Biden vs. Trump: On the issues

Sarah Baldwin and Jess Kaplan

With the presidential election a mere two weeks away, many remain undecided about who aligns most closely with their political ideals. Democratic Presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, along with his running-mate Senator Kamala Harris, are campaigning on a moderate platform that promises to “Build Back Better,” creating new economic opportunities and restoring environmental protections while expanding and developing healthcare accessibility and international alliances. U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, have chosen to highlight their accomplishments during the past three and a half years, promising to maintain the steady economic growth and “America First” foreign policy characteristic of their first three years in office. Below are but a few of the major policy issues that are at the forefront of voters’ minds as we approach the Nov. 3 election.


Post-COVID Economic Growth

Biden has taken aim at what he perceives as unstable economic growth under Trump, arguing that he would be a better steward of an American economy with a now-uncertain future. Biden sees this economic downturn as an opportunity to build “an economy more vibrant and more powerful precisely because everybody will be cut in on the deal.” Biden has laid out a comprehensive strategy to get the pandemic under control and effectively reopen the economy with his  “Build Back Better” platform. The policy will first provide immediate relief to working families, small businesses and communities, and then create jobs necessary for a 21st-century economy, such as the green and caregiving workforce. He has also vowed to repeal Trump’s tax cuts on the wealthy and massive corporations, while ensuring the American middle class that they will suffer no substantial tax hikes under his administration.

The Trump administration takes the view that the recent economic downturn was an unavoidable – indeed necessary – component of the COVID-19 containment strategy in the United States. They posit the year’s economic collapse as the result of the exogenous impact of the pandemic on the supply side of the economy, with thousands of small businesses closing permanently from months of coronavirus lockdown. Trump, therefore, advocates that “opening up America,” the progressive relaxation of containment measures since their imposition in the spring, is key to restoring furloughed or temporarily laid-off workers to employment, thus returning the economy via a “V-shaped recovery” to its pre-COVID prosperity. In support of this claim the president cites the decreasing unemployment rate, rapid recovery of asset prices, and rosier GDP contraction projections, economic indicators which were projected to depress significantly by the end of the year.


Environmental Policy

Biden’s environmental plan aims to put the United States at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, creating millions of jobs in the process. With an emphasis on the science behind the climate crisis, the Build Back Better Plan aims to invest in more sustainable “green” infrastructure, provide funds for large cities to have high quality and zero-emissions public transportation, begin the move toward cleaner electricity and a carbon pollution-free power sector, construct 1.5 million sustainable housing units and homes and reduce the cost of creating critical clean energy technologies. These investments are targeted with the needs of the middle class in mind, seeking to provide an influx of “good, union jobs” that can be filled by a burgeoning young workforce.

Trump does not believe in climate change and is a strong supporter of the fossil fuel industry, even promising to revive it in his 2016 campaign. During his presidency, he has rolled back Obama-era environmental protection policies, citing their costly nature, announced plans to exit from the Paris Climate Accord, and has plans to lease millions of acres of public land for drilling. Trump has also provided funding and resources to strengthen U.S. oil and gas production, as well as increase offshore oil and gas drilling. The president argues that an over-emphasis on climate change “alarmism” has resulted in a stifling of American initiative and market pessimism, and that rolling back these regulations is key to revitalizing the American economy.



Biden has criticized the relentless attacks that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been subject to since its implementation in 2010; according to the official Biden Harris campaign website, he has “has a plan to build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs and making our health care system less complex to navigate.” Biden’s plan will offer all Americans a public health insurance option, expand coverage to low-income citizens, and offer premium tax credits to middle-class families to ease the burden of healthcare costs. Biden’s policy also explicitly defends the right to contraception and women’s right to choose, as well as restores federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

According to Trump’s campaign website, during his tenure he has increased the availability and affordability of quality healthcare to all Americans. His listed accomplishments include extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and funding healthcare for approximately nine million U.S. citizens, overseeing the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the largest number of generic drugs than in previous years, and repealing the individual mandate that “forced people to buy expensive insurance and taxed those who couldn’t afford it.” A major focus of the Trump administration has also been to address opioid addiction and substance abuse disorders, declaring the opioid crisis as a public health emergency and securing billions in funding to combat the crisis.


Criminal Justice Reform

The Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice is based upon four fundamental rules. First is reducing the number of incarcerated persons by sending those caught for drug offenses to treatment centers, and reinvesting the federal savings from less populated prisons to underserved communities. Second is addressing racial, class and gender disparities within the criminal justice system. Third is focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Fourth is ensuring that no corporation or entity profits off of the criminal justice system. Biden’s policy focuses on addressing the underlying issues that contribute to crime, such as poverty, mental health or substance abuse disorders, and low education, in order to prevent the likelihood of incarceration, thereby improving our communities and economy.

Trump has touted the success of his key legislative justice-reform, The First Step Act which cut unnecessarily long federal sentences and improved conditions in federal prisons. Crucial parts of the law have restored a modicum of fairness to federal sentencing and helped reduce the country’s prison population, though inadequacies in the law also demonstrated the need for continued advocacy. Moreover, when speaking about protests over police brutality and racial injustice, Trump consistently focuses on his support for law enforcement and has provided millions in grant funding for the hiring of law enforcement officers in an attempt to reduce violent crime.


Foreign Policy

Biden plans to reassert America’s power on the global economy by investing at home in innovation and the middle class. He promises to do this before entering any new trade agreements. Biden’s foreign policy will place a heavy focus on re-establishing relationships with American allies, preventing the proliferation of nuclear weaponry in Russia, North Korea and Iran and taking a slightly more cooperative approach with China than has the Trump administration.

The trade war between China, the border wall between the United States and Mexico and withdrawing from NAFTA have been the focus of Trump’s foreign policy during his first term. His international philosophy is guided by the notion of “America First;” Trump has consistently prioritized what he sees as the American domestic interest in international affairs, penalizing those the US has had high trade deficits with or whom he believes is unfairly taxing the United States. This strategy has emerged in response to the president’s perception that these countries, as well as supranational bodies like the European Union, are “taking advantage” of American financial and geopolitical largesse, particularly in international organizations like the United Nations. Via withdrawal from participation and legitimation of such bodies, argues the administration, American domestic issues may be more effectively addressed.

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