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Opinion | President Biden, Do the Right Thing and Step Aside

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Here are three true things about President Biden: He has done an excellent job as president. He has been ludicrously mistreated — his every verbal or physical stumble dissected and analyzed to a degree far beyond any scrutiny applied to the incoherent torrent of lies and vileness routinely issuing from Donald Trump. And he should step aside as his party’s nominee for president, probably in favor of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Anyone who has been following American politics and policy has to be aware just how remarkable Biden’s achievements have been. For decades, America seemed incapable of acting to secure its future. But Biden, despite having only a razor-thin legislative majority, enacted major investments in infrastructure, advanced technology and green energy.

He did all this while presiding over the best economic performance in the wealthy world. Yes, there was a burst of inflation as the world economy recovered from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic — but that happened almost everywhere, while growth in America, as the International Monetary Fund puts it, has been “remarkable vis-à-vis its peers,” and inflation has rapidly declined without a recession. Harsh attacks on Biden’s economic policies now look foolish.

The extent to which he has been denied credit for these achievements boggles the mind. Almost as many voters give credit for infrastructure to Trump — whose repeated promises to come up with a plan became a running joke — as to Biden, who got the job done. Everybody remembers when gas prices (over which presidents have little influence) hit $5 a gallon; far fewer took note that we just saw the lowest July 4 prices at the pump in three years.

At the same time, many Americans probably don’t have a full sense of just how bizarre and menacing Trump comes across these days. You have to watch clips from his rallies to appreciate just how disjointed and off-the-wall his speeches have become — did you hear his rant about electric boats and sharks? Until the actress Taraji P. Henson made a point of talking about the deeply un-American Project 2025 when she hosted the 2024 BET Awards, my guess is that few people knew about the project, whose leader promises a “second American Revolution,” which will remain bloodless “if the left allows it to be.”

Trump has recently tried to disassociate himself from the project, claiming that, somehow, he knows “nothing” about a plan devised by people very close to his campaign before declaring that he disagrees with “some of the things they’re saying” — a neat trick, given that he knows nothing about it — then wishing the plan’s authors luck anyway.

But here’s the thing: Last month’s presidential debate gave Biden a golden opportunity to let the American people see both who he is and who Trump is, to be calm and reassuring while Trump ranted. And Biden utterly failed the test.

The only real hope for salvaging the situation would have been for Biden to get out there as soon as possible and as often as possible to do open-ended news conferences and interviews to show that his bad night was a fluke. For whatever reason, he didn’t.

What he did instead was an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that didn’t repair the damage. Never mind the theater of it, how he came across or whatever. The crucial moment, as I see it, was when Biden was asked how he’d feel if Trump won the election and replied, “As long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.”

No, it’s not. I have huge admiration for Biden, but this isn’t a game where you get points for giving it your all and still get to feel good if that turns out not to be enough.

For this is an election with the highest possible stakes. If Trump wins, it may be the last real election — that is, an election in which the party currently holding power allows its opponents to take that power away — America will hold for a long time. If you think that’s hyperbole, after Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election, you haven’t been paying attention. So at this point it’s all about defending democracy.

Maybe we can take a lesson from the French. Faced with a threat to their democracy after their country’s far right came in first in the initial round of its parliamentary elections, many French politicians withdrew from the second round, placing the nation’s interests above their own ambitions to improve rivals’ chances of defeating antidemocratic opponents. And partly as a result, on Sunday, France’s hard right suffered a stunning and unexpected defeat.

Do we know that Biden could achieve as much for America by stepping aside now? Of course not. And we know that if Harris replaces him — at this late stage, it’s hard to see a plausible alternative — she’ll face her own wave of smears and innuendo. But she’s smart and tough, and the ugliness of the predictable attacks on her sex and race could backfire.

In any case, Biden is clearly damaged goods now, and if he insists on running, it seems all too likely that he, and possibly the future of our democracy, will lose. There’s no question in my mind that the president is a good man who loves his country. And as such, I hope he’ll do the right thing and step aside.

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