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COLUMN: Biden vs. Trump: Is this really the best we can do?

Illustration by Akhila Nadimpalli

For those who have somehow remained unaware, there is a presidential election this year, and if you are like me, it probably does not come as a surprise that it is shaping up to be a rematch of the last one.

As of now, the incumbent President Joe Biden has no serious primary challengers, and the previous president, Donald Trump, is consistently trouncing his only remaining opponent in the Republican primaries and caucuses, Nikki Haley, even as he is increasingly embroiled in legal battles, some of which might lead to his disqualification for the office.

And amidst these machinations of America’s only two significant political parties, I am left wondering: How did we get stuck with these two?

Although it is a rhetorical question, it does have an answer. Trump is coasting toward the nomination because he continues to draw support from the Republican base, which has become, for the most part, a cult of personality dedicated to him. Biden will be nominated for re-election by the Democratic Party because its leadership sees him as the most viable candidate.

Yet no matter how much it may make logical sense, I cannot help but feel frustrated by the situation. Between these two candidates, I see one who serves the interests of a regressive political movement and another one who takes my vote for granted because of how despicable his opponent is.

Both of these candidates are octogenarians whose cognitive abilities are in question, but those who might intervene to replace them with other candidates before the conventions seem determined to ignore such concerns in the name of “electability,” whatever that means.

I have little to say about Trump that has not already been said. He is a self-centered, immature, cynical trust-fund brat who made it to the White House on a technicality, riding a wave of reactionary backlash to the creeping social progress of Barack Obama’s presidency. In no way does he represent me, and I could not bring myself to vote for him under any circumstance.

But somehow, Biden is more irritating. He has become the face of everything I dislike about the Democratic Party, primarily the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the writing on the wall.

When he campaigned in 2020, he made bold promises to a voter base that has been demanding progress for years. He swore to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and protect vulnerable populations; he swore to cancel student loan debt; he swore to put an end to the cruel border policies of the Trump presidency; he swore, more than anything else, to restore decency to the highest office in the land.

Now, four years later, what do we have to show for it? The federal pandemic response has all but completely dissolved while we pretend that the threat has passed. The plan for student loan cancellation that Biden put forward was less than what was asked for and was struck down by courts that Biden has declined to attempt reforming since they were stacked by his predecessor with conservative activist judges.

And what of decency? Biden has expressed interest in executive action to shut the southern border to asylum seekers, construction of the border wall which Biden criticized during his campaign has resumed under his administration and, most glaringly of all, multiple humanitarian crises have developed in Africa and Southwest Asia that Biden has either ignored or exacerbated.

Biden’s approval rating is abysmal at this point, and the polls projecting a potential general election between him and Trump should give his party reason to worry. But the attitude of the party leaders has seemingly been, “Full steam ahead!” even as they alienate Arab Americans, Latin Americans and young voters more and more.

In some respect, I suppose it does not matter how I feel about this dilemma being forced upon me. Kentucky has been sending a slate of electors to vote for a Republican nominee for president since before I was born, and however I vote for president, that is not likely to change. My great-grandfather had a saying about elections: “You pick the less greasy of two turds!” That rings as true to me today as it undoubtedly did to him when he was first voting.

But I think I reserve the right to be bitter about how cynical national politics has become. Republicans have embraced hatred and social regression, and Democrats would rather bury their heads in the sand than resist their counterparts’ rightward shift.

Is this really the best we can do?

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