An Oldie But A Goodie: Joe Biden Answers History’s Call

Gun Rights

Alex Vickery-Howe reflects on ‘Jacked-up’ Joe Biden’s State of the Union address and its refutation of ageist Republican propaganda.

Donald Trump thinks water destroys magnets.

I’m going to write that again….

Donald Trump thinks water destroys magnets. This is a thing he believes.

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Whenever I feel I’ve played the Trump criticism to death and I’m beginning to second-guess my terror at the prospect of him returning to the White House to settle petty scores and be dictator for a day, hairless Garfield comes out with another zinger (thank you, Mr. Micallef) to remind us all that he is an exceptionally stupid man. Gobsmackingly stupid. Guinness World Record stupid. The sort of stupid that stares directly into an eclipse and hires Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell to be his lawyers.

There is no credible doubt that Trump is suffering from genuine cognitive decline. He is now arguing – I love this – that the viral clips of him confusing the word ‘oranges’ with the word ‘origins’, substituting Nikki Haley for Nancy Pelosi, forgetting that Obama is no longer POTUS, or simply running out of steam mid-sentence and shutting down like a B1 Battle Droid is all due to – wait for it – AI. It’s not him, folks. Don’t believe what you can see and hear at his rallies. It’s artificial. It’s ‘fake news’. It’s not happening.

Fine. Let’s ignore for a moment how chillingly dystopian that level of gaslighting is and charitably play pretend for the sake of a weak man’s wounded ego. Let’s all lie to ourselves and celebrate Trump’s perfect memory. Let’s go so far as to say his mind is sharper than a Bic.

Who cares? The man is still stupid. I’ll write it one more time… Donald Trump thinks water destroys magnets.

Former US president Donald Trump, pictured in June 2019. (IMAGE: Palácio do Planalto, Flickr)

For the sake of your own mental health, do not get him started on windmills. Quixote wept.

Yet, even I’m sick of talking about Trump. His gaffes will continue, his lies will spread, his cult will defend him to their deathbeds (literally in the case of those claimed by the COVID ‘hoax’) and the media – both mainstream and independent – will continue to ignore the danger his toxic combination of tremendous stupidity and tissue paper pride poses to America’s survival. Not to mention the threat he represents to the rest of us living in countries he can’t place on a map but will happily screw over.

The idiot has basked in too much of the limelight. It’s time to talk about the other guy.

President Joe Biden is a good man. There, I’m on record. I’ve written it down and I’m sure I will be judged. He’s not a perfect man – none of us are – and I don’t think we should deify Joe as we, quite rationally, vilify Donnie… but the tendency in the lead-up to this US election has been to marginalise, to doubt, and sometimes to openly deny, the many objective achievements of the Biden presidency. Debt is down. Employment is up. Climate change is back on the agenda.

There has also been an ageist trend against Joe that has culminated in a far less credible, far less substantiated, far less evidence-based smear campaign concerning his own mental acuity. I’ve watched this closely, having loved and lost people to cognitive decline, and I’ve never been swayed by the gossip.

Why not? Because forgetting a name isn’t the same as forgetting what an orange is.

The tell-tale difference between a Biden gaffe and a Trump gaffe is that Trump has zero self-awareness while it’s happening. He actually does shut down – he glitches – or, according to psychologist Dr. John Gartner, “he becomes momentarily disoriented” like someone has “pulled the plug”.

These glitches are becoming more frequent and more pronounced. The plug is unreliable. Dr. Gartner summarises it thus: “We’re not making the differential diagnosis between an ageing brain and a dementing brain.”

Biden is ageing. He stammers. He shuffles. He reaches into his memory bank to grope for details. The President has, of course, suffered from a stutter all his life and public speaking has not, traditionally, been his core strength as a politician. None of this should be misconstrued as a lack of ability.

Trump is dementing. He isn’t just forgetting and confusing names; he’s losing his ability to use language.

I’m not saying that there hasn’t been some decline in President Biden’s vitality over the last decade. Obviously, at eighty-one years of age everyone takes a little longer to complete tasks – I’m forty-two and I groan when I stand up from the dinner table. And, yes, with age it does take a little longer to recall a name. My dad is in his early seventies and mentally sharp, but just try getting him to remember the names of my childhood friends without prompting, or his old work colleagues without a long pause and a few false starts….

Just try.

No, don’t try. Save yourself.

But wear and tear isn’t dementia. Wear and tear isn’t confusing the current US President with the former US President, or confusing your new opponent with the ex-Speaker of the House, or waffling about oranges, or calling someone ‘Tim Apple’, or musing about injecting light under people’s skin, or telling Boy Scouts all about people having sex on boats, or signing blank pieces of paper, or forgetting to sign actual documents, or planning to nuke hurricanes, or saluting a North Korean general, or claiming to have met with the President of Puerto Rico and the President of the Virgin Islands when you are the President of Puerto Rico and the President of the Virgin Islands, or telling people that stealth jets are actually invisible, or mocking a reporter with a disability, or questioning Obama’s birth certificate, or musing about blood purity, or babbling about toilets, or…

Well, I won’t repeat the magnet thing for a fourth time. Be honest though, if a relative said that to you with a straight face, wouldn’t you be a little… concerned? In fact, if a relative said any of the things I’ve just listed, ranging from lapses in judgement to balls-out insanity, wouldn’t you be calling a professional? Now… imagine if a relative said all of those things. Imagine if a relative said all of them confidently without ever noticing how mad they are.

It’s not the same as momentarily forgetting a name, or a date. Wear and tear is the mark of experience; the lunacy listed above is the mark of an unsound mind. For those who haven’t been convinced of Biden’s evident competence in relation to his predecessor, the State of the Union was the practical demonstration of the President’s aptitude. It has been a shame to see some great comedians and public thinkers leaping into this cynical and sneering presidential pile-on, but, in some ways, the doubt surrounding Biden created the ideal prologue for a stellar performance. Biden stood up and spoke for the whole world to judge.

Dark Brandon triumphed.

When I say public speaking hasn’t traditionally been his core strength as a politician, that is not intended as a slur against the President. After all, public speaking is but one quiver in a politician’s bow. Obama was known for his superlative oratory – “Yes we can!” – whereas Biden’s great strength has long been his ability to reach across the aisle and facilitate bipartisan policy with little fanfare.

During the heyday of the Obama/Biden partnership, the former’s embodied passion and matchless charisma was balanced by the latter’s folksy diplomacy. Remember all those memes their bromance inspired? In times gone by, even staunch Republican Lindsey Graham wept in praise of Biden. As Obama’s Vice President, Joe was respected by both major parties. Without Obama, however, some of that magic was in danger of fading.

To compete with Trump’s rallies, meandering and incoherent though they may be, Biden had to know that this State of the Union was his moment to step up and work the room the way Obama had. There were many, including myself, who worried what may happen when all that limelight rested solidly on an octogenarian’s shoulders. Or not only the limelight… the future of the American republic.

“If I was smart,” the President opened with a warm and cheeky smile, “I’d go home now.”

This was the only moment in his speech when Biden was clearly incorrect.

I should pause to say I’m not generally a fan of the State of the Union. It always feels a little on the nose, a little self-consciously patriotic… a monologue to misguided American ‘exceptionalism’ convincing few beyond the borders of the continental United States. I watch with all the disdain of a house cat in human form.

Generally…

Usually…

Biden broke the mould. He caught my attention and held it.

I’ll confess to always holding a certain admiration for Joe Biden. This is a man who survived the death of his first wife Neilia and his daughter Naomi in a terrible car accident, and later the death of his son Beau to cancer. Were these the events of my life story, they would, I’ve no doubt, destroy me irreparably. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a personal tragedy – no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – but anyone who devotes themselves to public service following that kind of heartache deserves some kindness and generosity in my estimation.

I’ll confess, as well, to not being entirely confident that Biden is the right man for this moment. He was, history has proven, the right man to defeat Trump after the idiot’s disastrous first term squatting in the White House. Following the horror of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year old paralegal, Joe Biden decided he had to run for President of the United States. That decision halted the fall of America from democracy to dictatorship.

This moment is of equal if not greater significance. President Biden knows this, likening it to other moments throughout history, including Hitler’s march across Europe. As millions of brainwashed American citizens now openly declare that they are in favour of a Trump dictatorship, while absurdly and disgustingly referring to themselves as ‘patriots’, this moment has the potential to make or break the American experiment. Perhaps forever.

I was relieved to see how ready Biden is. Watching the President work that room, I thought to myself… I couldn’t do that. I’m not that guy.

Very few people can take the pressure of a big historical moment. Cameras tracking you. Rivals waiting for you to mess up. Half the population – well, mercifully, less than half – hoping you’ll drop the ball and humiliate yourself. Hecklers and detractors waiting to pounce.

No, I’m not that guy. Cenk Uygur, you’re not that guy. Jon Stewart, you’re not that guy. I say this as an avid fan of you both. Donald Trump isn’t close. Ron DeSantis isn’t even competitive. All of the anonymous trolls and clowns typing about ‘Sleepy Joe’ will never get within a galaxy of being that guy.

Do you know who else isn’t that guy? Anyone with cognitive decline. Those claiming otherwise now appear exceedingly foolish and mean-spirited.

It wasn’t all style. There was substance to Biden’s plans. He condemned a US where “billionaires are paying less in taxes than a teacher, a sanitation worker, a nurse…” and he earned a justified ovation when he declared: “Nobody should have to choose between working and taking care of a sick family member!” This has particular resonance with my current health situation.

Eyeing off his Republican adversaries, Biden warned that if any tried to raise the retirement age, or decimate Medicaid… “I will stop you.” He said this calmly, but forcefully. The same way I tell my dog, Spacey, not to jump on the couch. In fairness, Spacey is much smarter than the average Republican.

In an impressive display of quiet, confident power, President Biden’s soft promise to defend others was far more commanding than Trump’s screams of selfish rage.

Critics may claim that reading prepared rhetoric is a cheap trick. Even Reagan could follow a teleprompter. The most impressive aspect of Biden’s performance was, consequently, how fluidly he moved between his speech and his off-the-cuff reactions to the mood around him. In this way, he further exposed the feebleness and the unreliability of those who would speak of his decline.

Again, there aren’t many of us who can be that guy. Most would be shaking and mumbling. If you’ve ever been booed in front of the world’s media, you can credibly argue otherwise. Biden toyed with those taunting him and turned their rage inward. Throughout, the jeering Republicans stepped naïvely on the landmines he had laid. “I thought that was your plan,” he said, smiling once more, when they hissed and mocked their own policies.

They looked like rank amateurs.

Small, spiteful dilettantes being schooled by the sly old fox they’ve told themselves – again and again ad nauseum, in a frantic mantra – is losing his touch. Their whole campaign ‘strategy’ has rested on the myth that Biden is less astute and less sharp than he has evidently shown himself to be. Amateurs often make the mistake of denigrating professionals.

When speaking to the challenge of the southern border, Biden championed his bipartisan bill, likewise championed by many conservatives as “… the toughest set of border security reforms ever proposed”.

The Republicans jeered again.

Dark Brandon was delighted. “You don’t like that bill?”

In a classic illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the Republicans scrambled to respond with anything approaching ideological consistency, stumbling over and over into traps skilfully laid by the man they all desperately claim is ‘declining.’

“I know you know how to read,” Biden teased them. This may not be necessarily true in the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Trump himself. Both are skirting the edges of basic literacy.

Greene’s response was to deflect: “Say her name!”

Biden did. The name in question belonged to Laken Riley, a nursing student who was murdered earlier this year by a Venezuelan national. Riley’s father has decried the political polarisation that has followed her tragic death, but I’m sure Greene had little concern for a grieving parent when she turned the State of the Union into an episode of Jerry Springer.

“I’ve lost children myself,” Biden told the victim’s family, his natural empathy among his key strengths, before turning to face the rest of the crowd. “Get this bill done.”

This was the last screech we heard from Greene. Even she finally seemed to sense that the rumours of Biden’s frailty were greatly exaggerated, and her heckles were catnip to him, as they were to me purring at home.

I should pause again to say that I fervently agree with Cenk and Ana, with Jon, with Seth – ice cream in hand – with Jimmy and Guillermo, and with all the commentators who have made it their mission to scrutinise, criticise and satirise both sides of politics. That scepticism remains key to a healthy democracy. But every honest person in the media should call a win a win, right? Well, not election deniers, obviously.

During the State of the Union, Biden established that his policies are healing while Trump’s are divisive. That’s another win. He demonstrated, more importantly, that his policies are pragmatic: “We can fight about fixing the border or we can fix it.”

Even the speaker behind him, Mike Johnson, couldn’t help standing up to concur with Biden, despite his attempts to perform negativity. I’ve been a bad actor; I know how to spot a peer. Johnson, for all his extremist religious beliefs, rose to his feet more often than most MAGA Republicans would like.

Meanwhile, the die-hard cultists squirmed. Alleged child sex offender Matt Gaetz shook his massive head. Lauren Boebert, most famous for getting handsy during Beetlejuice and encouraging her children to pose for the most aggressive Christmas card ever, looked dazed and sullen. She looked sick, actually… like someone who’d gambled her career on a dead horse she was still urgently flogging. Better to bury it as a tax dodge under a golf course, or serve it with the rest of the dodgy meat at Mar-a-Lago.

Cheered by their failure, Biden hammered his key points as he headed for the grand finale.

He pledged to raise the minimum wage. This – America’s shame – is long overdue.

He outlined his policy for securing environmental justice.

On school shootings, he answered the call to “do something!”

“My predecessor,” he reminded the crowd, “told the NRA he was proud to do nothing on gun control.”

If promising nothing, achieving nothing, standing for nothing – being nothing – makes Donald Trump proud, then he must be feeling pretty damn good about himself following his supremely apathetic, superbly ineffectual, do-nothing presidency. Even as morgues clogged city streets, Trump’s COVID policy was “wait until summer”. Even as America fell behind the rest of the world in terms of public healthcare, Trump promised a “beautiful” policy that never appeared.

The contrast between childish book bans and tired grievance politics, on the one hand, and Biden’s clear and compelling vision, on the other, is best encapsulated in the line that carried the night: “Instead of erasing history, let’s make history!”

Look, I’m not an American. I’m just a mouthy citizen of the world who would like to see a sane person control the nuclear codes. That’s it.

Given that Trump has recently attacked Kevin Rudd, our ambassador to the US, for no reason other than Donnie’s usual vindictiveness and confusion, the upcoming electoral rematch is an Australian issue too. It is wishful thinking to imagine the outcome won’t impact our lives.

Nonetheless, many would say praising Biden from afar is an overly simplistic, rosy-eyed view. Many are disappointed with the Democrats. Many more feel Biden was a worthy one-term President who has outstayed his welcome now. I get that. But Biden has reaffirmed, through his ongoing commitment to bipartisanship, that he still reaches across the aisle to get things done. He has shared detailed policy (spoiler: the Republicans won’t). He has revealed that, despite these bigoted delusions of decline, he possesses a shrewd mind that can manipulate and shame his foes, cheerfully, off-the-cuff, in the moment.

US president Joe Biden, during his recent 2024 State of the Union address.

Biden is a candidate America and the world can back. His predecessor – the idiot – just wants to watch the world burn.

In a career that began in his 20s and spanned into his 80s, Joseph Biden Jr. has been accused of being “too young and too old.” I can relate to that – once the firebrand chastised for confronting my elders, I’m now the fossil dismissed by the younger generation. Biden’s ideas, however, remain progressive. “Hate, anger and retribution are old ideas,” he told us, as his State of the Union drew to a close.

Perhaps that’s all that matters. Not the age of the two men, but the age of their ideas. Biden has a plan for the future. Trump has nothing but rage, fear, and sexual frustration.

I could end on that image, couldn’t I? I’ll spare you that.

The image to leave you with – overly simplistic, perhaps, and rosy-eyed it may well be – depicts the next American President smiling benevolently at supporters and detractors alike, before assuring everyone that he knows how challenging the next four years are going to be for people around the globe, and how ready he is to meet those challenges.

“I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while.”

Sometimes the soft but steady hand of experience can be comforting.

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