You may have heard an old crank in a big house ranting about appliances and unflushable toilets the other day. “Remember the dishwasher, you’d press it, boom — there’d be like an explosion,” he said, apropos of nothing. “Now you press it 12 times.”
The bathroom is another battleground. In the shower, “you turn on the faucet, you don’t get any water.” It gets worse. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once.”
Of course, that was our own President Donald Trump, who will be 74 on Election Day, and would like to be known for “my great and unmatched wisdom,” even if he seems flummoxed by the great obstacle facing a toilet-training 2-year-old.
But had it been Joe Biden who muttered such gibberish, it would have prompted another round of age-shaming. Imagine if Biden had made up a country that doesn’t exist (“Nambia”), or gave a new name to his secretary of defense (“Mark Esperanto”) and the chief executive of Apple (“Tim Apple”)? Dare I mention “covfefe”? As Trump wrote, what comes out of his mouth is “unpresidented.”
Biden will be 77 on Election Day and would be the oldest person ever elected president. He mixes up places, people, dates and decades. He still shows signs of his struggle to overcome a childhood stutter, which is not to be confused with age.
Yet, compared with the tongue-tangled, fact-mangling, grammar-assaulting, nonsense-spewing, hate-and-grievance-filled current occupant of the White House, Biden is Churchill.
Which brings us to the question of how Uncle Joe should handle his age. Answer: He’s already done it, which is to signal that he would be open to serving only one term. For the record, Biden has denied what was initially leaked by his own camp and reported by Politico.
Most political pros think it’d be crazy for Biden to give himself lame-duck status from Day 1. What they miss is that such a pledge, telegraphed subtly, could be just the thing that gets him in the position to have a Day 1.
A one-term president can be unhinged or liberated or both, but is certainly not powerless. Free from overreacting to the swings of daily tracking polls, the lame duck can fly to great heights.
Nothing in a one-term president’s powers keep the executive from nominating Supreme Court justices, signing life-changing legislation, vetoing terrible bills or renewing the United States’ role as a global citizen in the existential fight against climate change.
By executive order, a one-term president can keep poisons out of rivers, forbid family separation at the border and restore the honor of the military code of justice. He can order his Justice Department to back efforts in court to ensure that people with pre-existing medical conditions are not dumped by their insurance companies. He can welcome science, civility and culture back into the White House. He can protect children from lunatics who now have easy access to military-style weapons.
And all the while, people can look to a younger and farsighted vice president as the logical next step. Perhaps the quickest way to get a President Stacey Abrams or President Pete Buttigieg is to first elect a President Biden.
Voters are exhausted by the vulgarian in chief. They want a day, a week even, when their president doesn’t lie to them, shout at them or call members of his own party or federal law enforcement “human scum.” They want their children to come out from hiding when the president appears.
Trump is retro in the worst ways, far beyond his hatred of energy-efficient light bulbs, windmills and new appliances. He’s also a remarkably lazy old man. His mornings are consumed by tweeting and bathing in the Dear Leader affirmation of Fox News. He spent 1 in 5 days last year at a golf course, and he has made 236 visits overall to golf clubs since he took office, costing taxpayers $115 million.
Biden’s support has not wavered, especially among people of color and disaffected whites — a coalition no other candidate can match. Once the nominating process gets past the white and unrepresentative states of Iowa and New Hampshire, the new America will show its power: States representing one-third of the U.S. population will vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. Biden is well positioned.
Biden’s closest rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, will be 79 on Election Day. He still has a lot of steam left in the engine. But the engine smells too much like 19th-century socialism, a failed economic system repackaged under Sanders’ slogan of a “political revolution.”
At times, Biden can sound like he’s stuck in a time warp, an era of record players and malarkey and push-up challenges. He likes to hug. But his politics are not static; he was ahead of President Barack Obama on marriage equality and the futility of the Afghan war. If an emboldened Congress were to send him a piece of substantive progressive legislation, he’d sign it.
Trump promotes, and lives in, an actual time warp — the America of white dominance and energy gluttony and butt-groping by men in power. At the dawn of a year when we all need a long convalescence from the craziness, a one-term Joe may be just the restorative.
Timothy Egan is a New York Times columnist.