeration, if not an outright untruth.
Trump inherited a strong economy from the Obama-Biden administration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the first three years of the Obama-Biden second term, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped 2.6%. In the three years after Trump became president, the unemployment rate went down only an additional 0.6%.
As a candidate, Trump promised to increase the federal minimum wage to at least $10 an hour (currently $7.25). But as president, Trump’s priority has been stock-market gains and cutting taxes for the rich.
The stakes for Pennsylvania: The state and the country did experience growth in manufacturing jobs under Trump — often in temporary jobs like the cracker plant outside Pittsburgh that is detrimental to the environment and heavily subsidized by Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. But the earnings Pennsylvanians took home barely changed. The median hourly wage in Pennsylvania increased by only 94 cents between 2017 and 2019. The state’s poverty rate only slightly decreased — and in nearly half of the counties, it increased.
Seven months into the pandemic, unemployment is still above 10%. All the gains from the recovery have been erased, and Trump has no plan to move the economy forward in this new world.
The pandemic requires a swift and fundamental restructuring of the economy. Parts of the old one are possibly never coming back. Leadership needs to be future-looking, like building green-energy infrastructure or investing in innovation. The social contract around work should also be challenged, starting with uncoupling the relationship between health insurance and employment, and looking into policies such as universal basic income and baby bonds to address structural inequities.
The case for Biden: Unlike Trump’s giveaway to the rich, Biden has a plan to tax corporations and the wealthy in order to fund assistance to working people and families with children. In addition to increasing the minimum wage, Biden proposes to invest in a workforce of caregivers and educators. On top of creating jobs, these investments will foster innovation, and promote economic equality for women, who are too often burdened with care duties.
Only ambitious mobilization of resources will put America on a path out of this crisis — and Americans in a position to prosper.
The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the ensuing protests forced a moment of reckoning on racism in this country.
Policing and the criminal justice system is one of the harshest hammers racism wields. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world — and Pennsylvania’s rate is above the national average. Black Pennsylvanians are among the most incarcerated people on Earth. Police officers in the United States also kill civilians at a rate that is higher than any comparable country — and specifically, Black people.
Trump did not invent American racism, and the protests are as much about what happened in the United States since the beginning of the chattel slavery in 1619 as they are about the last three years. But any hope for national progress on racism, policing, and the criminal justice system will be hindered when the occupant of the White House feeds the flames of division instead of listening to the cries of hurting communities.
Trump’s racism also dictated his immigration policy: calling predominantly Black nations “s—hole countries,” banning immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, and separating families of immigrants crossing the Southern border.
The stakes for Pennsylvania: For nearly 4,500 Dreamers in Pennsylvania, every day of a Trump presidency is a day of uncertainty about their legal status in the only country they ever called home.
Another stark reminder of the pervasiveness of systemic racism: A virus that is often said to “not discriminate” has an infection rate that is nearly double for Black and Hispanic Philadelphians compared with their white counterparts — and Black Philadelphians’ COVID-19 death rate is 45% higher.
The case for Biden: He supports crucial criminal justice reforms, abolishing mandatory minimums, cash bail, and the death penalty — all have a massive discriminatory impact on Black and brown people. In addition, Biden supports moving funds away from incarceration and into prevention and education.
No single president can amend the harms of the persistent legacy of systemic racism. But a single president who fosters division to “rile up the base” can eliminate hope that progress, even in small steps, is possible.
Before the pandemic decimated in-person education for millions of students and threatened the future of public education, in particular, President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had gotten a head start. A champion of privatizing K-12 and higher education, she favors vouchers/school choice and diverting education funding to private and religious schools — including, most recently, COVID-19 relief dollars.
For many students, closing the reading, writing, and math gap from the time away from in-person instruction created by the pandemic could be a decades-long chase that expands inequality. Instead of helping schools to open by providing clear guidance and funding, the White House and U.S. Department of Education politicized school reopening — including pressuring the CDC to make its guidelines more lenient, against scientists’ advice.
Even before the pandemic, DeVos, in concert with Trump, also supported for-profit higher education and has weakened or eliminated regulation of this sector. In addition, DeVos has made it harder to address sexual harassment on campus by revoking Obama-era rules. Trump’s hold on the Supreme Court also paid dividends to the education privatization movement: Last summer, the court ruled that states can’t deny religious schools from publicly funded scholarships.
The stakes for Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is vulnerable to federal education policies. In state-by-state comparisons, Pennsylvania doesn’t fare well. U.S. News & World Report ranks Pennsylvania 32nd in education among the states. Education Voters of Pennsylvania places the state 44th for state share of funding for K-12 schools.
For more than 20 years, the Pennsylvania legislature has aggressively promoted charter education. On academic achievement and test scores, charter schools are a mixed bag, with alarming trends among cyber schools. Yet, no meaningful reform of charter schools or funding formulas, which siphon money from traditional districts, has occurred.
A further diversion has come with state education tax credits, which direct over $200 million per year of tax revenue to private and religious schools — a program that will potentially get backing wind due to the Supreme Court ruling on religious schools from last summer.
The case for Biden: His plan calls for more federal funding for K-12, including more money for teachers, pre-K, and Title 1 funding that helps low-income districts. His plan for higher education includes more investments in community colleges and training for jobs, increasing Pell grants, and easing burdens on student loan debt.
Like anyone with a long career in Washington, Biden has made mistakes — such as his leading role on the Clinton-era crime bills. But a key difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden has shown the American people that he is capable of change.
Biden will also bring to the White House Sen. Kamala Harris. Harris is a charismatic star in the Democratic Party, known as a gifted questioner, asking incisive questions in Senate hearings and challenging entrenched powers like the for-profit college industry.
Biden has an ambitious plan that gives us a fighting chance against the climate crisis. He has promised to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations while expanding tax credits to working people and families with kids. A Biden-Harris administration will expand the Affordable Care Act to ensure that all Americans are covered. The coronavirus response will be led by scientists and not wishful thinking. And critically, after the nonstop assault on American democracy, Biden supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and end the era of big money in politics.
America can overcome the damage Donald Trump has wrought in the last four years — and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the ones to lead the recovery.
That is why it is so critical that each and every person make a plan to vote today — and cast a vote for Joe Biden.