The key word in Joe Biden’s announcement video is aberrant. If Donald Trump serves only one term, Biden declares, “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.”
Before Trump, the former vice president implies, a moral consensus reigned. America, he declares, “is an idea”—an idea that “everyone is treated with dignity,” and that “gives hate no safe harbor” and “instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start, there’s nothing you can’t achieve if you work at it.” That, Biden explains, is “what we believe”—or at least we did, before Trump came along.
That’s a fundamentally different message from the one being peddled by Biden’s key competitors, who see Trump not as a historical aberration but as the outcome of a long historical decline. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both depict Trump as a manifestation of the class war that the ultrarich have been waging since the Ronald Reagan era; in their telling, this war created the economic insecurity that made working-class whites susceptible to Trump’s racist scapegoating, and Trump is escalating the conflict by handing over the government to corporate and financial interests. Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, attributes Trump’s rise to America’s long-standing failure to meet the challenges of globalization, a failure that has left Americans susceptible to “the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back” to an era before automation and outsourcing.