See more of the story

One week out in the presidential race, and the closing arguments for one of the most momentous elections in modern history are taking their final shape.

Many Minnesotans have already made their choice, with record numbers voting early. Those still undecided should look carefully at the radically different views the two candidates represent.

President Donald Trump continues to be a brazenly divisive figure, governing in chaos and campaigning in fear. He routinely paints a dark, unrecognizable picture of this country. On the most important issue of the moment, COVID-19, Trump offers what can only be described as magical thinking.

As Minnesota hit a new daily high for COVID hospitalizations, and as caseloads are on the rise all around us, he claimed in the last debate, without evidence, that the U.S. is “turning the corner.” At that same debate, he said “we have our generals lined up” and ready to distribute within weeks “100 million vials” of a vaccine that remains under development.

Trump has had four years to produce an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans overall have had a decade. Yet he peddles the same old snake oil he’s been hawking since he was a candidate, a “big, beautiful” health plan that somehow never materializes, even as his administration’s lawyers have aided and abetted a lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who won the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement earlier this month, has offered plans and specifics, whether it’s health care, immigration, climate change or the minimum wage. You may or may not agree with them, but they exist. But Biden knows that people are yearning for more than policies. Many Americans are exhausted by the anger and heated rhetoric of the past four years. They don’t see this country as us vs. them. They want to believe again in a nation that leads the world on its most pressing issues, one that fights for the common good. Not a perfect nation, but one that acknowledges faults and strives to do better.

Perhaps that’s what Biden meant when he said in accepting his party’s nomination that “Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency is on the ballot.” It’s not just his character, or Trump’s. It’s ours.

Trump could have chosen a different path. He said in his inaugural address that “the forgotten men and women of this country will be forgotten no longer.” But he has forgotten so many. While other countries take active measures to manage their coronavirus caseload, our health care workers are being sickened, forced to reuse and even share such vital equipment as masks.

Unemployed workers, struggling businesses, states heading into the red — all have waited in vain for this president to lead on a second COVID aid package.

Throughout all this, Trump seems unable or unwilling to muster any empathy or sympathy for those Americans who are hurting. It is a minimal standard for a leader, one he has failed to clear.