This week we had two major political news stories: one about Joe Biden and the other about Donald Trump.
The first story is that three Circuit Court judges ruled that former president Trump does not have immunity on his felony charges for attempts to overthrow the federal election in 2020 and 2021. The trial could go ahead this Spring, barring further delays– which will no doubt happen, as Trump will surely appeal to the Supreme Court. The second news story is that special counsel Robert Hur ruled that there isn’t evidence to charge President Joe Biden with a crime for accidentally keeping some secret documents he ought to have returned.
So far, somehow, this has been worse press for Biden than Trump.
In his report where he explained why he won’t be pressing charges, Hur included a lot of gratuitous references to Biden’s poor memory and being an old man, a move that has been widely condemned. In response, Biden threw together a press conference where he didn’t keep a cool head. He was so angry and overwhelmed with grief that he trailed off when he tried to think of the name of the church where his deceased son, Beau, got the Rosary that the president still wears on his wrist. He mixed up the names “Egypt” and “Mexico” which was quite a gaffe. I don’t know that I would have done better, given the circumstances, and I’m only thirty-nine. But it wasn’t a good press conference.
This weekend, the media has been lapping up the special counsel story, posting op ed after tiresome op ed that Biden is too old to govern and his campaign is doomed. Time will tell if they’re right.
Meanwhile, the presumed Republican nominee, Donald Trump, held a rally in South Carolina that should have been front page news all over the country.
It wasn’t just that Trump looked deeply unwell and had swapped out his usual orange foundation for bronzer the color of a Barcalounger. It’s that the man was even less capable than usual of getting out a coherent sentence. This wasn’t a matter of one or two gaffes while impassioned; it was a word salad. He ranted and blurted sentence fragments that made no sense. He kept forgetting who the president was and said it was Obama. His audience was visibly put off; the crowd standing behind him kept glancing at their phones and looking around with embarrassment. Trump reiterated his plan to mobilize the military for mass deportations on his first day in office, which is reason enough that he must not be president again. But then he told an extremely disturbing story where he threatened to abandon other NATO countries if Russia attacked them. In fact, he said he’d “encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.” Such an act would absolutely trigger a world war.
The leading candidate for the Republican party for President of the United States just said that he’d do a favor for the enemy of our NATO allies and encourage him to slaughter millions.
This morning, we’re still getting headlines about how Biden is old.
That’s the media discourse right now: that the current president is old and might be unfit for office.
It is deeply troubling to me that much of the country is still living in a bygone era, an era when gaffes and slip-ups mattered, when Howard Dean couldn’t run for president because he shrieked in a funny way– while in the meanwhile, the Republicans have devolved into the Bandar-Log. But the legacy news media is still reporting as if both Republicans and Democrats still exist on the same plane.
So much for a “liberal media.” We have a media that is determined, no matter what the cost, to appear impartial by portraying the election as a horse race between two problematic old men. Impartiality would be portraying what’s actually happening, accurately. And what’s happening is this: these two old men are the only human beings who stand a chance at the presidency of the United States, and there is a significant difference between them.
One old man, Joseph R. Biden, is an affable codger who’s been extremely savvy about averting a recession and getting the economy back on track, though we still have miles to go before America has anything like economic justice. He’s forgiven well over a hundred billion dollars in student loan debt, merely by enforcing rules that should have been enforced all along, although we desperately need a much more comprehensive solution. He’s trying to protect Ukraine from being annexed by a former KGB agent and also trying to avert World War Three from breaking out in the Middle East–and, admittedly, I am angry with how he appears to be coddling Netanyahu while he does so. He’d like to secure the Southern border and he offered Congress a deal that was downright draconian in order to do so, but at least he tried to do something. He has invested billions in bringing jobs back to America and transitioning us to green energy, although there’s much more we need to do to mitigate a climate catastrophe. He mumbles and rambles when he talks, he forgets names and dates when he’s speaking off the cuff, he makes embarrassing gaffes in press conferences when he’s angry. I didn’t vote for him in the 2020 primary. But we got Joe Biden. That’s who the Democrats have brought to the table for 2024. And Joe Biden has done far more good than I expected.
On the Republican side, we have Donald J. Trump, a man four years younger than Biden. He is not affable but sadistic and famous for his sadism. His speeches are incoherent and he can’t seem to finish a sentence. He keeps ranting bizarre conspiracy theories about wind turbines and the like. He has been adjudicated in a court of law to be a sexual abuser, a slanderer and a fraud. He’s about to go to trial for ninety-one felonies including violations of the Espionage Act. While he was president, he drove the national debt up by unprecedented proportions and was the first president since Hoover to leave office with fewer jobs in the country than when he entered it. He has personally sabotaged legislation on the Southern border and boasted about doing so. His mishandling of the pandemic made us the laughingstock of the world. He’s promised to be a dictator and his admirers have horrifying plans to make that happen. He’s got terrifying plans for mass deportation and other human rights abuses. He pals around with dictators and autocrats. He’d like Ukraine to fall to Putin, which would undoubtedly lead to war throughout Europe and cost millions of lives. And he’s just bragged that he still thinks NATO is a protection racket America runs, and that he’d like to do favors for Putin. That’s Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.
Maybe we’ll all get a big surprise and have Nikki Haley in the running, but I seriously doubt it. I think we’re going to have another showdown between Biden and Trump.
At this point, I wouldn’t care if Biden were wearing a Napoleon hat and actively hallucinating that he was on a battleship in the Great War. The two candidates are not comparable.
If Biden is elected and gets too impaired to finish his term, what do we get? The first woman president and a chance to vote for somebody else in 2028.
If Trump is elected, whether he finishes out his term or not, what do we get? Project 2025 and a dictatorship. We may well never be allowed to vote again.
That’s an easy choice.
No one should have to think twice about this election, yet here we are.
Our nation’s house is on fire. We have before us a fire extinguisher that’s nearing its expiration date, and also a can of gasoline. And the legacy news media are publishing op eds about how the fire extinguisher might not work.
This is grossly irresponsible, and I pray the American voters see through it.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.