Leaders are judged by their moment in time. Considering what Joe Biden inherited and what he has managed to do so far at this perilous juncture in history, it is hard to recall a more effective American president. Yet a lot of voters want him gone.
He may slow down before 2024 and step aside. But hamstringing him months before midterm elections is a godsend to whomever the Republicans choose to finish Donald Trump’s mission to turn America into a selfish one-party kleptocracy run by ideologues and plutocrats.
Biden flashed steel last week, excoriating Republicans who now weasel their way toward authoritarian rule with tactics borrowed from Goebbels, Machiavelli and Bozo the clown. He called them semi-fascists. Trump’s House puppet, Kevin McCarthy, demanded an apology.
True, Biden misspoke. There is nothing semi about it. Fascism is now the most looked-up word on Websters: “A political philosophy…that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by dictatorial leader.”
It adds “forcible suppression of opposition”; for instance, a murderous insurrection or such recent savagery as a barrage of calls to Democratic congressmen threatening to cut off their wives’ and children’s heads.
Trumplicans replied in typical funhouse-mirror distortion. Here is Tucker Carlson: “Yeah, (Republicans) are a threat, says the guy with the blood-red Nazi background and Marines standing behind him. It's a complete outrage…totally immoral."
The only red was in the bricks of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where colonials drafted the Bill of Rights, which Republicans – you know, red – seek to suppress. A pair of ceremonial Marines signaled that “Sleepy Joe” was out of his basement and loaded for elephant.
Biden spoke over the heads of voters impervious to facts, attempting to sway independents and to rally wavering Democrats. Of course, it was “political.” That doesn’t mean parties but rather how societies manage their affairs.
A recent comment to the New York Times reflects the problem.
“Biden is a 79 year old professional politician, who has made a lot of bad decisions since he was elected to the Senate,” it said. “Why not quit and let Harris have a chance to show what she can do? Simply put, Biden is mediocre and always has been. Yep, bottom of the 9th…”
Losing a pennant is bad. Losing a planet is worse. This World Series is for keeps. Americans picked an untested amateur from the bullpen in 2016; the result was bullshit.
Age is an advantage until it isn’t. Some people are brain-numb by 40. Henry Kissinger, for one, is sharp as a scalpel at 99. I’m not a fan of his human rights record, but he has seen a lot of realpolitik since Hitler Youth beat the crap out of him before his family fled to America in 1938.
But young voters with the most at stake are Biden’s harshest critics. Rikki Schott, New York Post Gen Z columnist, said on a Bill Maher panel: “He’s almost as old as my grandfather,” barely suppressing an “ew.” It’s about optics, she added. She wants someone “exciting and inspiring.”
That makes sense, but it misses the point. JFK was that. Still, he led America into Vietnam. His Bay of Pigs fiasco pushed Cuba into the Soviet sphere. So were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama yet both made foreign policy blunders with grave global consequences.
What matters most is statecraft that comes with time, respect earned among adversaries as well as allies and lessons learned from past mistakes. Presidents need to be judged on what they do, not the speeches they give.
Late last year, Juan Cole titled an Informed Comment piece, “The Unbearable Double Standard of the US Press, Judging Biden Harshly and Abruptly Forgetting Trump’s Bizarre Antics.” There is too much to summarize; a link is attached below.
He concludes: “Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal was not an unforced error out of the blue, and he hasn’t been weak in dealing with Vladimir Putin, and his Covid response has been an amazing success, and you just would not know that from watching or reading news in America.”
That was before Putin invaded Ukraine, convinced that the West would not react after Trump gutted NATO. Trump called that “genius.” J. D. Vance, his Senate choice for Ohio, said on Steve Bannon’s podcast: “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t care what happens in the Ukraine, one way or another.”
No one who cares can miss the ignoramuses, bigots, sex offenders, religious fanatics, book burners and assorted know-nothings running for office on Trumplican tickets. Any doubts of high crimes after the Jan. 6 hearings were dispelled by what the FBI found at Mar-a-Lago.
On TV ads, candidates with no platforms simply blast away at Democrat avatars. In one video, Marjorie Taylor Greene fires a 50-caliber sniper rifle at a Prius labeled “socialism,” which bursts into towering flames.
At state levels, Republicans on the ballot make no bones about plans to prevent another “stolen” election. And at the top, Trump’s assault on the rule of law already reaches deep.
On Labor Day this week, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida approved his demand for an outside arbiter to block the Justice Department from investigating classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago until a review was completed.
With some effort, Americans can find solid reporting on climate calamities, mass starvation, widening conflicts, trends toward tyranny, coming plagues, new nuclear threats, waves of migrants and refugees – all crises worsened, if not created, by Trumpian folly.
Republicans still harp on gas prices, which have been dropping since January to a level before the Ukraine invasion partly because Biden released emergency stocks. Increased pressure at the borders is the inevitable result of Trump’s draconian crackdown on new arrivals.
In a functioning, literate democracy, Democrats would have a solid majority in both houses after November so Biden can deliver as promised. He is curbing inflation, a worldwide result of Covid, with 3.6 percent unemployment and a restored booming economy.
Despite distorted Republican claims, a student-loan relief program is aimed selectively at low-income graduates who need it most.
Yet even the Washington Post carries opinion pieces like one that began: “The kids don’t like Biden! No one likes Biden! Biden has covid! Biden is old!”
Post columnists opined on nine potential candidates, from the obvious, Kamala Harris, to such long shots as Raphael Warnock, who faces enough trouble holding his Senate seat in Georgia. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be just old enough to run in 2024, has yet to say she would support Biden.
Among 5,000-plus comments that followed, I like this one: “Let’s say the Post spends time running substantive articles on important subjects and stops focusing on horse race speculation. What would happen?” Hard to say.
Polls say 60 percent of Americans expect civil war within a decade. In fact, a stark raving mad narcissist has already provoked war, and it is hardly civil. More Democrats in Congress would prevent Trumplicans from blockading the White House until 2024 when America can chart a new course.
I wrote a book in 2007 titled “Escaping Plato’s Cave: How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival.” The old Greek imagined prisoners chained to a wall who only saw the outside in distorted reflection. Images suddenly loomed large and then disappeared, with no sense of context or detail.
These days, I lean toward a different allegory: Plato’s Ship of Fools. It is a crowded boat piloted by a clueless captain, overwhelmed by equally inept passengers, who fight among themselves for control. Before long, it smashes on the rocks and sinks.
Biden concluded his Independence Hall speech with a simple plan to steer America back to safer, calmer waters: “Vote! Vote! Vote!”