In the final debate of the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan asked Americans a simple question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” With both unemployment and inflation high, the query crystallized popular dissatisfaction. A week later, Reagan romped to an easy victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter.

The query has haunted every presidential race since. If people feel financially better off — and “feel,” mind you, is subjective — the incumbent party generally wins the election. If they don’t, there is a change in leadership.

Now Biden has come up with a twist on this clarifying question for 2020, one that just might take him to the White House. Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?” he asked while speaking in Pittsburgh on Monday.

The answer, just as in 1980, is almost certainly “no.” How could anyone feel safer now than they did four years ago?

Classic advertising technique claims you not only need to present a pressing problem but also one that leaves people on edge and willing to sign up for a solution. Trump’s strategy, as The Post’s Paul Waldman pointed out, is to make us feel unsafe — and then present himself as the answer to our woes.

But the plan contains a fatal flaw, one that Biden’s question highlights. In every which way possible, Trump himself is responsible for the events that are making us afraid. And make no mistake: Many of us know it. When the Quinnipiac poll asked voters in June whether Donald Trump as president made them feel “more safe” or "less safe," 48 percent said “less,” while only 35 percent said Trump made them feel more secure.

We are, as Biden pointed out, unsafe from the raging coronavirus pandemic. We can’t blame Trump for the disease itself, but we can most certainly pin the blame on him for the government’s bungled response. Trump refused to ramp up testing and tracing capability this past winter, even as it became increasingly clear it would be needed. He never committed fully to a shutdown or a strategy of herd immunity, with the result that we are now left with the worst of both worlds: a ravaged economy (especially for low-income workers and small businesses) and a raging pandemic. He promoted quack cures, and even, at one point, intimated bleach would work to cure the disease.

When Trump discusses protests that turn violent in cities, he ducks responsibility, despite the fact that he has been president for more than three years. As Biden put it in his speech, “Donald Trump adds fuel to every fire.” When Trump’s supporters turn up armed at anti-lockdown protests, at police violence counterprotests, he not only refuses to condemn them but also lauds them. In between protests, he keeps tensions high by promoting whacked-out conspiracy theories. On Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program Monday night, Trump claimed without evidence that there was a plane “almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that” who were coming “from a certain city.”

As for his repeated calls for “law and order,” Trump has run the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history. Mass shootings increased under Trump — in fact, 2019 was a record year. His attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act only leaves people jumpy and wondering whether they will be able to get health-care coverage if they are laid off or suffer from a preexisting condition. Public schools across the country are not opening for in-person learning. Heck, even the mail isn’t getting delivered.

Most Americans seek security and stability. Not Trump. All this is, as anyone who has ever lived in a dysfunctional family situation can attest, a strategy for wearing people down and getting one’s way. Violent chaos — which is, somehow, always the fault of someone else — becomes a way of maintaining control.

But with a simple question, Biden has thrown the problem back on Trump. “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?” reminds voters who is currently in charge of the entire nation, and on whose watch all this chaos is occurring, and forces that person to answer for it. That’s not the Democratic Party or the Democratic mayors. It’s not Barack Obama or Joe Biden. It’s Donald Trump.

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