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Photo illustration by Vanessa Irena for Scholastic; Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images (Biden); Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images (Trump)

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Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.7, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, W.6-8.1, W.6-8.4, W.6-8.7, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.6

NCSS: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Power, Authority, and Governance • Civic Ideals and Practices

ELECTION 2020

U.S. Government

America’s Choice

This fall, voters will decide between two very different presidential candidates. The election will have a huge impact on the future of the nation—and the world.

As You Read, Think About: Why is 2020 an unusual election year? What are the main issues the country faces?

So far, 2020 has been unlike any other year in U.S. history. Covid-19 has claimed more than 150,000 lives nationwide. The economy has been devastated by the closing of businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus—and by the ongoing failure to contain it. At the same time, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice toward Black Americans.

So far, 2020 has been unlike any other year in U.S. history. Covid-19 has claimed more than 150,000 lives nationwide. The economy has been devastated by the closing of businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It has also been hit hard by the ongoing failure to contain the virus. At the same time, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice toward Black Americans.

Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

How best to respond to the U.S. coronavirus outbreak is a major issue in this election.

In this extraordinary moment, Americans will cast ballots to decide who will be president for the next four years: Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. The candidates have drastically different ideas for addressing the challenges the country faces (see comparison slideshow, below)

“Every four years, people say this is the most important election of our lifetime,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Normally, it isn’t true. This time it is.” 

Whoever voters choose this fall will make decisions about major issues—including the pandemic, the economy, and racial inequality—that will affect the lives of every American. Those decisions will set the course for the nation’s future. 

In this extraordinary moment, Americans will cast ballots to decide who will be president for the next four years. They will decide between Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. The candidates have extremely different ideas for addressing the challenges the country faces (see comparison chart, below).

“Every four years, people say this is the most important election of our lifetime,” says Larry Sabato. He is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Normally, it isn’t true. This time it is.”

Whoever voters choose this fall will make decisions about major issues, including the pandemic, the economy, and racial inequality. Those issues affect the lives of every American. And the decisions of the winning candidate will set the course for the nation’s future. 

Contrasting Candidates

Trump took office in January 2017 promising to use his experience as a businessman to shake things up in U.S. politics and “make America great again.” His presidency has been among the most divisive and controversial in U.S. history. 

He maintains high levels of support among Republicans. They like that he has appointed many conservative  judges, who are likely to rule in favor of Republican priorities. They also value his efforts to prioritize business interests.

But many other Americans say his actions have been extremely harmful. They point out that Trump has eliminated many regulations that combat climate change, which he says were too costly for businesses. They sharply criticize his moves to restrict legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. Those efforts include his administration’s policy of separating children who had arrived in the U.S. illegally from adult relatives they had traveled with—and placing those children in crowded detention centers. 

Trump took office in January 2017. He promised to use his experience as a businessman to shake things up in U.S. politics and “make America great again.” His presidency has been among the most divisive and controversial in U.S. history.

He maintains high levels of support among Republicans. They like that he has appointed many conservative judges, who are likely to rule in favor of Republican priorities. They also value his efforts to promote business interests.

But many other Americans say his actions have been extremely harmful. They point out that Trump has gotten rid of many regulations that combat climate change. The president says they were too costly for businesses. Critics also sharply disapprove of Trump’s moves to restrict legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. That includes his administration’s policy of separating children who had arrived in the U.S. illegally from adult relatives they had traveled with. The children were then placed in crowded detention centers.

The candidates have drastically different ideas for addressing the challenges America faces.

The president’s critics also express deep concern that he has feuded with traditional U.S. allies, including Canada and Germany, while praising authoritarian leaders whose actions have threatened U.S. security, such as Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Biden, meanwhile, is offering a return to a more traditional presidency. From 2009 to 2017, he was vice president under President Barack Obama. He also served for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, where he developed a reputation for working with Republicans to pass laws.

But Biden has been criticized for his record on race. While he has supported civil rights laws, as a senator he championed legislation that hurt Black Americans. He wrote and supported “tough on crime” laws requiring long prison sentences, including for people convicted of low-level crimes. Such laws have disproportionately affected Black Americans. 

Today, however, Biden says he is committed to rooting out racism in the criminal justice system, from policing practices to sentencing laws. He also supports immigrant rights, believes climate change is a global emergency, and says working with America’s traditional allies is critical.

The president’s critics also express deep concern about his disputes with traditional U.S. allies. These include Canada and Germany. At the same time, he has praised authoritarian leaders whose actions have threatened U.S. security. That includes Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Biden, meanwhile, is offering a return to a more traditional presidency. From 2009 to 2017, he was vice president under President Barack Obama. He also served for 36 years in the U.S. Senate. There, he developed a reputation for working with Republicans to pass laws.

But Biden has been criticized for his record on race. He has supported civil rights laws. But as a senator he championed legislation that hurt Black Americans. He wrote and supported “tough on crime” laws. They required long prison sentences, including for people convicted of low-level crimes. Such laws have disproportionately affected Black Americans.

Today, however, Biden says he is committed to rooting out racism in the criminal justice system, from policing practices to sentencing laws. He also supports immigrant rights. Biden believes climate change is a global emergency. He also says working with America’s traditional allies is critical.

Olivier Doultery/AFP via Getty Images

As the pandemic continues, voters want to know how the candidates plan to save the economy.  

The Pandemic’s Effects

Whichever candidate voters pick will be tasked with guiding the nation through the pandemic and reviving the devastated U.S. economy. 

Trump has focused on the fast development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. At the same time, he has largely left it up to individual states to oversee their response to its spread. Since cases began mounting in March, many state leaders have requested assistance from the federal government. In some areas, hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients and have lacked supplies. Testing for the virus has been slow and inadequate, experts say. 

Meanwhile, in an effort to boost the economy, Trump has encouraged businesses that had been temporarily shut down to reopen quickly. Health experts caution that reopening too early could lead to new outbreaks. Indeed, many states that reopened businesses have seen a spike in cases.

Whichever candidate voters pick will have a big job. He will have to guide the nation through the pandemic. He also will have to revive the devastated U.S. economy.

Trump has focused on the quick development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. At the same time, he has mostly left it up to each state to decide how to handle the virus's spread. Since cases began to increase in March, many state leaders have asked the federal government for help. In some areas, hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients and have lacked supplies. Testing for the virus has been slow and inadequate, experts say.

Meanwhile, Trump has tried to boost the economy by encouraging businesses that had been temporarily shut down to reopen quickly. Health experts warn that reopening too early could lead to new outbreaks. Indeed, many states that reopened businesses have seen a spike in cases.

Scott Stantis/Chicago Tribune/Tribune Content Agency

The shared impact of the coronavirus brought a sense of community to many parts of the U.S. That may be shattered by the fierce battle for the presidency.

Last spring, Trump also signed bills giving financial aid to businesses and Americans affected by the pandemic. That helped many families afford food and rent and companies stay in business. Lawmakers were debating more aid as this issue went to press.

Biden has strongly criticized Trump’s handling of the situation. He has called for a comprehensive federal plan to contain the virus that includes more widespread testing and more equipment for hospitals. 

Biden also wants to devote more resources to helping businesses safely reopen. For example, he says the U.S. government should pay for workers to get virus testing and for time off if they become infected. 

Last spring, Trump also signed bills that gave trillions of dollars in aid to businesses and Americans affected by the pandemic. That helped many families afford food and rent. It also helped companies stay in business. Lawmakers were debating more aid as this issue went to press.

Biden has strongly criticized the way Trump handled the situation. Biden has called for a major federal plan to contain the virus. He wants it to include more widespread testing and more equipment for hospitals.

Biden also wants to devote more resources to helping businesses safely reopen. For example, he says the U.S. government should pay for workers to get virus testing and for time off if they become infected.

Facing Racial Injustice

The winner of the election will also need to lead Americans during a mass movement for racial justice (see “Uniting for Black Lives”)

In May, people worldwide were outraged by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota. Since then, millions of Americans have demonstrated in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for an end to police brutality and injustice toward Black Americans. 

In June, Trump signed an executive order encouraging police departments to change how they train officers and use force. But overall, he has defended law enforcement, opposed protesters’ calls for reforms, and taken an aggressive stance against the largely peaceful demonstrations.

In July, for instance, he sent federal police to Portland, Oregon, to break up rallies there. Local officials say those officers illegally detained protesters and sparked violence.

Many people see Trump’s response to the protests as part of a pattern  of racism. He has repeatedly made racist statements and at times shown support for people who promote white supremacy. 

The winner of the election will also need to lead Americans during a mass movement for racial justice (see “Uniting for Black Lives”).

In May, people worldwide were outraged by the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minnesota. Since then, millions of Americans have protested in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. They have called for an end to police brutality and injustice toward Black Americans.

In June, Trump signed an executive order that encouraged police departments to change how they train officers and use force. But overall, he has defended law enforcement. He has opposed protesters’ calls for reforms to police practices. He also has taken an aggressive stance against the largely peaceful protests.

In July, for example, he sent federal police to Portland, Oregon, to break up rallies there. Local officials say those officers illegally held protesters and sparked violence.

Many people see Trump’s responses to the protests as part of a pattern of racism. He has repeatedly made racist statements. And at times he has shown support for people who promote white supremacy.

Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images 

Racial justice has become a leading issue in the 2020 presidential race.

He has also largely refused to acknowledge the role racism plays in America. For example, he has dismissed research showing that Black people are more likely than white people to be stopped, arrested, and killed by the police. 

Trump says he is not a racist, however, and that he has worked to help Americans of color. He says the strong pre-pandemic economy, which featured record low unemployment for Black and Latinx people, is evidence of that. He also points to a criminal justice reform bill he signed in 2019, which changed federal prison sentencing laws that disproportionately affected Black Americans. 

For his part, Biden says racism is a very real problem in the U.S. He acknowledges that inequality between Black people and white people is the result of long-standing laws and policies. Last year, he expressed regret for criminal justice laws he championed in the Senate that have contributed to racial injustice.

Biden says he would work to end racial inequality by expanding access to high-quality public education, business opportunities, health care, and housing for Black Americans. He has called for the federal government to increase investigations into bias and brutality against Black people in police departments nationwide.

He has also largely refused to recognize the role racism plays in America. For example, he has dismissed research showing that Black people are more likely than white people to be stopped, arrested, and killed by the police.

But Trump says he is not a racist, however. He says that he has worked to help Americans of color. He says the strong pre-pandemic economy is evidence of that, because it had record low unemployment for Black and Latinx people. He also points to a criminal justice reform bill he signed in 2019. It changed federal prison sentencing laws that have disproportionately affected Black Americans.

For his part, Biden says racism is a very real problem. He recognizes that inequality between Black people and white people is the result of long-standing laws and policies. Last year, he expressed regret for criminal justice laws he championed in the Senate that have contributed to racial injustice.

Biden says he would work to end racial inequality. He would do so by expanding access to high-quality public education, business opportunities, health care, and housing for Black Americans. He has called for the federal government to increase investigations into bias and brutality against Black people in police departments nationwide.

Picking a Path Forward

In the weeks and months leading up to the election, Americans will be considering the candidates’ vastly different stances on the country’s most pressing issues. 

Ultimately, voters must think about the future of this nation—and determine whether they believe Trump or Biden would be the better leader to guide our country through this immensely difficult time. 

“This will be an election about who we are as a nation,” says E.J. Dionne, a government expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “More than ever, we will be debating what America is, and who we want to be.” 

—additional reporting by Patricia Smith

In the weeks and months leading up to the election, Americans will be considering the candidates’ vastly different stances on the country’s most pressing issues.

In the end, voters must think about the future of this nation. They must decide whether they believe Trump or Biden would be the better leader to guide our country through this immensely difficult time.

“This will be an election about who we are as a nation,” says E.J. Dionne. He is a government expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “More than ever, we will be debating what America is, and who we want to be.”

—additional reporting by Patricia Smith

Write About It! Which candidate has a better approach for dealing with the issues facing the country? Write an argument that includes details from the article to support your ideas.

Scholastic Election 2020
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