Trump vs. Biden: What’s Really on the Ballot?

By Gillian Murphy, G12


Politico – Biden vs. Trump: Who’s the Actual Criminal Justice Reformer? (https://www.politico.com/interactives/2020/justice-reform-biden-trump-candidate-policy-positions/)

November 3 – Election Day. One of the most significant days of the year in the United States, and in 2020, markedly so. The incumbent, Donald J. Trump, is the Republican candidate on the ballot, facing off against Joseph R. Biden, the Democratic candidate. With vastly different ideologies, these two men represent a polarized nation, with both sides equally impassioned about their stances. Despite the intensity with which most Americans vocalize their opinions, many voters do not take the time to truly familiarize themselves with all the policies upon which the presidential candidates are running. Often, Americans will partake in party-line voting, where no matter who the candidate is or what they might stand for, constituents will cast their vote for whichever candidate belongs to their party. Then there is the phenomenon of single-issue voters – people who cast a vote based on a candidate’s policy for one issue that the constituent is ardent about (abortion, for example). These two methods of casting a vote, though ingrained in American politics, can lead to voters putting in less effort to understand what exact policies are at stake, and blindly following a candidate that may have opinions or plans for their presidency that are at odds with the voter’s political identity. 

Beyond the impacts the election will have on American citizens, the United States is a nation of global prominence, and policies enacted in America can have far-reaching and consequential effects. Familiarizing oneself with the platforms of both Trump and Biden can be beneficial to people of all nationalities and origins.


Reproductive Rights

Abortion is one of the most highly debated topics in the United States. Though much of the decision-making on abortion lies in the hands of the Supreme Court, here’s how the two candidates stand on this issue.

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Biden clearly stated in one of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential debates that “reproductive rights are a constitutional right. And, in fact, every woman should have that right.”
Although Biden originally was against repealing the Hyde Amendment, in 2019 he denounced it, acknowledging, as the New York Times wrote, that it “disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color.”
His plans, if elected, are to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee (and in turn halt the attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade), prevent states from restricting abortion access, restore federal funding to Planned Parenthood (a major provider of reproductive health care), have schools teach evidence-based sex education, and through the Affordable Care Act prevent unwanted pregnancy via full coverage of contraceptives and family planning services.
In 2016, Trump promised his supporters that he would nominate a judge to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that decided access to abortion was a constitutional right. Trump has reversed himself on abortion throughout his life, and although he has said “Well, it’s never been my big issue” in reference to abortion, throughout his presidency he has established himself as adamantly pro-life (with some exceptions). 
Trump also supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans coverage of abortion with federal funding. This means Medicaid, America’s low-income public health insurance program, would not cover abortion (other than in the aforementioned extreme circumstances).

During his presidency, Trump re-established a policy that prevents international health NGOs from receiving American aid if they “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” Biden plans to reverse this. 

Environment

 According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 75% of registered voters believe that global warming is happening, and two thirds “are worried about global warming and would support a carbon tax to combat it” (National Geographic). This makes this an important issue for many voters, though the candidates’ have vastly different stances.

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In 2015, more than 200 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement, a global plan working to counter the negative effects of climate change. Under President Obama, the United States joined the agreement, furthering the effort to limit the global temperature increase and putting essential pressure on other nations to follow through. Biden plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
In addition to the Paris Climate Agreement reentry, Biden has a $2 trillion climate plan, which focuses on cutting fossil fuel emissions, upgrading buildings for maximum energy efficiency, and connecting environmental work with racial justice, whilst also creating jobs in renewable energy.
Despite these ambitious targets, Biden has yet to fully endorse the Green New Deal, a congressional climate proposal that urges the federal government to curb emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. Biden’s website states that he “believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” but wary of being painted as too leftist by Trump, Biden does not plan to enact it. Rather, he has incorporated central tenets of the Green New Deal into his personal climate plan.
Trump has continually expressed doubt about the reality of climate change, referring to it as a “hoax” and undermining U.S. efforts to counter the repercussions of global warming. Trump notified the United Nations in November 2019 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, with the reasoning that it put too great a burden on the American economy. Trump’s withdrawal will take effect on Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the election..
A recent environmental issue that has gained attention during the debates is fracking, a method of extracting gas that involves injecting liquid into shale beds to force out natural gas. It is under fire from environmental advocates because it pollutes air and contaminates water, and can affect the health of those living near fracking sites. Those employed in the fracking industry fear a candidate who would seek to ban it, and although Trump has attempted to pin Biden as anti-fracking, Biden is decidedly not so. Kamala Harris, Biden’s Vice Presidential pick, tweeted “@JoeBiden will not ban fracking. That is a fact” on October 8th, cementing this stance.
Additionally, Trump received negative media attention for his reaction to devastating forest fires along the West Coast. He claimed improper forest management was the cause, and when a California official countered him, citing science while stating that climate change was the true instigator, Trump responded “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Gun Control

Nearly 38,000 Americans die each year from gun violence, so debate about gun control is a pressing matter for many. But the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is a contentious topic, and dear to many Americans’ sense of freedom.  The  two candidates have, unsurprisingly, different views on the matter.

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A proponent of gun control, Biden proposes universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and allocation of resources towards enforcement of existing gun laws. Unlike his former Democratic contenders Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, though, Biden’s platform doesn’t include a plan for a federal licensing system, despite its proven success elsewhere in limiting gun violence. His plan also does not include a mandatory buyback program, which some nations such as Australia have implemented, though he supports voluntary buyback. A mandatory buyback means citizens would have to give their firearms to the government, who would most likely destroy the guns, and would receive compensation, though most likely a federally mandated buyback would just be for assault weapons.Trump’s gun policy has been less clear – he recently tweeted support for background checks, but he has also ended Obama-era legislation that had blocked people with mental illness from buying guns.He has spoken about his support of the right to concealed carry (“The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway … A driver’s license works in every state, so it’s common sense that a concealed carry permit should work in every state”) and the Second Amendment in general (“I have the endorsement of the NRA which I’m very proud of, these are very, very good people and they’re protecting the Second Amendment.”)

Police + Prison Reform

With massive social and political unrest following the death of George Floyd and others, police reform has been an issue on the minds of many Americans. Protests across the nation called for defunding the police, but neither candidate supports this line of action.

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Rather than defunding the police, Biden wants to pivot to reform and investing money in community projects and social programs (such as mental health and drug abuse programs). Distancing himself from more liberal members of the Democratic party, Biden said: “We don’t have to defund police departments. We have to make sure they meet minimum basic standards of decency.” 
He also plans on putting more funding towards body cameras for police, a federal ban on chokeholds, andmore data collection among local law enforcement. “I’m proposing an additional $300 million to reinvigorate community policing in our country. Every single police department should have the money they need to institute real reforms like adopting a national use of force standard, buying body cameras, and recruiting more diverse police officers.”
Regarding prison reform, Biden plans to reduce the number of incarcerated Americans by changing drug use policy, emphasizing the concept of sending users of illegal drugs to receive treatment rather than putting them in jail. Marijuana legalization is a topical issue for many Americans, and though Biden’s proposals seek to decriminalize the possession of cannabis and legalize its medical usage, they don’t go so far as to legalize it recreationally, and much is left up to individual states.
Throughout the recent wave of social justice activism spurred on by myriad acts of police brutality, Trump has vehemently critiqued protestors and urged governors to respond aggressively. Despite this attitude, Trump did sign an executive order on police reform that creates a national database of police misconduct, introduces new guidelines for use of force, and puts more focus on the use of mental health professionals and social workers to de-escalate certain situations.
Notwithstanding, much of his law enforcement work has focused on protections for police officers over citizens; as Trump has said before, “I love the cops.”
The most substantial contribution Trump has made to improve criminal justice is signing the First Step Act, a bi-partisan endeavor to decrease America’s prison population.
One other issue where the candidates differ is capital punishment – Trump supports it and his administration has expressed the desire to promote it at the federal level. Biden, on the other hand, does not support the death penalty, and hopes to eliminate federal capital punishment and encourage states to cease as well. 
Trump’s stance on drug use penalization is less clear, as his administration has both helped fund treatment initiatives but also made functioning difficult for legal medical marijuana programs. 
Again opposing Biden’s ideology, Trump supports cash bail and private prisons. 

Immigration

More than one million immigrants reach the United States each year, and the nation houses more immigrants than any other country in the world. About a quarter of the immigrants in the U.S. are unauthorized, and their legality is constantly up for debate.

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Biden’s immigration plan is based more on recovery than innovation; he plans to dismantle Trump Administration policies and revive Obama-era ones. For example, work on the border wall will halt, and the ban on immigrants from Mulsim-majority nations will end.
Analysts from NPR even noted that “Biden’s agenda really has moved to the left a lot,” with plans to grant citizenship to many unauthorized immigrants, increase the number of issued visas, and dissolve for-profit immigration detention centers.
“Trump fails to understand the basic truth of immigrants – that they’re the incredible source of our nation’s strength, and they always have been.”
“Build that wall!” boomed in Trump rallies across the United States during the 2016 election, with many conservative voters voicing support for Trump’s plan to construct a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to halt illegal immigration. This plan has not exactly come to fruition: according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, only 30 new miles of barriers have been completed.
Though this immigration plan may have fallen short of its original aspirations, the Trump administration has enacted many other harsh immigration laws.
ICE (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has ramped up their efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants, and in the first 8 months of the Trump administration, ICE’s arrests increased 42%.Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection also increased their efforts, separating families at the Mexican border, stirring up international outrage at images of children in cages.

The Supreme Court

In the midst of the presidential election, controversial confirmation proceedings are underway for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

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Biden has yet to provide a clear answer on whether he will “pack the courts”- a term meaning expanding the number of Supreme Court Justices (the Constitution does not specify how many Justices there should be). Many Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are considering the concept as an opportunity to restore an ideological balance that they feel Republicans have unfairly put off-kilter.Based on past stances, Biden is not in support of expanding the Supreme Court, while Harris is more receptive of the idea, but these sentiments may have changed following the unprecedented nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a move which many Democrats have called hypocritical based on Republican behaviour towards Obama’s nominee.Trump recently nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was previously accepted practice not to fill a vacancy so close to the Presidential election (Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee’s hearing nine full months before the last election). A mentee of Antonin Scalia, a former Supreme Court Justice, Barrett shares his originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, and has established herself as a highly conservative judge. Her likely appointment could have consequential effects on issues such as abortion (a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade), gun control, health care (the repeal of the Affordable Care Act), and immigration. 

Healthcare

Under the Obama administration, with Biden as Vice President, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was signed into law. This federal statute expanded healthcare coverage and sought to make it more affordable. Many Republicans are against the ACA  because they believe the federal government shouldn’t play a role in healthcare.

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Biden plans on expanding the Affordable Care Act, and undoing any healthcare changes Trump has made during his presidency.
Some of Biden’s democratic opponents, such as Bernie Sanders, proposed Medicare-for-all, which would mean every American had healthcare through the government, and although this isn’t Biden’s plan, he intends on introducing a public healthcare option.
Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and has failed to do so thus far in his presidency. His administration has attempted to sue and have the ACA declared unconstitutional in the Supreme Court, but this has yet to come to fruition. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the matter on November 10, a week after Election Day. If the lawsuit is successful, nearly 23 million Americans could lose their healthcare coverage.
Despite his vocalized hatred of Obamacare and intent to dismantle it, Trump has never publicly proposed a replacement plan.

Taxes

Taxes are often a critical issue for voters, as they have a direct effect on life in America. Taxes fund federal, state, and local services, from Social Security and schools to road construction and libraries.

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Individual taxes:  Biden proposes to reverse Trump tax cuts for the rich, raising the income tax rate on those making over $400,000/year from 37% to 39%.  He would keep the rate for those making under $400,000/year at 22%. Corporate taxes:  Biden proposes to tax corporations at 28%.Individual taxes:  In 2017, Trump lowered taxes on those making over $400,000/year from 39% to 37%.  Trump has hinted at lowering the middle-class tax rate from 22% to 15%, but has not provided a specific plan. Corporate taxes:  Trump reduced taxes on corporations from 35% to 21%.  He proposes to lower that further to 20%.

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