The emotional dichotomy I desperately want Joe Biden to understand

Mike Murray
5 min readJul 23, 2020

Well-meaning Democrats need to avoid doing this, or they may shoot themselves in the foot — again.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To be clear, I fervently hope that Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election. However, like many, I worry that the Democrats, Biden in particular, will find a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Several factors contribute to my concern.

· The former Vice President is well known for his gaffes, which provide media sharks with a rich supply of feeding frenzy chum.

· Biden often appears to struggle to express himself smoothly, and this brings his age into question. It seems to me, though, that Biden has never been impeccable in his elocution, particularly when he gets excited.

· Biden took several body blows during the Democratic primary debates, from all sides, which probably has exacerbated the tepid enthusiasm that many traditional and crucial Democratic voters feel for Barack Obama’s Vice President.

All of these concerns merit consideration. However, what is most disquieting for me is that he and his managers will become sidetracked in their attempts to appease the Progressives and allied coalitions in the Democratic party and end up pushing potential Biden voters into voting for Donald Trump. How will that happen? By ignoring the fundamental emotional drivers for key voters who hold the election outcome in their hands. I believe that the election boils down to this emotional dichotomy:

Disgust with Trump vs Fear of Loss

Disgust for Trump pervades throughout the electorate, and Trump’s failure of leadership during the COVID pandemic, his indifference towards those who suffer, and his inflammatory rhetoric regarding the racial and social injustices suffered by millions of Americans has deepened that disgust. However, for many voters, their abhorrence for Trump is in a delicate balance with their fear of loss at the hands of the “Have-nots”. Who are these Have-nots and why might people fear them?

My reference to Have-nots includes those for whom the American Dream appears to be a mirage. It’s the 40% of the workforce earning less than $15 per hour. It’s those for whom social and racial justice are ideals that don’t seem to apply. And it’s people who feel disenfranchised from what so many of us take for granted.

They comprise all races, ethnicities, and gender preferences, but Trump makes it very clear to his supporters who they should believe these people are and why they should fear them. When he speaks to his campaign rally audiences who are mostly white, mostly middle class (or at least middle-class wannabes), and mostly sexually straight, he makes no bones about the fact that the Have-nots are NOT YOU. And just as unambiguously, he lets you know that they want what you have. They want your hard-earned money, they want your job, they want to buy your house, and they want your social privilege. And they won’t be satisfied until they have taken it. The American Dream is explicitly characterized as a zero-sum game, and that there is a finite pie for which we are all competing. For the Have-nots to gain, You must lose. The Democrats, of course, are portrayed as being complicit in a massive give-away to the Have-nots, and let’s face it, based on the multi-trillion dollar proposals we heard during the 2020 primaries, that can seem quite plausible.

While the balance of the 2020 presidential election lies in these deep emotional drivers, disgust and fear, many pundits, especially those of the liberal persuasion, feel obliged to appeal to our rational mind. They hurl fact after fact that support Trump’s dishonesty, duplicity, and corrupt nature at us, hoping to convince us that he must not be given a second term. They continually fact-check the president and provide us lists of the thousands of lies he has uttered while in office, proof positive of his unfitness for the most important job in the world. Their evidence is irrefutable.

And none of it matters. None of it!

People vote based on emotion. Any good campaign knows that. The contrast between Kennedy’s charming good looks vs Nixon’s scowl and 5 o’clock shadow was essentially about the underlying emotion of trust. The same with Reagan’s affability vs Carter’s seriousness. We naturally trust people whom we find likeable more than those by whom we are put off. Obama inspired enthusiasm, and while many voters admired McCain’s service and authenticity, they did not connect with him on an emotional level. In 2016 Trump capitalized on mistrust of the Clintons’ and their perceived alignment with the elite. He also played on people’s fear of loss to others, in this case people external to the United States - Mexicans, Muslims, the Chinese, etc. In 2020, he is honing in on the perceived enemy within. Exploiting this fear plays well with his base, and so Trump keeps going to that well. However, that tactic in itself is unlikely to provide sufficient support for him to win the November election, unless the Democrats “help”.

Recently, Joe Biden laid out an economic plan that calls for higher corporate taxes and taxes on investments. He specifically called out the “investment class” as being antagonists to Americans struggling to make a life for themselves. In a TV ad he attacks Wall Street, saying that Wall Street tycoons didn’t build America, hard working people built America. Without debating the facts of this statement, the risk is that Biden will alienate the very voters that he desperately needs. Not the Wall Street tycoons, but the millions of Americans who are invested in our financial system. People who are counting on their IRA’s, 401k’s, and other investments for their retirement. In particular, Biden’s nod to the Progressives and identity group coalitions in his party in order to boost their turnout in November may backfire by spooking the 2016 Trump voters who are totally disgusted with Donald Trump and are fully prepared to vote for Biden this November. They may even continue to tell pollsters of their intention to vote for Biden up to the weekend before the election. But their fear of loss to the Have-nots, which will be cleverly and unrelentingly exploited by the Trump campaign, could easily swing the election back to Trump. And if that happens, the Have-nots will end up with even less.

I’m no Inside-the Beltway political pundit, but I have been a keen observer of our elections for over fifty years. Biden’s path to the Presidency is what people have been saying for months. He’s not Trump! He may not be your most favorite Democrat, but he’s an electable alternative to Trump. However, to win he must not become an avatar to the notion that he and his Progressive allies will take even more away from “Me”, who has worked hard over a lifetime to support my family and scrape together enough to have a decent retirement, even in the face of one economic onslaught after the next. “I” cannot endure losing any more.

In fact, Biden said it best in his most recent TV ad. “It’s not about Me, it’s about You, about Us.” Yes. Please Mr. Vice President, keep it about us, all of us, and don’t stray into territory where Trump can claim, credibly or not, that you represent a threat to whatever sense of security people may have left. Most of us are disgusted with Trump. Don’t let us lose sight of that!

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