© Matt Kenyon

Dear Barack, You made a fine address to the nation last Sunday — so fine that a lot of folks misunderstood it. They say you’re an apologist for Muslims and that you’ve already checked out of the job. They weren’t listening. They were hearing what they’re programmed to hear. I wish I could deliver such a cool, analytical, address. But that’s not me. Someone must speak to the fears of our white middle class before this gets out of control. Someone must reassure the world that Donald Trump is not America. I believe that person is me. We need to spell out what we are going to do — not just what we’re not going to do, as you did last week. No one can speak from the head like you can, Barack. Let me be the one to speak from the heart. Yours, Joe Biden.

Fellow Americans, we live in troubled times. Terrorists the other side of the world cut off the heads of US citizens and our European friends and say “God is great” while they’re doing it. Here at home, for no reason we can fathom, a quiet suburban couple suddenly turn on their neighbours and co-workers with semi-automatic weapons. In the name of religion, thousands of young men and women — some of them from these shores — quit promising lives to join a death cult that sees us as its mortal enemy.

This isn’t your grandfather’s war, or your father’s — with their tanks and their planes. This is a new kind of menace in which the foe is invisible until it is too late. Fear and suspicion are its fuel. I get why people are scared. Believe me I do. I also know in my heart that we must not be governed by our fears. Franklin D Roosevelt — maybe the greatest American of all — said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He was right then and he is right today. Isis must be defeated by all means practical. But we must do so with our values intact. We must not repeat the mistakes of George W Bush.

We also live in confusing times. When I was growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a strong middle class was the backbone of America. As the saying went, if you worked hard and played by the rules, you got ahead. If I had traced an arc with my arm, within a radius of a few hundred miles I would have taken in the industrial engine of the world. These were the auto plants — the Buicks, the Fords, the Cadillacs — that FDR converted into the war factories that defeated fascism and saved the world from its darkest hour. These were your forebears.

Today, most of those plants have gone. The rules have changed. Too many of you work day and night at three jobs just to keep your head above water. If the polls mean anything, most of you see no better future for your children. We no longer trust our leaders when they say it will all be fine. Economists define the middle class as $50,000 a year or whatever. But this isn’t about numbers. Being middle class is a value. It’s about reward for effort and hope for the future.

It breaks my heart that the life expectancy of middle-aged white Americans is falling. Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to know that it’s rising for Hispanics and not falling for African Americans. But it is tragic that so many lives are being cut short by rising suicide rates, alcoholism, a suburban heroin epidemic and addiction to prescription opioids. When hope is lost fear takes over. It is not my style to tear other people down. In many ways Mr Trump is a fine American. In which other country could you name half the golf courses after yourself and turn it into a platform for the presidency? Where else could a reality TV star be taken seriously on the hustings? OK, I know — it happened in Italy. But Italy aside, all things are possible in America and that is part of what makes us great.

Fellow Americans, we are in danger of electing someone who could do great damage to our country. When fear takes over, humans forget reason. Since 9/11 almost a quarter of a million Americans have died in gun violence. Thousands were children. Some of them were gunned down in their classrooms. We did not call these acts of terrorism. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting we take away everyone’s guns. I am realistic. But you should know that your chances of being killed in everyday gun violence are several thousand times greater than dying from terrorism on US soil. Forty Americans have been killed by terrorists since 9/11. We need to keep our sense of perspective.

Who are we? Is America turning into a game-show democracy that can be manipulated to laugh and cry and boo on a whim by the host with trophy wives? Are we the kind of people who would close our shutters to a fifth of the world and two per cent of our law-abiding citizens? Would we set up a police state so that we could round up 11m Mexicans? Is that who we are?

I know the answer our grandparents would have given. They gave their lives to prevent such a world. We were resilient then when the threat was far greater. Today, we often seem to be scared of our own shadows. I hope I am wrong about that. In my heart I know I am. Our enemies hope otherwise.

So go ahead — applaud Mr Trump. We live in a democracy. Make him a winner. But do so in the knowledge of what we would be losing. The world has not yet given up on America as its beacon. It’s time to fire Donald Trump.

Letter in response to this column:

Has free trade been worth the huge costs, Mr Biden? / From Tom Groenfeldt

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