Opinion: Is Trump-Biden like 1992 — or 1948?

In 2020, not so much.

This time around Americans are coping with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and millions who have lost their livelihoods are still looking for work. But this is far from the first Labor Day to take place in a troubled nation. In fact, in 1894, in the weeks after President Glover Cleveland signed the law designating the first Monday in September as a national holiday, he sent in federal troops to end a crippling nationwide work boycott and strike of Pullman railroad workers. In a confrontation, national guard troops fired into a crowd, killing as many as 30.

Labor Day this year comes as early voting is beginning in one of the most tumultuous presidential races in decades, as President Donald Trump tries to make the election about violence in some American cities arising out of protests over police conduct. Meanwhile, his 2020 rival, Vice President Joe Biden, is zeroing in on the failures that have contributed to the deaths of more than 188,000 Americans from Covid-19 — as experts predict that hundreds of thousands more will die by the end of the year unless more precautions are taken.

Julian Zelizer contrasted these rival narratives. “Last month, Democrats spent their convention telling the story about a good person,” Joe Biden, he wrote. “Republicans told a very different story. Understanding that it would be impossible to turn Trump into someone that he is not, the party placed its bets on spinning a tale that downplayed the multiple crises facing American citizens — a devastating pandemic, a frail economy, and a deeply polarized nation. The GOP painted a picture of a country where lawlessness and disorder are winning out on the streets of America and cast Trump, who has spent most of his life telling wildly inflated stories about himself and his businesses, as the solution to this problem…”
Writing in advance of Trump’s Tuesday visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the scene of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the killing of two people by a suspected 17-year-old police supporter, Frida Ghitis wrote, “President Donald Trump is right in believing most Americans don’t want violence in their streets. But it’s America’s profound tragedy and grave danger that he, Trump, seems to want more of it … Desperate to win reelection amid the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and the worst public health catastrophe in a hundred years, Trump is playing with fire.”
In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson was reminded of Trump’s tactics during the midterm election two years ago: “As President Trump frantically tries to frighten voters with the specter of ‘anarchists’ and ‘looters’ and planes full of black-clad ‘bad people’ coming to menace your suburban neighborhood, take a trip down memory lane. Recall those desperate days of 2018, when the nation was sacked, pillaged and reduced to smoking ruins by vast, unstoppable caravans of marauding Latino migrants. Except the invasion never arrived; the invading force, as Trump depicted it, never even existed.”

Historian Joseph J. Ellis recalled Benjamin Franklin’s famous line about what the Constitutional Convention had accomplished. “A well-dressed Philadelphia matron spied America’s elder statesman and asked, ‘Mr. Franklin, what have you done?’ ‘Given you a republic,’ Franklin replied, ‘if you can keep it.’

Keeping it is indeed the question in 2020, Ellis argued. “This is the chief reason why the looming election is the most important political event of our lifetime. This is not an election about personalities, the pandemic, the economy, or Black Lives Matter, though they are all on the ballot. This is an election to decide whether we wish to remain the American republic. Though the founders are busy being dead, their voices still linger in the atmosphere with a resoundingly clear answer to that question.”
There is another issue, wrote Nancy Altman. “Donald Trump once claimed that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City and not lose any voters. He’s now seeing whether the same is true if he kills Social Security. His unilateral, unprecedented step of deferring the collection of payroll taxes, the backbone of Social Security, is the murder weapon he would use.”
Trump denied charges in a piece by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg alleging he privately expressed contempt for Americans who die or are wounded in war. “Unfortunately, none of this is surprising,” wrote Brandon Friedman, a veteran and former Obama administration official, in the New York Daily News. “The scandalous private comments are only versions of what we’ve all heard him say in public. Trump has disparaged the military time and again, from when he said, ‘I like people who weren’t captured’ to his denigration of the Khan family, whose son was killed in Iraq.”

No one knows

1948 or 1992? That’s the question about presidential polls and Labor Day. In the Gallup poll following Labor Day 1948, President Harry S. Truman trailed New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey by eight points but went on to win the election by five percentage points. In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton enjoyed a nine-point advantage over President George H. W. Bush in post-Labor Day polling and his lead mostly held on Election Day. Is Biden’s edge in the polls like that of Clinton — or Dewey? At this point, there’s no way to tell.
“Nearly everything about this race is so different, which should make everyone think twice about their assumptions as the voting begins,” wrote David Byler in The Washington Post, laying out seven reasons why the result is particularly uncertain this year.
“Clean comedian” Jim Gaffigan normally keeps politics out of his standup act, wrote Dean Obeidallah. But Trump’s RNC acceptance speech changed that. Gaffigan “unleashed a profanity-infused Twitter storm where he warned Trump supporters, among other things, that the President is ‘a traitor and a con man who doesn’t care about you.‘”
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr left the door open to announcing politically sensitive law enforcement actions despite the Justice Department’s longstanding norm against such matters during the 60-days preceding an election, wrote Elie Honig. In addition, Honig noted, “Barr has made entirely clear that he intends to continue parroting Trump’s most paranoid, cooked-up conspiracy theories about massive fraud in mail-in voting. If we end up in a dreaded (but eminently possible) contested election scenario, Barr is offering plenty of reason to expect that he would be prepared to use the might of the Justice Department to swing the outcome towards Trump.”

For more on politics:

This isn’t over yet…by any means

Six months into the pandemic’s surge in the US, there is no sign that it is ending. A widely cited computer model upped its prediction for the death toll Friday. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said another 224,000 Americans could die by January 1, bringing the total count to more than 400,000, unless precautions like wearing masks are adopted more widely.

For his part, the President made fun of Biden this week for regularly wearing a mask and Trump appears to be listening to the advice of a new adviser, Scott Atlas, who has been an opponent of strict Covid-19 lockdowns.

Kent Sepkowitz noted that Atlas “would ignore the mostly healthy and focus only on highest risk groups, such as the old, the sick and those with chronic medical conditions, such as weakened immune systems … he is overlooking the outcome of the tragic experiment of nature that has happened over the past six months.” Healthy young people spread the very contagious coronavirus to family and friends, including those most at risk, Sepkowitz wrote.

“We already know how to control the pandemic. And we also know what sounds good but simply does not work. We have seen directly that the basic mask-wearing, social distancing and test-and-track strategies work in cities like New York and countries like South Korea and Germany.”

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did something “selfish and stupid,” wrote Jill Filipovic, and President Trump pounced. “She got her hair done inside a San Francisco salon, in violation of that city’s coronavirus rules, and walked, maskless (according to security footage obtained by Fox News) from one room to another apparently after getting her hair washed. (The Speaker’s staff insist she wore her mask at all other times during her hair styling and had gone inside as a result of incorrect information from someone at the salon about what was allowed by brand-new city regulations.)”

As Filipovic pointed out, “when Ted Cruz did a similar thing — got his hair cut at a Texas salon whose owner had been jailed for refusing to close — Trump expressed his support for the salon.” What made the President’s response to Pelosi’s gaffe notable, she wrote, “was that he seems to be grasping at this incident to distract the nation from his own disastrous inability to do his job … He has still refused to adequately admit and combat the devastation of the coronavirus.”

For more on Covid-19:

Michael R. Bloomberg, Wayne A. I. Frederick, David M. Carlisle, Valerie Montgomery Rice and James Hildreth: To save Black lives, we need more Black doctors

The protests

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, wrote David A. Love, “Black Lives Matter has emerged as perhaps the largest movement in US history. It enjoys widespread public support and participation, as 15 to 26 million people have participated in the George Floyd protests, and the NBA and WNBA, along with professional baseball, hockey, soccer and tennis players have staged a historic strike to stand against racism.”

“Desperate, and facing a potential wipeout in the 2020 election, the Republican Party is depicting Black Lives Matter as a radical mob of leftists and Marxists that would undermine what Trump called the ‘Suburban Lifestyle Dream,’ in an effort to woo White suburban voters,” wrote Love.

According to a video taken shortly before a 17-year-old allegedly shot and killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, police were seen “passing in an armored vehicle, offering Rittenhouse and the group of armed civilians bottles of water, and broadcasting over a loudspeaker ‘We appreciate you guys. We really do,'” wrote former police chief Cedric L. Alexander.

Police couldn’t have known that he was underage but they did know that he was violating curfew, Alexander noted. “Competent police leaders do not welcome any alliance with armed, unsworn, untrained vigilantes. In addition to the obvious immediate danger these people pose, they make the job of the police in the community exponentially more difficult … Any association with them casts the police in a partisan light that sacrifices the trust of the community. On that trust, the effectiveness of a police force depends.”

Don’t miss


Summer of staying put

For 18 months, poet Tess Taylor made plans for a memorable 2020. She would launch her fourth book of poetry with a tour of 42 cities. She was going to teach in Paris, give a reading in Edinburgh and visit Ireland. “I had a cute blazer, one great lightweight carry-on case. I had travel-size hair balm in my favorite brand. I was ready to roll,” she wrote.

None of that happened, of course. Because Covid-19.

But like most everyone else with busted plans, Taylor found other ways to make it through:

“While we were not traveling this summer, here are some things we did instead: Learned the names of birds and the birdcalls. Sketched the skyline of our city. Painted a watercolor of hummingbirds. Installed a compost bin and a worm bin. Nerded out on the art of making dirt. Made biscuits. Made pie. Harvested the plums off the plum tree. Harvested the blackberries off the bike path. Made sweet jam. Made savory jam. Made candles. Made that craft where you draw colors on a piece of paper and coat on black wax and scrape off the black wax selectively.” And much more…
Jane Carr asked readers for their own reflections on the summer of 2020. Some of the responses:
  • “This year we planned to have a baby. What we did not plan was to do it in the middle of a global pandemic.” — Jessica LaPalm-Lorimer Nashville, Tennessee
  • “After four months of self-isolation I called my parents and asked if I could come stay with them. I packed up my Ford Fiesta (that my ex-husband hated) and drove to my parents. I’m no longer within four walls and instead of silence the faint echo of the Game Show Network can be heard from the next room. I haven’t ever loved the Game Show Network as much as I do right now.” — Colleen Forsyth, Tucson, Arizona
  • “I am a full-time wedding photographer, usually taking on 30+ weddings a year and having a completely booked schedule after April. This summer stopped me in my tracks, for good. I had anxiety that turned into ideas that turned into new dreams. I had more time with my dogs, my husband, and my plants … Quarantine forced me to slow down and think about what I love and what I do during the day. It made me a better entrepreneur and a more creative person.” — Allison Kuhlman, Akron, Ohio
  • “We play and eat outside as much as we can, we read books, we play games, and we watch movies. We yell, cry, scream, hug, and make it through to the next day. We have taught the children to make bread, to sew, and to cook. Our 10-foot inflatable pool has been a fixture in our backyard this summer. We have special days and make-up special events (Avengers Day, Harry Potter Weekend, Camp Out Inside Day). It is important to create new holidays to break up the monotony. We are lucky, and we tell the kids this fact. — Joel Farbman, Huntsville, Alabama

All of us at CNN Opinion hope your summer had many pleasant rewards. And happy Labor Day!

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