Click above to listen to the author read this essay.

I woke up at 4:45 am today, and my thoughts immediately went to tonight’s first presidential debate. Like so many Americans living in 2020, I find my thoughts often captivated by the unrelenting parade of events that make this year one of the most consequential in history. One of the ways I cope with the weight of these events is to engage in thought experiments where I imagine myself having to deal with the myriad decisions and pressures that those in leadership at every level are facing. No one in a leadership position at any level in our society imagined that they would have to simultaneously deal with a pandemic, an economic collapse, social upheaval and demands for racial justice, and the violent manifestations of climate change. It’s difficult to imagine the emotional and psychological toll our leaders are experiencing.

The first debate of the 2020 election will give us the chance to compare the men who want to lead our country for the next four years. Much ink will be spilled tomorrow on their “performances,” their stated policy goals, and the sparring that will most certainly occur. My decision has been made, and my vote has already been cast. I do not doubt that our republic’s continuation as a free and democratic society hinges on this election, and Joe Biden is the only person who can lead us out of the nightmare that we are living.

Today’s thought experiment is to imagine what I would write for former Vice President Biden if I had the task of preparing his closing remarks at tonight’s debate. Here’s what my 4:45 am mind conjured.

My fellow Americans. I stand on this stage tonight as a gravely concerned American citizen. I have spent my entire adult life in service to this great nation and have dedicated myself to the notion that every citizen has a role to play in shaping the future. Over my nearly five decades of public service, I have been honored and humbled to be witness to and a participant in ground-breaking legislation that has ensured the rights of millions. I have traveled the world and promoted American interests with our allies and defended our ideals to our adversaries. I have had the honor and privilege to serve as your Vice President for eight years. And I have had the pleasure of speaking with thousands of my fellow citizens in diners and American Legion halls, front porches, and church basements in every state, in cities and small towns. You know me. You know my work. You know my love for this country.

I stand on this stage with Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States. When President Trump took office in January 2017, the American people had elected a man who vowed to reshape Washington DC by draining the swamp and to ‘make America great again.’ He told you that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something’ better and cheaper’. He promised to end the wars and bring our troops home. He told you that he gave up his life of luxury and leisure to serve the American people.

When President Obama and I left the White House, we had the greatest economy in the history of the world. During our term in office, we recovered from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, cut unemployment from 10% to 4%, ended the war in Iraq, fought a pandemic, saved the US auto industry, led the world in fighting climate change, created 11.5 million jobs, raised median household income by 5.3%, increased green energy production by 370%, and delivered healthcare to 20 million Americans and ensured coverage for pre-existing conditions for every American. This is what President Trump inherited.

But instead of building upon the work of the previous administration, President Trump came to office to, in the words of his campaign manager Steve Bannon, “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” We left you a stable and growing economy, and you’ve led us to the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. We left you a vibrant private sector, and you’ve presided over the destruction of tens of thousands of small businesses. We left you a team of experts with the experience of leading a pandemic response and a playbook to guide the nation should it happen again, and you disbanded the group and ignored the playbook. Your hubris and denial in the face of a global health crisis have cost the lives of more than 200,000 Americans, and tens of thousands more will die before you leave office. We left you a healthcare system that made insurance available for every American, guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, and allowed children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. You have spent the past four years working with the Senate and in the courts to kill the ACA, have not presented a single piece of replacement legislation, and pressed to end coverage for millions during a pandemic. You have attacked our allies, broken treaties, and diminished our influence around the world. You have embraced dictators, failed to respond to Russian interference in our elections and bounties on the heads of our troops, betrayed our Kurdish allies in Iraq and Syria, and kowtowed to the Saudi Royal family. You have stoked the flames of racial and social division and failed to comfort a nation that is grieving and crying out for help.

But perhaps worst of all, you have denigrated and defiled the office of the President of the United States. You have used your office to enrich yourself and your family, have spent millions in taxpayer money to fund golf outings to properties you own and have made a mockery of the Emoluments Clause. You have stood at the podium in the White House and lied day after day about matters great and small, all in an effort to gaslight the American people and cover up your unfitness for office and your lack of competence and failure of leadership.

In the best of times, such behavior by a president would inflict significant damage on our nation. But during a pandemic, it costs thousands of lives. During an economic disaster, it costs millions of jobs and ruins lifetimes of hard work and sacrifice. During a climate crisis, it threatens billions of lives worldwide and even the survival of our species.

This is not hyperbole. This is the sober and honest assessment of a failed presidency. This is the indictment of a man who’s proven his inability to do the job that this moment in our history demands.

I stand on this stage as a man, a citizen who knows that we cannot continue down the current path. But I am just a man. I cannot and would not seek the honor and privilege of being your president if I was not convinced that together, we could repair the damage. We can rebuild our institutions. We can reclaim our national dignity and once again earn our position of global leadership. We can do the hard work of defeating this pandemic. We can ensure that every American has healthcare as a right and not a privilege. We can embrace science and make the changes to begin to reverse the calamitous effects of climate change. We can open our hearts and start the process of healing our nation by making racial justice and equality a reality.

The work will be hard. It will require commitment, steadfast effort, and an abundance of grace and patience. But we can and will do this work together.

Please join me in this task. If you give me the opportunity and great honor of serving as your president, I promise that I will spend every day of my term working with you to bring our nation back to health, prosperity, and pride.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America and all of her people.