November 20, 2023

Questions Answered

Editor's Note: Many thanks to the hundreds of readers who responded to our survey with thoughtful questions! We’re delightfully overwhelmed. For the next three days, we’ll be answering a select few that we think represent broader themes. Our focus today is Trump, Biden, and elections.

Please note that while we've put a lot of thought into these answers, we do not claim to speak for any political party / activist group / large swathe of people. When we’re answering as a 'conservative' or 'liberal,' it’s a tricky balance between trying to accurately summarize the prevailing viewpoints on our side of the political spectrum, being true to how we as individuals think and feel, and keeping our answers short enough so that readers won’t lose interest.

Ask a Liberal

What has Joe Biden done to improve our country? - Anonymous

Without critiquing other candidates, what has Biden done that you like enough to believe he should serve another 4 years as President? - Anonymous

The Biden administration has a significant record of accomplishments. His first two years were “among the most productive of any president in the past half century.” The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package was as large as President Obama’s stimulus package and healthcare bill combined, and provided much-needed relief for families, businesses, and state governments. The Inflation Reduction Act is the largest climate bill in US history. Medicare has been allowed, for the first time, to negotiate drug prices. Unemployment is at its lowest rate in 50 years, and inflation is falling.

Other legislative successes include expanding background checks and red flag laws for gun purchases, boosting domestic semiconductor production through the CHIPS Act, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, electoral reform, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Biden administration has successfully nominated 152 federal judges and has seen his nominees confirmed at the highest rate since the Kennedy administration.

Biden has provided resolute support to Ukraine, allowing it to resist Russian aggression without provoking dangerous escalation. He has strengthened America’s commitment to NATO, earning commitments from European allies to spend more on defense. International opinion of America has skyrocketed: in 2021, 75 percent had confidence “in the US president to do the right thing regarding world affairs” up from 17 percent when he took office. He has maintained a tough line on China and provided nearly $4 billion to strengthen Taiwan’s security. Finally, the AUKUS deal with Australia and the United Kingdom has strengthened our ties in the Pacific.

Why would you prefer Biden over another Democratic candidate? - Jake, ID

Have ordinary supporters (not news media) of the Democratic party felt represented when Democratic elites have discouraged candidates in the upcoming presidential primary? - Beth, SC

While many Democrats say they would prefer an alternative candidate to Biden in 2024, they do not agree on who that alternative should be. Biden has proven quite adept at bridging the divide between progressives and moderates/centrists within the Democratic coalition. There’s also the fact that Biden has shown no inclination to step aside, and primary challenges to incumbent presidents generally do not turn out well.

Still, the average Democrat would likely have preferred if Biden had stepped aside and a competitive primary in which major Democratic contenders threw their hats in the ring could have taken place. Some even floated the idea of having a primary for the VP slot given that Kamala Harris’s poll numbers until recently were pretty dismal, so in case the unthinkable should happen, a VP chosen by the people in 2023 (rather than by Biden in 2019) would be ready to step in. But obviously party leaders felt differently. The average Democrat is likely disappointed but resigned.

For a relative with a short memory and partisan myopia, is there a good thorough article somewhere or book that factually catalogues all the negatives of Trump in his term and projects what the damage he could do in a hypothetical second term? - Russell, CA

In addition to his 30,573 false or misleading claims, the Trump administration did plenty of actual harm. He attempted to ban Muslims from the country, deliberately separated migrant children from their parents, and withdrew from the Paris climate accord. He attempted to obstruct the Mueller investigation and threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless it provided dirt on Hunter Biden. Trump also repeatedly defended Vladimir Putin and threatened to pull out of NATO.

The national debt grew by $7.8 trillion during his term, in large part due to a massive tax cut that disproportionately benefited the wealthy. He increased tariffs, but these were mostly paid by US firms and workers and failed to improve national security. His attempt to negotiate a trade deal with China failed.

Finally, there was his coordinated effort, both before and on January 6, to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He repeatedly pushed false claims of fraud and encouraged illegal and even violent behavior in furtherance of this objective. His inflammatory rhetoric contributed to numerous threats against election officials simply doing their jobs. Yet while Trump’s first term was chaotic, there were at least “adults in the room” who restrained his worst impulses. That is unlikely to be the case if he wins in 2024. Unlike in 2016, pro-Trump groups are already coming up with plans and vetting potential nominees. They are “ready to jam government offices with loyalists willing to stretch traditional boundaries.”

Potential policy plans include using an executive order “to wipe out employment protections for tens of thousands of civil servants across the federal government” in order to punish bureaucrats Trump believes would not support his agenda. He will weaponize the Justice Department, FBI, and intelligence agencies against political enemies. He allegedly “wants the Justice Department to investigate onetime officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office” and has “been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.”

In addition to reinstating immigration restrictions from his first term such as a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries and refusing asylum claims based on worries about disease, the administration plans to round up millions of undocumented immigrants in camps in order to enact mass deportations. He would also “try to end birthright citizenship for babies born in the United States to undocumented parents.” According to one advisor, “Trump will unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown… The immigration legal activists won’t know what’s happening.”

Ask a Conservative

What good has Trump done? How do you overlook Trump’s behavior? - Teri

Trump enacted many policies that conservatives support. First and most obviously, he appointed the judges that overturned Roe v. Wade; this has been the primary goal of the social conservative movement for the last five decades. Other Republicans offered lip-service opposition to abortion but failed to actually do anything about it (Roe was repeatedly affirmed by a Supreme Court with a majority of Republican-appointed justices); Trump delivered.

Operation Warp Speed produced Covid vaccines in record time to tame the pandemic. The USMCA improved upon NAFTA to protect American workers. The stock market hit record highs while unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those without a high school diploma all hit record lows pre-pandemic.

On foreign policy, the Abraham Accords improved relations between Israel and Arab states. Trump also oversaw the defeat of ISIS and weakened Iran through the killing of Qasem Soleimani, a major instigator of terrorism across the region. The Trump administration provided Ukraine with lethal weaponry, a decision that the Obama administration had refused to take. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, stated that Trump’s sanctions on Russia were the toughest of any administration. And the Biden administration has largely continued its predecessor’s tough actions on China, including maintaining tariffs.

One of our contributors adds: Trump’s record as president – from reinvigorating the economy to strengthening the border to taking the fight to ISIS; or from the construction of the American embassy in Jerusalem, to renegotiating trade policy, to nominating constitutionally-minded Supreme Court judges, to the promotion of traditional American values such as faith, family, and hard work, as well as a renewed love of country and patriotism – made Donald Trump strikingly different to those on the Left who wrongly say that America was racist and corrupt from the very beginning, and that Americans must acknowledge their collective guilt and flagellate themselves in various ways, thereby dividing rather than uniting Americans. Biden has created a federal government with “racial equity czars” and “Equity Action Plans” that illegally attempts to disburse funding based on race. He promised a return to normalcy. Instead, Americans have gotten lectures about how America is racist and why biological males must be allowed to play women’s sports.

Why are Donald Trump's poll numbers improving even as he gets into more legal trouble and other Republican candidates attack him? - Andy, CA

How do you still support Trump after all the violence he has helped incite? - Javier, IL

Republicans overwhelmingly believe the charges against Trump are politically motivated (81% according to a recent poll). The prosecutions in New York and Georgia are coming from elected Democratic prosecutors who campaigned on promises to go after Trump. The prosecutor in Georgia, Fani Willis, was barred from prosecuting one Trump ally after she headlined a fundraiser for his opponent in the 2022 election. The federal prosecutions are being handled by a Justice Department that reports to Joe Biden, Trump’s likely opponent in the 2024 election, at a time when Trump is leading him in election polling.

The charges themselves are also quite weak. In the New York case, prosecutor Alvin Bragg initially decided not to proceed with charges; the Justice Department also declined to file any charges. Bragg only changed his mind after political backlash; even the liberal outlet Vox noted that the prosecution looks “very political indeed.” Keeping classified documents after leaving office appears common; former Vice Presidents Biden and Pence were both found to have done so recently, yet only Trump is facing charges.

Regarding January 6, it’s important to note that Trump has not been charged with inciting violence. This is likely because, as one prominent First Amendment scholar notes, his speech at the Capitol likely would not fall under the “incitement” exception to free speech.

It’s also worth noting that incendiary language is not limited to Trump. To give just one example, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated at an abortion protest outside the Supreme Court: “I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh - you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” His remarks were condemned as “dangerous” by Chief Justice John Roberts. Majorities of both parties believe that politicians “should avoid using heated language because it could encourage violence.”

While the violence at the Capitol was terrible, it was no worse than that committed by protestors in the summer of 2020. Those protests caused between $1 billion and $2 billion in damages, making them the most expensive in US history. Over 1,500 businesses were damaged in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area alone, many owned by minorities. Police made over 14,000 arrests in 49 cities. One federal judge explicitly called out perceived leniency towards violent protests after the murder of George Floyd compared to those on January 6: “I think the U.S. attorney would have more credibility if it was even-handed in its concern about riots and mobs in this city.”

A poll in July showing that 7 percent of the American public believes that using force to return Trump to the presidency is justified was widely reported. Less widely reported was the fact that according to the same poll 12 percent of the country believes that force is justified to restore abortion rights. And while 18 percent of Republicans agree that the “Use of force is justified to ensure members of Congress and other government officials do the right thing” the same is true of 16 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents. Political violence is a problem, but it’s not limited to the right.

What evidence is there of election fraud/irregularities and/or procedural violations in 2020? - Tim, WA

We answered this question in detail previously here (please search for the sentence “While there is little credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, fraud does happen” or scroll down to the bottom half of the page). It’s also worth noting that just recently the Democratic primary for mayor in Bridgeport, CT was ordered to be re-run due to alleged absentee ballot fraud. Video emerged of supporters of the incumbent mayor - who ultimately won by 251 votes - dropping off large numbers of absentee ballots in ballot drop boxes. The judge noted that the evidence “brings the reliability of the primary into serious doubt.”

My mom constantly talks about how bad Biden has been for the economy, but from where I stand, we are doing very well (lowest inflation in the Western world, near record unemployment, solid market performance). What policy has Biden's administration enacted that leads her and so many conservatives to believe he has been so bad for the economy? - Casey, TX

Following the pandemic, inflation in the US was significantly higher than in Europe. This inflation coincided with the Covid rescue plan Biden passed soon after taking office. Economists estimate that the plan was responsible for half of the increase in inflation. Former Democratic Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called the bill “the least responsible macroeconomic policy we've had in the last 40 years.” It’s true that US inflation has moderated more than Europe recently, but that’s in large part due to the war in Ukraine which has disproportionately affected European prices.

While inflation has been slowing, it’s important to note that this is simply the rate of increase from last year’s prices, which were already higher. It doesn’t mean that prices are falling back to their previous levels, or even the levels they would be if inflation had been lower. Economic analysis shows that in many industries, after accounting for inflation, average hourly wages have decreased since 2019. The economic climate is also difficult for anyone looking to purchase a house: average mortgage rates are the highest they have been in 20 years and rates have more than doubled since Biden took office.

How do conservatives see liberals as damaging/destroying America's democracy? - Anonymous

Free speech is essential to democracy, but recent polls have shown Democrats becoming increasingly supportive of censorship. Nearly half of Democrats now say speech should be legal “only under certain circumstances.” 70 percent of Democrats - up from only 40 percent five years ago - now support the government restricting false information online.

Meanwhile, there’s increasing evidence of government efforts to suppress “misinformation” in collusion with social media companies. This was particularly egregious in the case of the idea that Covid originated in a Wuhan Lab. Even worse is the increasing politicization of the media, with some now explicitly arguing that newsrooms should not strive for objectivity.

There are also Biden’s numerous executive orders, several of which have been struck down by the courts, including his attempt to forgive massive amounts of student debt. The Biden administration has engaged in “frank defiance of the Comstock Act prohibition on sending abortion-inducing substances through the mail; the rewriting of Title IX on the fly to include gender identity and to impose new nationwide rules on schools regarding males in women’s sports; and the distortion of the rules to make illegal immigrants covered under DACA — itself the product of an edict with no basis in the law about a decade ago — eligible for Obamacare.”

Ask Both Sides

If both President Biden and former President Trump have disapproval ratings above 50%, how is it possible that they're still the two main candidates? Can we really not find better leaders? - Jess

The issue is that while voters might dislike the main candidates, they do not agree on who the alternatives should be. The same is true of third party candidates. When candidates offering something new emerge, for better or worse, their issues tend to be absorbed by the two major parties. This happened in 2016 with both Trump (who won the Republican primary and dramatically changed the party platform) and Bernie Sanders (who lost but succeeded in pushing Democratic attitudes - and thus the party platform - to the left).

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