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Opinion: Dear Joe, it’s time to go

Opinion by Jay Parini

(CNN) — Dear Joe,

I write to you urgently, as your old neighbor from Scranton. My mother was your babysitter, and you and I sat at my kitchen table many decades ago. I’ve been your admirer for years, sending you checks, knocking on doors and writing pieces supporting you.

Few leaders in American history have had your big heart or sense of moderation. You rescued this country from disaster in 2021, returning us to a sense of normalcy after a brutal insurrection, featuring a crazed mob who smashed the windows of the Capitol and threatened to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence. You assisted an economy in freefall, helping us end a pandemic that killed over 1 million people in the US alone, making it one of the worst-affected wealthy countries globally.

You ushered in crucial support for infrastructure. You, Joe, pushed through the Safer Communities Act, which included the most significant gun control measures in nearly thirty years. Crime has fallen and continues to fall, despite Trump’s rhetoric to the contrary, and you’ve been trying to tame sticky inflation with some success — consumer prices have slowly but steadily dropped under your leadership.

You marshalled support among our allies for Ukraine. And our country is deeply admired around the world for its leadership in technology, its strong military, its enviable research universities and a hugely influential entertainment industry, according to Pew.

This is all good. But you’re an old man now, like me. I know what it’s like to summon the energy to move forcefully through the day. Our bodies don’t cooperate as they once did. Sometimes it hurts even to get up in the morning.

Sadly, that was evident to me from the moment you walked — dazed and confused — onto the debate stage Thursday in Atlanta against former President Donald Trump. You seemed ancient, pale and fragile. You almost groped your way to the podium. Your speech was halting, often incoherent. Your jokes fell flat, badly timed, out of context. You let crazy Donald lie with impunity and snicker at your responses.

I found myself weeping. Weeping for you. Weeping for our nation.

You’re a man of huge integrity, Joe, and you must — you MUST — stand down. Do it for your country and your party. The threat of another four years of Trump, a grifter and con man, is existential.

Democracy really is at stake: Trump tried to subvert the 2020 election and overthrow our government. He did everything in his power to confuse his followers, making them believe he really was elected four years ago.

If Trump returns to the White House, he will give Russian President Vladimir Putin free rein to crush the poor Ukrainians and anyone else who annoys him. He will give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a blank check. NATO will be imperiled. He will slap massive tariffs on imported goods from China and elsewhere, driving up inflation, as economists suggest. He may put more right-wing judges on the Supreme Court, and women can forget about abortion rights for good. Guns will proliferate, as they did under Trump’s first term in office. He will work to make the public think that global warming is a big hoax, destroying progress in this crucial work of fighting climate change. On and on. Disaster looms.

It’s on you, Joe, to listen to the leaders of your party.

Speaking of which, if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are not on their way to the White House today, they should be swiftly removed from office for dereliction of dutyIt’s their job to see that the party puts forward the best person who can win in November, and if they don’t, the election of Trump should land squarely in their laps. It’s beyond time for wise heads to surround you with love, Joe. They must tell you that, for the sake of the country (not to say your own legacy, which is on the brink of ruin): It’s the moment to step down.

The lesson of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s desperate effort to cling to power when her resignation, under President Barack Obama, would have allowed for a good judge to replace her should be echoing in your head. Don’t let yourself be remembered as Joe Bader Biden.

You’ve done your work, and you’ve done it well. The nation is stronger because of you. But we need a brokered, open convention — as in the old days, when this was the norm. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker and others — just to pluck a few obvious names from the hat — should make a case for themselves. The best available Democrat should stand against Trump in November. Any of them should be able to wipe the floor with him.

I’m sorry it’s come to this. But it has.

We both share what I like to think of as Scranton values. We grew up among hard-working ordinary people who understood that this is a country based on equality. Our neighbors were Irish, Italian, Ukrainian and Lebanese immigrants. We believed in this place called the United States of America, where values and character matter.

Be the great man you are, Joe, the one we’ve seen in action and admired for many decades. We salute you. It’s tough, I’m sure. But your final act of greatness lies right before you now.

Do it. Withdraw.

Respectfully, Jay

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