Would Joe Biden as president merely be the un-Trump? Would his presidency be all about undoing Trump’s moves?

For many people, that would be satisfactory. They have enough experience to judge Trump and enough confidence, if not enthusiasm, to prefer Biden.

To accomplish even a Trump rollback, Biden would need a cooperative Congress. The Democrats would have to hold onto their House majority and take control of the Senate. They would need to reform the Senate filibuster rule to prevent the GOP from blocking action.

Among the reversals Biden promises are repealing tax cuts for the most wealthy, restoring the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, rejoining the Paris climate agreement and resuming leadership of NATO.

He would not reverse all of Trump’s policies. Confronting Chinese expansion in the South China Sea is likely to continue. So would efforts to reduce dependence on other countries for critical imports by strengthening domestic production. He would use Trump’s system for installing federal judges.

But the choice between Trump and Biden would involve much more than whether there would be a simple restoration of traditional Democratic policies. Because of their sharply differing instincts about the role of government, a change in presidents could bring a major change in policies.

Trump espouses the politics of “no.” While the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and the full support for Israel’s expansion represent new initiatives for the American president, Trump has mainly focused on dismantling government.

For Trump and many of his GOP allies, the policies from public works to civil rights to social welfare that had developed over 80 years went too far. A large and powerful federal government could readily be labeled “socialist.”

Cooperation with other countries meant that the U.S. had yielded the power to make its own decisions to other countries or international organizations. Trump’s policy of “America First,” an echo of pre-World War II isolationism, has resulted in “America Alone,” in which all decisions are homemade.

Cutting taxes and relieving polluters of the costs of environmental protection helped produce a steadily growing economy. The benefits did not reach everybody, but people who wanted to work could get a job.

The cost of saying “no” to taxes, the environment, immigration and allies resulted in increased global temperatures, inadequate readiness for Covid-19, millions without reasonable health care, and farmers without field workers.

Trump’s approach is based on priorities that please many voters. Lower taxes and less regulation matter more than rebuilding roads and bridges or reducing global warming. Leave solutions to the private sector.

Biden is the candidate of “yes.” In the tradition of his party, he sees government as an instrument to be used to serve public purposes.

Taxes are the tool. While he does not favor raising taxes across the board, he openly insists that the wealthy should pay more and that the income gap between them and the rest of the population is both unwise and unjustified.

Nothing shows the difference between “no” and “yes” better than health insurance.

Trump has proposed the elimination of the Affordable Care Act. This law was President Obama’s imperfect attempt to begin increasing health insurance coverage so that it would be available to all Americans. Because millions were coming to depend on it, Trump promised he would offer an alternative.

Three quarters of the way through his term, he has proposed no alternative. He has stepped up his effort the kill the program. In effect, Trump would send millions back to the emergency room for medical care. His health care policy is obviously extremely negative.

Biden has proposed to revive parts of the ACA that the Trump administration has nullified and to improve it. Still, his proposals are more moderate than the full-scale national health insurance implied by the slogan “Medicare for all.”

Again imposing the tax on people who do not obtain insurance would revive the individual mandate. Biden says that people should have the option of buying their insurance from a non-profit, public source. Private insurers would continue, but they would compete with the “public option.”

Congress could decide at some future point on national health insurance. In the meantime, no person would need to suffer from denial of coverage. Insurers would operate in a more competitive market. Once regarded as liberal, Biden’s proposal may be practical and positive.

The Trump and Biden positions on health care reveal much about the politics of “no” and “yes.” Do you repeal the ACA or improve it?

In the end, voters know little of the issues a president will face. But a candidate’s mindset can tell voters much about that person’s leadership qualities when dealing with unforeseen challenges.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman. 

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