"Fascism often happens this way. At the start, it may seem like a joke at the nutty fringe. But when the supposedly serious people in the center throw up their hands and begin to make deals with extremists, that’s when you really have to worry. The serious people think they can bring back the old-time Republican Party...."
So Biden’s Old. But Did He Try to Destroy American Democracy?
The media has forgotten that Donald Trump has an age-old problem as well.
We’re talking—and talking—about Joe Biden’s age this week. He’s old. It’s a real issue. It’s a legitimate concern. No one likes the fact that he’s 80. It dampens enthusiasm for his reelection. And there has been a large volume of reporting that suggests that many people, including many Democrats, aren’t especially enthusiastic about his vice president.
I recall hearing a news item recently that explained that among the cohort of poll respondents who dislike both Biden and Donald Trump, while their preference is for neither man to run, if pressed, they favor Trump strongly. I’m sure this is not just because of Biden’s age. It has to do with inflation and, I believe, the general state of trauma in which most Americans, having taken collective blow after blow, now live. This last point is little discussed, but it is the topic of Ana Marie Cox’s shimmering cover story in the October issue of The New Republic, which I think explains more about the dyspeptic national mood than anything else I’ve read.
And yet: I think about those poll respondents mentioned above. Really? Is Joe Biden that bad? They’d really rather have Trump?
Biden’s age was a topic of conversation on Morning Joe earlier in the week, and Al Sharpton asked a good question: “What is Biden too old to do?” Is he too old, Sharpton wondered, to steal nuclear secrets and other classified documents? In knowing violation of the law, as Trump may have just accidentally admitted to Megyn Kelly Thursday?
It’s an excellent question—it flips conventional logic on its head and forces us to consider the problem of Biden’s age not in the usual moral vacuum but in a moral context vis à vis his likely opponent.
In that spirit let’s pose a few more of these inquiries. Is Joe Biden too old:
• to insist that his inaugural crowds were the biggest of all time, sending his quaking and feckless and ill-attired press secretary out there to tell an obvious and totally unnecessary and pointless—but all too tone-setting—lie on his very first day in office?
• to have an adviser, trying to spin her way out of that lie, speak in all seriousness of “alternative facts” that he believed in and adhered to?
• to demand personal loyalty from his FBI director at a private dinner, at a time when it was known that his own campaign might be under FBI investigation?
• to invite the Russian foreign minister to the Oval Office and reveal highly classified information to him there that “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic state”?
• to fire the aforementioned FBI director and admit on national television that he did so because the FBI was investigating him?
• to doctor a hurricane forecast with a Sharpie to make it seem like an obvious lie he told was correct, potentially frightening millions of people in one state into worrying that their homes might be destroyed or they might have to flee when they were never under threat?
• to get the Boy Scouts—the Boy Scouts!—to boo his predecessor?
• to assert that a crowd of white nationalists carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” included “very fine people”?
• to try to buy Greenland?
• to try to find a way to bomb Mexico?
• to want to use a nuclear weapon on North Korea?
• to say that he believed a murderous autocrat over his own country’s intelligence agencies?
• to constantly mock the United States military and its generals and say that he—whose “military experience” ended in boarding school and, later, included a bone-spur deferment that got him out of being drafted into the armed services during the Vietnam War (thereby forcing some other young, less connected man from Queens to go in his stead)—knew better than all of them?
• to say that certain members of Congress should “go back” to their own countries, when most of them were in fact born in the United States and the one who wasn’t became a citizen in 2000 at age 17?
• to watch a dangerous virus spring to life across the globe and be warned universally by experts that his government had better be buying ventilators and masks—and resolutely refuse to do so?
• to say, just as that virus was reaching American shores, that “when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done”?
• to make that statement, and many, many others like it, even while knowing that the truth was much uglier and the virus much more dangerous (“deadly stuff”) because he wanted to “play it down”?
• to suggest seriously that people should inject chloride as a cure for that virus?
• to wallow in such inaction that said inactions were responsible, according to a highly respected medical journal, for 461,000 excess U.S. deaths?
• to order the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters so that he could walk to a church and use it as a prop, standing in front of it, holding a Bible?
• to threaten to withhold crucial aid to a foreign head of state unless said head of state agreed to announce an investigation into his top political opponent?
• to openly encourage an armed assault on the U.S. Capitol, marking the first time the Capitol was stormed by a mob since the War of 1812, and the first time ever it was stormed by Americans?
• to make attempt after attempt to steal an election, telling lie after lie after lie on social media, eventually losing 61 of 63 court cases?
• to make himself, day after exhausting day, hour after ceaseless hour, the center of attention, demanding that we focus our thoughts on him, as authoritarian leaders do?
I’ve barely scratched the surface here. The point, of course, is that no, Joe Biden is not “too old” to have done these things—people can be corrupt and venal and stupid and hateful and arrogant at any age. These are just things that Biden would never, ever do, because within his long life and political career there is an abundance of proof that he respects the Constitution, tradition, and our governing institutions.
So, to those voters more repulsed by Biden’s age than Trump’s deeds: Is your memory really that short? Do you seriously want to live through all this again? And all the above, of course, is to say nothing of the far worse things Trump has already told us he will do if he’s returned to the White House, from insisting on loyalty to him rather than the Constitution to handing Ukraine to Vladimir Putin.
I don’t believe that most voters are that shallow. Some may be, but most aren’t. However, they have to be reminded of all these things. The Democrats are going to have to inspire voters to recall what those four years of chaos, corruption, and misrule were like: living through the 30,753 lies, the constant tension and drama, the horrors of those early days of Covid that could have been much better (as they were in other countries), and the rest of the nonsense that peppered the tenure of the also-advanced-in-age Trump, when he had his chance to do it right seven years ago, and failed.