These ideas point to the contradiction at the heart of Biden’s campaign. On the one hand, Biden is—more stridently than most of his Democratic rivals—running a campaign against Trump. While some of the other candidates see Trump as merely the apotheosis of long-running trends in American society toward xenophobia, isolationism, plutocracy, and kleptocracy, Biden sees Trump as aberrant. This allows Biden to offer a nostalgic campaign, which, as I have written, is itself an aberration among Democrats historically: Vote for me, and we’ll put things back the way they were.

Biden said Monday, “Four years of this president will go down as an aberration … Eight years of Donald Trump will fundamentally change who we are in profound ways.” How can it be that Trump poses an existential threat, and if he serves two terms, it would produce a profound shift in American society, but that if he serves only four years, it will be easy to return to the supposed idyll that existed before 2016? The idea beggars belief.