Electing Opposites

If Joe Biden wins, it will continue the great American tradition of electing a new President who is the exact opposite of the last one.

Watching Biden and President Trump debate – or their interviews on 60 Minutes – was like watching beings from two planets.

They’re both white males in their 70s. Otherwise, everything about them is opposite.

Even their complexions and coloring are opposite. Trump’s face has a dark red hue; Biden is pale. Biden’s hair is white; Trump’s is described on Google as “flaxen.”

Their facial expressions are opposite. Trump tends to be angry, sometimes snarling; his grins fade fast. Biden smiles more and flashes his white choppers; his anger takes an injured, indignant tone.

They talk different. Trump is bombastic and aggressive; Biden’s stammer makes him more hesitant. Trump fires off verbal broadsides; Biden expounds at length and sometimes gets lost in the details.

If they were in your family, Trump would be your opinionated uncle and Biden, your indulgent grandfather.

Their political personas are opposites.

To his supporters, Trump is the angry avenging angel, out to end what he called in his Inaugural Address “this American carnage.” To his supporters, Biden is the soothing, empathetic figure, eager to gather Americans in a group hug.

One reason for Trump’s reelection troubles is his aggressive style. He’s always in your face, on Twitter and on the news. Some people just feel worn out by him.

Biden has a more soothing, even soporific, style. Even some Democrats find him boring, but they want to turn down the volume from the White House. 

Their life experiences are opposite. Trump is a showy, often-overextended businessman. Biden has been in government most of his life. Trump’s father was rich; Biden’s family struggled financially. Trump is the consummate political outsider; Biden, the consummate insider.

The contrast is no accident. One reason Biden came back from the political dead – remember, he was written off as late as last February – is that he presents such a clear alternative to Trump.

From the beginning, Americans have made a habit of trading in one model of President for a totally different model. As early as 1800, the first real contested election, we switched from New England patrician John Adams to Virginia slaveowner Thomas Jefferson. We haven’t stopped trading in the old model for a new one since.

In 1932, we traded in grim, dour Herbert Hoover for jaunty, confident FDR.

In 1960, we went from aging Ike to youthful JFK.

In 1976, we went from Richard Nixon and Watergate to Sunday School-teaching, “I’ll never lie to you” Jimmy Carter.

In 1980, we traded in a vacillating Carter for the resolute Ronald Reagan.

After eight years of Reagan, even his own Vice President, George W.H. Bush, promised to be “kinder and gentler.”

In 1992, Bush seemed out of touch with everyday Americans. Bill Clinton bit his lip and felt our pain.

In 2000, both Al Gore and George W. Bush presented a family-man contrast to Clinton’s scandals.

In 2008, we exchanged W’s from-the-gut style and tangled syntax with Obama’s cerebral cool and soaring oratory.

In 2016, we went from Obama to Trump.

If we bought cars like we pick Presidents, we’d have a family sedan for four years, then trade it in for a flashy sports car. Or we’d go from a Prius to a pickup truck.

This year, will we stick with the gold-plated Cadillac with flashy trim – or go for the Buick that dreams of being a Camaro?

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