In my previous essay I addressed the issue of whether a good person could support President Trump. In this essay I raise the same issue about Joe Biden: If you are a good person and acting morally, can you support Joe Biden? In this context, support would include voting for him in 2020 and agreeing with a meaningful percentage of his actions, words, and policies. A supporter can, of course, disagree with Biden on some matters and still be a supporter. A person can also vote for either candidate without being a supporter in a substantial sense (something I failed to make clear in my previous essay).
To be consistent, I will take the same approach to Biden that I took to Trump: I am operating within the context of a general virtue theory. As I noted in the previous essay, those who disagree with me can counter with their own account of morality.
Imagine, if you will, Vicky the Virtuous. She is not a perfect person but has these and other virtues to an excellent degree. She acts upon them consistently, though she has her bad moments. Could Vicky support Biden and remain a good person? I contend that she can do so under certain conditions.
One approach to the matter is to consider Biden as a human being. Using the standards of virtue theory, Biden is a flawed person. Like Trump, Biden has been accused of being a racist. In the 1970s Joe Biden actively opposed school busing. Biden teamed up with Jesse Helms in 1975 and joined the segregationists in opposing busing. In 1977 he said, “Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this.” Joe also supported (and apparently still supports) the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This act is often seen as racist by people on the left. In 2020 Biden told voters that ‘you ain’t black’ if they are still deciding between him and Trump. This does show that Joe has said racist things and supported racist policies. As such, to the degree that Biden is still a racist and still supports racist policies it would be wrong for a good person to support him in his racism.
Like Trump, Biden has also been accused of sexual misconduct. He is infamous for inappropriate touching and was accused by Tara Reade of sexual assault. While Reade’s accusations should be taken seriously, there is currently a lack of evidence supporting her claim as well as good reasons to doubt her assertion. As such, Biden is not without flaw in this area and to the degree that the claims against him are credible it would be wrong for a good person to support him in this behavior.
Biden also faces accusations for helping his son secure foreign deals. While there has yet to be any legal action against Hunter Biden, the use of such family connections for personal profit is a clear ethical violation. As such, to the degree that Biden aided his son in these misdeeds it would be wrong for a good person to support him in his nepotism.
Considering this evidence, it must be concluded that Joe Biden has serious flaws as a human being and a virtuous person would certainly prefer a better candidate to support. But supporting Biden must be considered in context: the only two viable choices are Trump and Biden. First, although some try to claim that Biden and Trump are equally bad this would be a false equivalence—as I have argued at length. To use an analogy, saying Biden and Trump are equally bad because they both have done some bad things would be like saying that Usain Bolt and I are equally fast because we have both won some races.
If we take racism, sexism, and nepotism as wrong, then Trump vastly exceeds Biden in both severity and volume. So, if Biden is bad, Trump is far worse—so if it is wrong for a good person to support Biden it would be far worse for a good person to support Trump. This clearly allows a good person to vote for Biden: to not vote for Biden would aid Trump, who is far worse than Biden. It could even be argued that supporting Biden in a significant manner would also be consistent with being a good person—since there are only two viable choices, supporting Biden would decrease the likelihood that Trump is elected and this would be a virtuous deed. Naturally, this assessment can be opposed by arguing that Trump is better than Biden as a human being.
As I also noted in the case of Trump, it could be argued that Biden’s moral flaws are not relevant to the moral matter of supporting him for president. After all, a terrible person could be skilled at their job or be doing things that are good despite their being an awful person. Imagine a horrible person who is particularly good at plumbing. Imagine that they confine their horribleness to their personal life and do an excellent job at work, dealing fairly with customers and doing excellent work. It can be argued that while a virtuous person would not want to be their friend, they could still hire the person. That is, a good person could distinguish between the person and their performance on the job.
So, a Biden supporter could agree that Biden is flawed but argue that he will do a good job for the country with his good policies and good leadership. That is, they could switch to a utilitarian approach and assess the ethics of their support in terms of the consequences for the morally relevant beings. They could thus claim to remain a good person because they are supporting a flawed person who is likely to do good for the country. But what if the flawed person would harm the country?
A critic of Biden might even agree that Biden is a better person than Trump while arguing that Biden would be a worse president for the country. That is, his bad policies and bad leadership would create more harm than good for the morally relevant beings. So, a good person would be bad for supporting Biden—and for even voting for him.
I agree that a good person can support a bad person who is somehow doing good for others, which takes us to a consideration of the moral consequences of a Biden presidency. Unlike Trump, Biden has never been President. As such, we must use his actions as a senator and vice president to assess his likely leadership approach and policies. We can also look at his stated positions—applying a proper level of skepticism, of course.
While some Trump supporters are predicting that America will become a lawless Marxist hellscape under Biden, these sorts of attacks on Biden are straw men—as I have argued at length. All evidence points to Biden being a moderate centrist who will pursue moderate centrist policies—as he generally did as a senator and vice president. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the Democratic establishment backed Biden so strongly against Bernie Sanders.
It is because Biden has consistently been a centrist on issues and has sometimes veered to the right (see above) that the left is critical of his policies and actions. Some are also concerned about his connection to the Obama administration’s drone assassinations and the all-too-cozy relation between this administration and the financial elites of Wall Street and the corporate boardrooms. They also called out the Obama administration out on its failure to take meaningful action on climate change, economic inequality, and social justice. It is obviously controversial to claim that Biden is bad because he has consistently acted as a centrist and has served the status quo very well. So, we are in an odd place in which the right casts Biden as a radical leftist and the left dislikes Biden for almost perfectly fitting the definition of a moderate centrist. If the right is correct, then presumably he would be bad because he is too left. If the left is correct, then he would be bad because he is too right. Centrists would, presumably, see Biden as the just right porridge. In any case, to the degree that Biden’s actions and polices would be bad a good person would be wrong to support him. But we must consider this matter in context: Biden and Trump are the only viable choices and failing to support one aids the other. As such, a utilitarian calculation would require considering the two against each other. As I see it, there are two critical reasons showing that Biden would be better as president than Trump.
The first is that Biden would be better choice for addressing the pandemic. Biden has made it clear that he supports a science-based medical approach based on evidence. His actions have been consistent with his claims: he has practiced social distancing and wears a mask—for which Trump mocked him. Trump’s failures in the pandemic are a matter of medical fact—we can compare the United States to other countries, and it is a fact that Trump is the largest single spreader of disinformation about the pandemic. He caught COVID, his White House is infected, he hosted a super-spreader event, and he is planning more. It would be a mark of insanity to claim that Trump is handling the pandemic well. While one could raise some hypothetical concerns about what Biden might do as president, he is already doing a better job than Trump in addressing COVID-19. Given the devastation of COVID-19 and Trump’s horrific response, only the wicked or ignorant could support Trump on this matter. From a moral standpoint, the COVID-19 issue alone is decisive: since the choice is between Biden or Trump, the only moral choice is Biden. So, a good person can support Biden and be a good person. In fact, supporting Biden is the right thing to do. This can, of course, be countered by proving that Trump has done well on COVID.
At this point you might say: since Biden and Trump are both flawed, a good person should vote for someone else or not vote at all. One response to this is laid out in my chapter in Bob Fischer’s anthology Ethics, Left and Right. In this chapter I make the moral argument for (almost) always voting for the lesser evil. There is also a companion chapter with a different perspective and our replies to each other. My other response is directed at people who are considering voting for a third-party candidate. I believe that the United States would benefit from a third-party strong enough to challenge the Democrats and Republicans and have written extensively on third-parties in politics. My considered view is that voting for a third-party party would be a good action if you would otherwise vote for Trump. But it would be morally better to vote for Biden if you value the idea of a viable third-party. While this might seem inconsistent on my part, here is my argument.
Trump has made no effort to hide his efforts to undermine American democracy. He has been busy corrupting the government. He has been waging an unrelenting disinformation campaign in order to disenfranchise Americans. He has continued the project of making the Supreme Court anti-democratic (small “d”). While the undermining of our democracy is not new, Trump has stepped on the gas and tweeted about doing so. Biden, in contrast, generally supports the protection of the democratic process and favors enfranchising Americans. His critics will claim he has a selfish political reason for this: more people favor the Democrats over the Republicans, so protecting the democratic process and enfranchising Americans means more Democrats will be elected.
While his motives might be selfish, it would be odd to argue that protecting democracy and enfranchising citizens would be wrong—this would be to reject the ideals of American democracy in favor of authoritarianism. But there clearly are people who see authoritarianism as good—so one could make a moral case for destroying American Democracy and use this to argue that good people should support Trump in ridding America of democracy.
Even if one argues that Biden would destroy democracy if doing so was advantageous, this does not prove protecting democracy and enfranchising citizens is wrong—it would, at best, show that Biden is doing the right thing for bad reasons. So, he would be a hypocrite in this hypothetical scenario—but would be acting morally.
It is Biden’s support for protecting democracy and enfranchising voters that makes him the moral choice for those who support the idea of having viable third-parties. If Trump is re-elected, he will make it even harder for Democrats to win against him and, because of the same methods, make it far more difficult for any third party to have a chance. While Biden would certainly fight against third-parties, much of what he must do to advantage the Democrats would also help third-parties. In contrast, if Trump is able to continue destroying American democracy, third-parties will be even more locked out than now. Since I believe that viable third-parties would be beneficial to America, I think that a good person can support Biden in 2020 and be good.
In closing, while Biden is not the best person to be president, we are in a lesser of two evils scenario and a good person should support Biden—if only to bring about a better response to the pandemic and to help restore some of the damage done to our democracy. Like many of you I am tired of voting for the lesser evil—which is why, ironically, I will vote for Biden over Trump. If my arguments are flawed, I look forward to being shown the error of my reasoning and would certainly change my claims in accord with the best argument.
Leave a Reply