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It’s unnerving to consider that the 2020 presidential election presents a choice between two candidates who may not be entirely there. This is not to say they are the same. The sitting president followed up his prolonged spasm of deranged narcissism in an interview with Axios by hopping on Fox & Friends this morning to return to his delusional happy talk about how the pandemic will just go away. This will conveniently allow schools to reopen and people to vote in person without incident this fall. He struggled to name a single thing he’d do in a second term. He started yelling about Antifa, suggesting they’re funded by George Soros, trotting out a tried-and-true anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He hollered about athletes kneeling during the national anthem and suggested Black Lives Matter is a “Marxist group” that should be marginalized. Also, it wasn’t long ago that he endorsed injecting people with bleach.
But the other choice in this election has his own issues. (We are not referring to Kanye West, whom Republican operatives are reportedly trying to get on the ballot in some states to siphon votes from the president’s opponent, another sign that Republicans no longer believe they can win elections legitimately.) Joe Biden has a long and storied history of “gaffes,” a term that seems almost quaint in this age of circus politics. But in recent years, there have been incidents of a different kind. It is hard to dispute that the former vice president, now 77 years old, is not quite the same guy who wiped the floor with Paul Ryan in a 2012 debate, laughing all the way.
The Trump campaign has attempted to make hay on this an issue. (Accuse the enemy of that which you are guilty. That’s how Hillary Clinton became the Crooked one in 2016, despite the voluminous evidence that Trump has never run an above-board organization his life.) When asked about this in an interview with CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett this week, Biden laughed his way through it again—but did not do a whole lot to defuse the issue.
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This is incredibly cringe. You can sort of see what Biden’s trying to do here, suggesting that the question is equivalent to “when did you stop beating your wife?” But the execution, and the reference to (someone?) being a cocaine junkie, is more than a little bizarre. Biden is also within his rights to mock Trump’s continual bragging that he “aced” a cognitive test designed to detect dementia, but none of this quite works. It’s a reminder that, from a Democratic field that started as a sprawling cast of candidates young and old, we ended up with an opponent for the Mad King who is himself past his prime.
Still, there’s not much of a decision to make between them. We are seeing on a daily basis that Trump’s brain as presently and permanently constituted will not allow him to perform the job he’s in with anything approaching competence. It’s not just that he does not read, and knows nothing about anything and cares less. He is genuinely incapable of processing anything except as it directly relates to him. The whole world of observable reality is filtered through how it affects him, and him only. He surrounds himself with Yes Men who respond to his particular disposition by feeding him information that makes him feel good, rather than the truth about what’s happening in the world. This seemed to culminate in the Axios interview, where Trump produced incredibly simplistic charts that he appeared to have never seen before and struggled to understand.
Biden at the very least does not have the kind of crippling underlying psychological issues that the president so clearly does, and will by all indications surround himself with people who approach their jobs with a greater degree of competence and professionalism than do the various grifters and lackeys who sign up to work in the current regime. That is, unfortunately, where the bar is. Biden’s record, from bankruptcy to criminal justice, isn’t very good. But he is steadily adapting to the party’s shift from Clintonista Third Way Centrism towards actually representing the interests of working-class people again. The sitting president, on the other hand, is a cronyist looter. Biden has a massive plan to combat the climate crisis and promote environmental justice. The current president has set us back years.
It’s unfortunate the Democratic nominee is not some galvanizing standard-bearer, a true force for revolution within the existing mechanisms of democracy. It’s too bad he says weird stuff all the time, and probably isn’t as sharp or energetic as he once was. But it’s an easy choice.
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