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Editorial: For president, we can't lend our name to men whose values we don't share

The Detroit News Editorial Board

For a guide to The Detroit News endorsements in all races so far, click here.

With the election just days away, we find ourselves as a newspaper in the same place as many Americans — disappointed in the choices of Donald Trump and Joe Biden for president.

And not for the first time.

Four years ago, presented with a Republican in Donald Trump whose low character we anticipated would dishonor the office, and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat rooted in transactional politics, we chose to endorse Libertarian Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico whose view of government’s role was closely aligned with our own.

We knew he had little chance of busting through the political duopoly, but as we said then, an endorsement is not a parimutuel bet. Our aim is not to jump behind the expected winner, but to signal our approval of a candidate we believe will lead the nation honorably and competently, and in a direction true to its founding principles.

This year there is no third-party option who rises to that standard.

And so, for the fourth time in our history, we are withholding our endorsement rather than lend The Detroit News’ name to a candidate whose values and aspirations for America we do not share.

Not a leader

When we made the decision to back Johnson four years ago, it was the first time we endorsed a candidate for president who wasn’t a Republican.

We saw Trump as not a true conservative. We warned he would be a divisive figure who would allow his populism to prevail over principles. For the most part, we’ve found that to be true.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and President Donald Trump.

On policy, though, we have agreed with many things the president has done. Perhaps the accomplishment that will stand the longest is his appointment of textualist judges throughout the federal court system, including three excellent Supreme Court justices.

But the overall policy performance is mixed.  

For example, his tax and regulatory reforms jerked America out of a lethargic recovery and put it in full-steam-ahead mode. Yet he did not match the tax cuts with spending reductions, continuing America’s disastrous deficit course.

He replaced the North American Free Trade agreement with a pact more friendly to U.S. interests, but also recklessly deployed tariffs, hurting farmers and other critical areas of the economy.

Trump stiffened an American foreign policy that had grown wobbly under former President Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He challenged NATO to step up to its obligations and brought long awaited progress toward Middle East peace. ISIS is far less a threat than it was when he took office.

At the same time, though, he’s shown a fondness for despots and dictators who should never have received an American president’s goodwill, while treating valued allies with disdain.

At home, he failed on his promise to replace Obamacare with a smarter, market-based plan and is now suing to end the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a pandemic, without a replacement.

Immigration is another unsettled mess. The future of those brought to the country illegally by their parents remains perilous. Trump put all his attention toward building an expensive and ineffective wall, distracting from a comprehensive immigration plan that meets the needs of the economy while securing our borders.

We also are concerned with the president’s handling of the pandemic. While COVID-19 was destined to ravage America once it escaped China, Trump failed to provide the nation with focused leadership that might have mitigated its impact.

As we feared, his character has been Trump’s downfall.

The president has proved himself over four years to be petty and petulant. He acts out of raw emotion instead of reason, revels in brinksmanship and is an egomaniac to boot.

His tiresome and churlish vindictiveness have helped divide the nation as never before in modern history. 

Certainly, he has had help in roiling the country.

Democrats from Day 1 refused to acknowledge him as president and mounted a resistance movement aimed at ruining his presidency. They were aided by Obama administration holdovers in the Justice Department who placed the credibility of a trusted institution at risk in their zeal to destroy Trump.

Democrats vowed even before he formally took office to impeach Trump, and they did so, distracting the nation just as the COVID threat was building. 

Trump can make a case that he hasn’t been treated fairly; but his own antics and rhetoric make him complicit in his marginalization.

He has not earned another four years in office.

Not Trump not good enough

For some, not being Trump is the only qualification necessary in the next president. That’s too low a bar for us.

Regaining the presidency should have been a cakewalk for Democrats this year. All they needed was to assemble a moderate ticket and craft a platform that appealed to the broad middle of America.

Biden on the surface would seem the right candidate to pull that off.

In his favor, the former vice president is experienced, having been in politics for 47 years and serving two terms as Obama’s understudy. There are not many situations at home or abroad he hasn’t faced.

He also generally comports himself with dignity – although his name calling during the debates was untoward. We’ve always considered him a fundamentally decent man. And for most of his career, Biden has positioned himself as center left.

With Biden, it’s not his character that concerns us, but where the progressive policies he has embraced will take the country.

To get the nomination, Biden had to prove himself pliable to the leftist agenda. A president comes with a platform; endorsing a presidential candidate for us requires approving of at least the broad outlines of that blueprint.

We find the platform Biden is standing on unacceptable nearly in its entirety.

His adoption of a Democratic wish list of cradle-to-grave handouts would add nearly $7 trillion in new spending over the next decade.

He disingenuously pledges to pay for it with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Such confiscatory tax schemes would slow job creation and economic growth and wouldn’t raise enough to cover the tab. Middle class tax hikes are inevitable.

Biden has signaled support for energy policies that promise to stall economic growth and jeopardize the automobile industry.

His record on foreign affairs as vice president under Obama is one of failure. The administration he was part of tried to buy Iran’s good behavior with billions in cash that was then used to fund terror throughout the region. It failed to hold China accountable for predatory trade practices. And its botched Iraq policies enabled the rise of ISIS.

Our biggest concern is that Biden will be a puppet president. We doubt he’ll have the fortitude to stand up to the demands of those who will see his presidency as an opportunity to drastically reshape the nation.

What Biden and his party have planned for America will not bring unity. Exchanging one ideologically driven administration for another will continue the great divide.

Beyond that, Biden, soon to be 78, may not have the mental or physical stamina to handle the rigors of the presidency. Even for the COVID era, his campaign has been minimalist. He’s disappeared from the trail for long stretches, and when he is in public, has at times appeared frail and confused.

Worse, he seems to believe he has no obligation to speak to voters beyond his campaign commercials and scripted appearances. Biden has not held a press conference in weeks.

A weak president unable to speak authoritatively for himself will be easily pulled to the fringe. That’s too big a risk.

Vote your conscience

Both candidates have obvious appeal to their supporters, and some true strengths. But their flaws are too glaring to ignore.

And while we are unwilling to hold our nose and pick the lesser of two evils, we realize our readers must make a choice. Our best advice to them is to select the candidate most consistent with their views and values.

In the future, we would urge a broader swath of Americans to engage earlier in the selection process in hopes of producing better choices on Election Day.

We also hope that no matter how they vote, Americans will remember we are one nation and should behave that way. We are living through dangerous times. We’ve done so before and emerged stronger. We will again, if we come together.

In a few days, the voting will be over. It is paramount that the American people unite behind whomever the voters choose.

We pledge to do the same.

Endorsements are determined independently by The Detroit News Editorial Board and have no influence on news coverage.