The streets are aflame in multiple cities; the president can only pour fuel on the fire. President Trump’s tweet, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was followed by another incendiary tweet:
The contrast with his opponent is jaw-dropping, as stark as any presidential matchup in my lifetime.
When former vice president Joe Biden kicked off his presidential campaign, he referenced Charlottesville in his video launch:
During the serial scandals, pandemic and the economic collapse, the “soul of the nation” theme at times seemed less relevant. Now, we have come full circle. Once more, Trump is stoking hatred and whipping up white resentment; once more, Biden calls for healing and racial justice.
During a live address on Friday, Biden said, “The original sin of this country still stains our nation today, and sometimes we manage to overlook it.” Biden continued, “With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence. Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable, but if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more without treating the underlying injury, we’ll never truly heal.”
In sum, we now have a pandemic akin to the 1918 influenza outbreak, an economy reminiscent of the Great Depression and racial anger and violence akin to 1968. Trump’s presidency has combined the worst experiences of America, fueled by the worst sentiments that have afflicted this country for more than 240 years.
Biden has the ability to address the health, economic and racial catastrophes. Experience in fighting Ebola and the swine flu, in overseeing distribution of stimulus funds following the 2008 crash and in serving at the side of the first African American president (as well as a decades-long relationship with the African American community) have prepared him for this moment. The race is now about all three tragedies and Trump’s role in creating or worsening each of them.
While the pandemic and the economic collapse may have heightened Biden’s interest in a running mate known for her competence and executive skill, he now must look to someone who can help him address the third Trumpian disaster, the racial conflagration. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) has explicitly said the “timing” damages the vice presidential prospects for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who had a shaky relationship with the African American community based on her time as a prosecutor in the state now racked by violence. The prospects for Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) have soared. But Biden cannot ignore the inspirational presence of two other African American women.
From Atlanta, there is Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who combined empathy with tough love in denouncing the violent protests:
He will also need to seriously consider Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), previously best known for her commanding presence as an impeachment manager, whose service as Orlando’s police chief becomes highly relevant. “I cannot begin to understand how any officer could ignore the painful pleas we heard from Floyd — or from anyone suffering,” she wrote last week for The Post. “My heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones. But we must also offer justice through full and swift accountability — not just for their loved one, but for the future.”
With the events last week, the November election became about more than the pandemic and economic collapse. Biden was prescient: The 2020 election is very much about the soul of the nation. Biden turns out to be ideally suited to the moment; it may also be the ideal moment for an African American woman as vice president, a powerful signal that we can be better than this.