US Election 2020 Key Issues: Racial justice, racism and where Trump and Biden stand
Unsurprisingly, considering the sheer number of race-related incidents and tragedies in the past four years, the subject of race made it into nearly all campaign speeches and poll promises
Apart from the extensive damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, election year 2020 also laid bare political conflicts along deep social cleavages in the United States, made apparent by the eruption of protests across the country demanding racial justice.
For instance, the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a White policeman, Derek Chauvin in May sparked off protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis, before spreading nationwide and eventually all around the world in the form of Black Lives Matters protests. While the majority of these protests demanding racial justice remained peaceful, demonstrations in some American cities escalated to violence and rioting. Following this, the subject of race predictably made it into campaign speeches and poll promises in the presidential race.
The two main candidates in the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden, reacted differently to these events. Trump urged crackdown on violent protests and asked governors to “dominate” in order to avoid looking “like a bunch of jerks”, drawing criticism for stoking racial tension at a time the president should be uniting the nation. Biden, on the other hand, echoed Floyd’s last words and sympathised with the protestors, releasing several video messages calling for action on racial inequality.
This has translated into the two presidential candidates adopting distinct approaches on countering racism.
Where Trump stands
The president has stayed away from outlining a policy plan to tackle and lower racial inequality. He has dismissed the idea that systemic racism exists in the United States.
Trump insists that his administration’s policies have helped Black Americans, citing record low Black unemployment figures. “Unemployment for Black Americans is the lowest ever recorded. Trump approval ratings with Black Americans has doubled. Thank you, and it will get even (much) better,” he tweeted in 2018, and has repeated similar claims this election year. He went on to suggest that these lower unemployment rates will help bring racial justice.
These claims by Trump have been subsequently shown to be exaggerated. Much of the progress on Black unemployment rate in the United States was made during the Obama administration.
In June, the president outlined a four-point plan to address aspects of racial inequality and to “build safety, opportunity and dignity.” This new plan seeks to increase federal support for small business owners from minority communities and confront racial disparities in healthcare, among other goals.
“Americans are good and virtuous people. We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear. But we’ll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labelling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist or bigots,” Trump said.
Where Biden stands
In contrast, Biden’s promises towards racial justice are far more comprehensive, at least on paper. In August, the former vice-president said he is running for president this year to ease the racial divisions in the country, and to restore “the soul of America”.
Biden plans to invest over $50 billion in venture capital to Black and Brown entrepreneurs, and “expand access” to $100 billion in business loans by funding state, local, tribal and non-profit lending programmes in Black and Brown communities. Overall, he promises to leverage more than $150 billion for small businesses that have been “structurally excluded for generations”.
He also wishes to encourage private equity investment in Black and Brown-owned businesses by expanding the New Markets Tax Credit to $5 billion annually and making it permanent.
On police reforms and the criminal justice system, Biden’s website says that of all the people incarcerated in the United States, “too many are black and brown”. He plans to make the criminal justice system rid itself of “racial, gender, and income-based disparities”, but stops short of outlining how he would go about it.
On education reforms, Biden promises to support minority-serving institutions and historically Black colleges and universities that play a “unique and vital role in their communities”. He plans to invest $10 billion to improve enrolment, retention, completion and employment rates at these institutions. Biden also plans to expand efforts towards student loan forgiveness, a move that is expected to especially benefit Black students.
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