Are Biden and Trump BOTH unfit for the Presidency?

It’s very hard to think of anyone who wanted a Trump-Biden rematch. Except perhaps Trump and Biden, which only makes it worse. So is American democracy broken?

First, a word of consolation. Both men are unfit for office.

No, wait. Sorry. I meant to offer the solace that it’s not the first time US presidential politics appeared to justify an agonized cry of despair -- and somehow self-government did not perish from the earth. For instance the Nixon-McGovern contest in 1972, with one candidate unfit for office due to character flaws and the other due to zany ideology. Or the astoundingly vitriolic 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both now widely regarded as paragons of statesmanship, though I deny it on Jefferson.

It may even be some comfort to reflect that it’s not just the occasional campaign with people chanting “Rumsey Dumsey, Rumsey Dumsey, Col. Johnson killed Tecumseh” or “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Off to the White House ha ha ha”. Henry Adams complained in 1918 that “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence to upset Darwin.” Whereas nowadays we’d give quite a bit for a Grant-Seymour rematch.

Or Cleveland-Blaine (1884), not least because many Republicans disgusted by Blaine’s corruption openly backed Cleveland. Yet somehow the United States has caromed from crisis to crisis with politicians who had to be seen to be disbelieved and thus far done remarkably well.

Thus far.

But surely this time we’re really in trouble. And by we I mean them but also the rest of us, because Abraham Lincoln (who also attracted widespread disgust from contemporaries) rightly called the United States “the last best hope of earth” in his December 1, 1862 Annual Message to Congress, shortly before signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Mercator readers can think of a better hope, but when you’re checking your watch and wondering where the Apocalypse has gotten to, you know things are grim.

There’s my cry of despair. To the horror of many of my right-wing friends, I have always regarded Trump as a loathsome character, frivolous, nasty, narcissistic and pig-ignorant. And the more I see of him, the less I like him, which took some doing. But Biden, whose politics and mendacity always infuriated me, is now also manifestly senile. I suspect once the wraps are off, many within the Administration will concede that he was already unable to discharge the duties of his office when he first assumed them.

When the wraps are off. But there’s the rub. They know it, but won’t say it lest it mar their partisan fortunes. And yes, I understand that a great many people are so determined to prevent Trump from returning to the White House that they refuse to acknowledge, even to themselves, Biden’s overwhelming shortcomings… and vice versa. The problem is, how did we get here and how do we leave? How did these two mediocrities do it to us?

The obvious answer is, they didn’t. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. The vicious tribalism of politics has produced this rematch, not the other way around. And there’s no way I’m letting the Left off the hook.

As noted, politics has always been nasty. Even in ancient Rome. But in more recent years, it is fair to call Democrats and liberals rallying around Bill Clinton, as a champion of women’s rights no less, poisoning the well. Like the extraordinary elite collusion over Hunter Biden’s laptop, incriminating not just to the hapless son but to his crooked father. Nobody who hushes that business up can fairly complain that Trump is dishonest.

He is, of course. If he even knows enough of the truth to concoct a lie. Mostly Trump lives in a world of his own invention, shunning anyone who might try to tell him 2+2 was 4 if he said it was 5 with that hideous leer of self-satisfied mischief. But so do those people who spread the idea that Trump was a Russian Manchurian candidate in 2016.

I could go on and on, shedding readers with every syllable. I accumulated about 60 relevant news items while drafting this piece and I know you wish I’d worked them all in. Instead I’m going to appeal to anyone who’s still with me to concede that both camps are guilty not just of deceit but of wilful, provocative contempt for truth on a scale that threatens American democracy if not Western civilization itself.

Which isn’t good. Except maybe it is. Because we’re looking for a solution here and surely that problem isn’t as hard as travelling faster than light. Since it’s us, we just have to stop being a byword and a hissing to the nations.

Except if it were that simple, it wouldn’t need me to point it out. There’s a reason people have gotten so dug in. And on the Trump side, an important clue is that meme of his picture and words “IN REALITY THEY’RE NOT AFTER ME THEY’RE AFTER YOU I’M JUST IN THE WAY”.

A great many people feel ill-used by the modern economic and social structure that so clearly favours those clever at manipulating symbols, who designed it, over those good at handling things, who cannot cope with it. It’s not just that the average Joe and Jane can’t navigate modern bureaucracy, lobbying or DEI labyrinths. It’s that they know a woman can’t have a penis and doubt that driving a car causes bad weather, but if they try to speak up, they’re humiliated and possibly ruined. It’s not fair, and at a certain point it creates a kind of “I’ll show you” counter-contempt for decency.

As for the anti-Trump side, I shouldn’t have to rattle off all the egregious things he’s said and done, including spending his presidency watching TV, tweeting and nursing resentments. Nor would it help, because I’m calling Trump a symptom not a cause and the previous paragraph didn’t mention Biden once. But it’s harder for me to be fair to the Left on the long-term grievances because I think they’re more sinners than sinned against.

If you think of the worst things that happened under, say, George Bush Jr, other than the imperial ventures Trump hates and Biden grudgingly defends, most are imaginary. The idea that America has seen a massive resurgence of racism or unbridled poor-trampling free enterprise strikes me as silly.

Indeed my problem with mainstream Republicans is like that of Trump supporters -- that they’re not really conservative. But it’s also my problem with Trump. Even his contempt for truth is right out of the deconstructionist, moral-relativist playbook of the Left, a betrayal of conservatism not an expression of its inner demons. And speaking of morals, last time the GOP had a president manifestly unfit for office, Nixon, they turned on him over Watergate.



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So what has the Right done that legitimized, say, the Left’s Defund-the-Police rage against the machine they run, not to mention their sympathy for Hamas? Try to limit abortion? Cut taxes? Or did I miss something more ominous?

I also find liberals’ anti-Trump plan mentally and morally defective. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, it’s clearly insane to try to keep Trump out of the White House by mocking his supporters and their grievances. It just fuels already raging resentment, which hurts everyone.

Besides, if Trump is as bad as they say, and he is, he shouldn’t be hard to beat. They must be doing something wrong, and they are. For instance, from my long list of news articles consider just this one: Trump’s atrocious February 10 boast that, asked by the leader of a “big country” whether as president he would defend an allied nation that wasn’t contributing properly to NATO against Russia, he replied “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

It’s Trump in a nutshell, right down to the potty mouth. And the double-decker ignorant irresponsibility, because of course the US would defend an ally if Putin invaded so it just invites the Kremlin to miscalculate disastrously. But what have Democrats, the “swamp”, Deep State, or whatever paranoid name you prefer, and liberals generally to say about NATO freeloaders other than Uncle Sam should openly promise to play the sucker forever?

Still, I started with the supposedly consoling thought that both Trump and Biden are unfit for office. Which might have seemed to be restating the problem not solving it. But here’s the thing.

If decent people can agree that in fact both are unfit, in different ways and to different degrees but unfit, then stop supporting either because they’re unfit, we’ve found a small patch of common ground. From there we might be able to discuss what sorts of programmatic differences would be troubling but within the bounds of civil discourse, what would be genuinely beyond the pale, and why. Including on our side.

If not, well, it’s not them. It’s us.   

John Robson is the Executive Director of the Climate Discussion Nexus, a documentary film-maker, a columnist with the National Post, the Epoch Times and Loonie Politics, and a professor at Augustine College. He holds a PhD in American history from the University of Texas at Austin.

Image credit: Bigstock   


Showing 26 reactions

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  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-02-23 21:32:13 +1100
    More generally:

    Do totalitarian x while also doing conservative crumb y. Have leftist mob, which he (or his boss) controls, rage against y. Thereby making conservative crumb y seem like a boulder, or distracting from/minimizing totalitarian x
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-02-23 14:47:39 +1100
    Just as president warp speed declared the quack emergency while hiding behind fauci skirts, rolled helicopter cash to Governors to lockdown while decrying their lockdowns, dished quack incentives to hospitals to kill with remdesevirc while moaning about hydroxychloroquine, “fathers” warp speed while pretending there will be no force, so does he massage Jim crow while weeping about founders statues. I’ve clocked his rhythm. These fallback stances are to give him credence from credulous conservatives while his other hand is dishing out totalitarian.

    They’re not after him, they’re after you. He’s only pointing the way.

    Affirms obergefell, parties at maralago while ladling a little nothing burger dobbs to the orolifers. Kicking the decision to states strips the winds of inalienable from the sails of created equal. Ironically nullifying the promise of created equal to abolish abortion as it abolished slavery.
  • mrscracker
    Artwork typically is judged beautiful or not because of aesthetics & the skill of the artist, not by politics. When you visit Europe & the UK you see statues & monuments to the good, the bad, & the ugly alike. Someone told me it works that way in India also. Of course, that can vary with folks like Cromwell & the Taliban.
    I don’t want to believe we’re becoming iconoclasts or Puritans. And certainly not Marxists.
    Destroying visual reminders of our past only enables a repetition of history’s errors. And the destruction of statues won’t end with General Lee, Stonewall Jackson, & Lewis & Clark-all of which a have been removed or destroyed by the Charlottesville powers that be. Thomas Jefferson’s not my favorite president but he’s headed for the memory hole next unless things change. I think he’s already MIA at the NYC Hall.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-02-23 06:49:50 +1100
    Good boys also sometimes think they are girls. That doesn’t make them right.

    The lost cause was a tragic gaslight conditioning of the American South, conducted by the Democrats. Some of my family got ensnared as well.

    That doesn’t make the statue beautiful.

    Read Stephens cornerstone speech to see how permanent a slave gulag regime the Confederacy was to be. Not beautiful.

    President warp speed was a Democrat planted to smear GOP and make conservatives lockdown where they would not have if the president were an admitted Democrat.
  • mrscracker
    Miss Susan, it’s old news now but what Donald Trump said about the statue of R.E.Lee was correct. It was beautiful & good people did object to its removal. The trouble was that intolerant & racially motivated people also objected to its removal & those were the ones we saw on the news. The whole thing became a dangerous circus & lives were lost. It’s an object lesson how easily we can be manipulated & riled up. History has plenty of examples & this was one more.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-02-21 22:41:53 +1100
    John djt Poland speech was good but talk is cheap and can be bought. He reversed any good will one month later by his extemp embrace of the “beautiful” Confederate statues, thereby holding the bag for what was in fact a Democrat legacy.
  • John Joseph
    commented 2024-02-21 15:59:26 +1100
    Google Donald Trump’s Warsaw Speech. He delivered it on July 6, 2017, in Warsaw, Poland. Joe Biden has never ever come close to expressing the sentiments contained in Trump’s speech and that speech marked Trump as being entirely fit for the presidency.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-02-21 12:49:15 +1100
    Steven, you didn’t. But many of the posts on this site have the odor of antisemitism.
  • John Robson
    commented 2024-02-21 11:42:52 +1100
    Pfui. I don’t “underestimate” political propaganda, in the United States or elsewhere. I actually have a PhD in American history and have taught it at a number of universities. As for targeting white American Christians, who do you think the Democrats were appealing to in 1949, when they were still the party of the South and white supremacy? Non-white immigrant Muslims? And who do you think Republicans were targeting in 1884? In fact there never was a partisan divide when it came to church attendance until the last couple of decades, when Democrats increasingly became the party of unbelievers. It’s not Republicans who changed. And crucially, the whole thing isn’t some cunning corporate plot and you do nobody any favours succumbing to paranoid conspiracy theories, which there’s far too much of on both sides. Politics is messy, like life, with conflicting ideas and human frailty producing a complex and often very ragged situation.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-21 09:28:26 +1100

    In the sense of belonging to political, ethnic, racial or religious tribes., tribalism is a very powerful force.

    John Robson,

    You get my point. I have never accused people who follow the teachings of Jesus of anything.

    But you also underestimate just how targeted, and how effective, political propaganda can be. The Republican Party targeted White American Christians. It’s no secret. It started in 1949 when William Randolph Hearst, an earlier iteration of Murdoch, told the journalists in his media empire to puff [Billy] Graham. In those days “puff” was journalistic slang for boosts, praise, amplify, publicise etc. A “puff piece” was a sort of praise/boost article in a newspaper.

    Today, in reality, many White Americans who identify as “Christian” have abandoned the teachings of Jesus for the propaganda of the Republican Party. Trump simply reaped what people such as Paul Weyrich et al sewed.

    It is important to understand that the Republican strategists of the time were not smart enough to come up with these strategies. It was corporate interests who wanted to push back and undo FDR’s New Deal. The whole Roe v Wade thing was a trojan horse operation intended to smuggle corporatist judges into the Supreme Court. Those judges could be relied on to overturn Roe v Wade but also, and this was the important part, to vote in favour of corporatist interests every time.

    I don’t mean to imply the Dems never use propaganda. But they’re not as good at it.

    If you want an example of just how extreme some of the judges are in defence of corporatist interests read about one of Gorsuch’s judgements:

    You are no longer living in a democracy but in a corpocracy. It’s government of, by and for the corpocrats, the people who own or control large corporations.

    The American Catholic Church has abandoned it’s proud social justice tradition for the gospel according to Republican (read corporatist) propaganda.

    And the once proud Republican Party is today simply the propaganda arm of the corporatists.
  • mrscracker
    I suppose I qualify as a member of a clan or two on my daddy’s side of the family, also.
    But most of us don’t live on tribal lands & “tribe” can also have some sectarian associations that are unkind. I believe in free speech though & if “tribal” is meant in a charitable way, so be it.
  • John Robson
    commented 2024-02-21 03:34:25 +1100
    Tribal is as tribal does. Also, I am a member of a (very obscure) clan. Does it count? Or is the world divided into the tribe of people who are in “real” tribes and the tribe of people who aren’t?
  • mrscracker
    Just a PS, I doubt any of us commenting here belong to a tribe. Unless you actually are a tribal member it’s probably not a helpful way to define others.
  • mrscracker
    I personally would like to see younger candidates given a chance but really, the whole notion of turning public servants into idols is pretty silly & just presents more opportunities to manipulate voters.
    I’m completely uninterested in politicians’ private lives. I expect them to carry out their duties & represent their constituents. If they don’t perform in a satisfactory way, we replace them. Presidents are replaceable in the same way rubbish collectors are. It’s not a personality cult.
  • John Robson
    commented 2024-02-21 01:07:06 +1100
    Steven Meyer is half-right. The widespread support for Trump among professed Christians is a scandal that brings discredit on the faith and grief to my heart. But it is absurd to say that “Trump is a creation of a tribe that calls itself Christian conservatives and increasingly, Christian nationalists.” Trump is a self-made man in the least attractive sense of that phrase. He did not emerge from the Christian right at all. But many of them have inexplicably embraced him, which I find appalling, As Fabio Paolo rightly adds, Biden’s claim to be a faithful Catholic is also a scandal. He supports abortion on demand, and it is disgraceful that the Church does not excommunicate him. That so many Christians, on both sides, are worldly in the worst sense of that word is another important part of our problem.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-02-20 22:37:54 +1100
    Trump was a Democrat plant. Both of them puppets which is why “they” don’t really care who you vote for. Read about it at mom and dad matters substack.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-02-20 22:05:27 +1100
    “Be civil. No personal attacks” say the site rules. I am delighted to see a conversation about this article emerging , but it might be good to turn down the heat on the stove.
  • Fabio Paolo
    commented 2024-02-20 21:13:04 +1100
    Page: You weren’t missed. Meyer: You are missing the point – quite deliberately, I suspect. The fact is that you used an article whose message was basically “a plague on both your houses” to attack those you obviously hate. As for your disclaimer, your feelings about Christians drip from every letter of your first comment.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-20 18:37:18 +1100
    David Page, help me out. Where did I accuse “the followers of the Crucified” of anything?
  • David Page
    commented 2024-02-20 18:27:18 +1100
    Fabio? Tribal hatred? I’ve been away for a while but you haven’t changed. Now which “tribe” might we be talking about? Hmmmmm…..
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-20 18:02:48 +1100
    “your easy, facile, untroubled convinction that the followers of the Crucified are guilty of everything.”

    In my two posts below where did I say anything of the sort?

    Where did I accuse “the followers of the Crucified” as you put it of being guilty of anything?
  • Fabio Paolo
    commented 2024-02-20 17:56:10 +1100
    Steven Meyer, you evidently have not read this article to any purpose. Your tribal hatred is exactly the kind of thing that Mr.Robson was desperately trying to argue against. Well, congratulations on your easy, facile, untroubled convinction that the followers of the Crucified are guilty of everything. Incidentally, Biden is supposed to be a practicing Catholic, but evidently he falls outside your area of hatred.
  • Fabio Paolo
    commented 2024-02-20 17:52:58 +1100
    I said it long ago, the only reason to vote Trump is Biden, and the only reason to vote Biden is Trump.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-20 14:14:32 +1100
    Why is Trump so hard to beat?

    Why not ask Republican primary voters. Remember, before he can become the Republican nominee he has to navigate the primaries.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-20 13:59:29 +1100
    “Besides, if Trump is as bad as they say, and he is, he shouldn’t be hard to beat.”

    If Trump is that bad, and he is, why are so many Christian pastors supporting him?

    Why are they calling him “God’s instrument”?

    Why are all those House Republicans, all proclaiming themselves devoted followers of Jesus, falling in line with his every whim.

    Why is Mike Johnson, who constantly advertises his deep devotion to Christ, delaying important legislation at Trump’s behest?

    Trump is a creation of a tribe that calls itself Christian conservatives and increasingly, Christian nationalists.

    You so-called “Christians” made him. You own him.
  • John Robson
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-19 12:58:12 +1100