The following is a suggested opening statement for President Joe Bide at the upcoming June 27 debate with former President Donald Trump.

For an opposing viewpoint see: “Counterpoint: What Trump Should Say at the Debate (But Probably Won’t)

My fellow Americans,

Every four years, you hear this is the most important election ever. These claims pale compared to what we now face. Our very democracy is at risk.

The Republican Party, a formerly great institution, has been corrupted by my opponent. While I may not have agreed with all their policies in the past, I respected their integrity. This is no longer true.

Past Republicans and Democrats differed in philosophy but not in allegiance to the Constitution. They aspired to honesty and justice. At the federal level, that is gone. We now have a Trump party. If Donald Trump disagrees, the issue is dead.

After much work by Democrats and Republicans on our Mexican border’s complex problem, we appeared to have reached an agreement. The agreement included everything that Republicans previously wanted. Unfortunately, Trump, concerned that he might lose a political edge, advised his party against it, and they obeyed. So solid, non-partisan legislation in the country’s best interest, but not in the interest of Donald Trump, died.

My opponent has all the makings of an authoritarian president. Do we want a leader like those he admires — Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Hungary’s Viktor Orban? Like them, Trump’s supreme requirement is loyalty — unquestioning loyalty.

Trump believes he is above the law, laws that are pillars of our Constitution and of civil society. He is corrupt and corrupts people around him. His former lawyers and advisers have been convicted of criminal acts while serving him. Many are currently in prison; others have admitted their guilt and await trial. And, at the head of the pack is the former president, a convicted felon awaiting sentencing. Can you imagine? Is this the legacy we want to vote for, to tell our children we support?

The man is now running on a platform of retaliation and vengeance. His goal is to punish his enemies, and he has been very clear about this. Is this democracy?

The potential damage of a Trump win in November would be enormous, including the power to fill Supreme Court vacancies with extreme conservatives.

You may not see me as the ideal age for a president. Still, my staff knows I listen, am intellectually sharp, and bring a wealth of experience. I’m a thoughtful, careful, critical decision-maker. With me, you will, once again, be electing a president with a solid team of dedicated public servants who work not to please my ego but for all Americans.

In contrast, Trump’s Cabinet and White House advisers had the highest turnover rate of any administration in American history. Many who have worked with him believe him to be incompetent and unethical. And they have forcefully said so.

I am proud of our accomplishments in the last four years. We reduced the deficit, capped Medicare drug costs, passed an infrastructure bill with many of its benefits yet to come, deployed more border agents, increased police funding, raised taxes on the rich, sent aid to Ukraine, canceled student debt for thousands, and, very significantly, supported women’s rights in every way we could. Not bad for an old guy, huh?

At the end of Trump’s term, unemployment stood at 6.2 percent, and on my watch, it has been below 4 percent for the last two years. Inflation rose to over 13.5 percent at its peak two years ago but has dropped to less than 3 percent in recent reports.

But that’s not good enough. The economy may look good on paper, but it doesn’t feel that way for many Americans. The cost of food, rent, home purchases and energy are stressing many. I will specifically work to reduce the areas of inflation that most affect everyday Americans.

My fellow Americans. With your vote, you alone can stop Donald Trump from making this country an autocracy. Look closely at this man’s character, egotistical need for admiration and attention, biases, and crude behavior. And yes, the fact that he is already a felon facing sentencing with additional indictments and trials to come. Sitting out this election is not an option.

In Biden, you get a man of integrity who is willing and eager to work across the aisle — who, along with my team, is dedicated to democracy — a democracy in danger. My fellow Americans, we have much to look forward to, but we need the right leader.  I am that person.

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