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Trapped in the geriatric circus of Biden and Trump

The president and his team have demonstrated an ability to make sensible decisions. Trump has proven the opposite. From that perspective, Biden is not only the lesser evil, but also the best option

Biden and Trump
Joe Biden and Donald Trump.Getty

Allied wars on several fronts, an economic recovery that is still uncertain, an immigration crisis, threats of government shutdown: the United States is going through a storm of problems and each one needs a clear head and physical stamina to face them. That is why, perhaps, or almost certainly, the issue that most obsesses voters, politicians, and the media right now is precisely the age of the presidential candidates. The Democratic candidate and current president, Joe Biden, is 81 years old. His rival, former president Donald Trump, is 77. Let’s say it bluntly: both entered old age years ago. They are old men.

The biggest problem is that neither of them is an optimal candidate. And yet, they will not throw in the towel.

Leaving aside the 91 felony counts and the handful of trials against him, Trump has been described by his own aides and collaborators as a “pathological liar.” It would be more accurate to say that he is a “pathological narcissist,” as Martin Amis defined him in 2016, which involves lying on an industrial scale to maintain his façade as a successful alpha male. Biden suffers more from people’s perception of his aging, although the medical report published this week indicates that his various ailments do not in any way diminish him from holding the presidency. However, time is also relentless with titanic personalities like Trump. In recent weeks, the Republican candidate has had serious lapses that show his cognitive decline, such as confusing his Republican rival Nikki Haley with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, or saying that the country is on the brink of World War II.

Although cynics deny it and even half of the country still doubts it, Biden has been a very efficient politician who has restored dignity to his office. Considering the war to the death between Republicans and Democrats in which he is forced to govern, he is a president with an impressive record of achievements, such as controlling inflation, lowering unemployment or forging the approval of the first gun control law in three decades.

However, he is not a strong leader and has made significant mistakes that could cost him re-election, as demonstrated by the punishing vote of his own party in the Michigan primaries due to his increasingly questioned support for Israel in the war against Hamas. It is true, by the way, that Biden is perceived as physically weak and mentally slow and erratic. He is often seen using memory aid cards to avoid rambling in his answers in public and private presentations. There are too many people who now believe that he should have settled for being a great president for only one term and making way for another Democrat.

But since there seems to be no turning back with the candidacies, the inevitable question for those who harbor doubts about who should be the next president of the (still) most powerful nation in the world is how to choose the lesser of two evils.

The choices facing voters could not be starker. Each candidate represents diametrically opposed options with critical implications for the political system of the United States and the world.

Trump has already announced that he will thoroughly reform the state to purge it of independent professional officials and ensure the servility of a new team that will be hand-picked for their blind obedience. It’s all about dismantling the autonomy of the institutions and subjugating them to the will of the president, in the way that so many Latin American leaders have done in the past. This would end the system of checks and balances between the different institutions that has limited the influence of each of the three powers over the others, and is the hallmark of democracy. Trump did not achieve it in his first term but there is no question that he will go all out if he has a new opportunity. He already attempted a coup d’état.

Although the country is experiencing an economic boom, Biden is still navigating the turbulence left behind by the pandemic. One of his greatest successes has been to help bring about a profound economic transformation that ranges from green energy to artificial intelligence, while trying to shore up the working middle class by strengthening their decimated labor rights and promoting job creation and the relocation of industries in the USA. In a highly volatile international scenario, his goal has been to preserve his country’s preeminent role in the international order at a time in which Russia and China seek to take over former possessions such as Ukraine and Taiwan. In all these arduous subjects, he has proven to be a judicious president. But he has failed to ward off the threat posed by Trump. For this reason, he has maintained the script he used in the 2020 campaign: his main mission is to save democracy by averting the autocratic and self-centered project of his nemesis.

Both candidates falter terribly, but they are willing to hold voters hostage in their geriatric circus, like gladiators in the Colosseum, until one of them bites the dust. Axios recently reported that Republicans plan to hammer home Biden’s age to convince undecided voters that the president should not be in charge.

On February 26, forced to come forward due to polls showing overwhelming public concern about his age, Biden struck back on the Seth Meyers show, joking that Trump is as old as him and that he doesn’t even remember his wife’s name. “This is about how old your ideas are… This [Trump] is a guy who wants to push us back. Roll back on Roe v. Wade (abortion rights) and on a set of issues on which Americans have had strong positions for 50 and 60 years,” the president said. For Democrats, supporting abortion rights has been one of the most productive lines of defense against the Republican counter-reformation.

Biden and Trump are five decades or more older than Gen Z voters. To woo them, both are resorting to desperate strategies: Trump launched a line of glittering sneakers and Biden opened a Tik Tok channel; he is also planning debt relief for hundreds of thousands of students. Is that enough? Does it make them relevant to young people? We’ll see.

The challenge for these elderly men is to obtain the support of four groups of voters. On Trump’s side, conservative Republicans who support Nikki Haley and do not want to elect an extremist who violates the law. On Biden’s, the progressives who are angry with the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. The other two groups are made up of independents and apathetic individuals who never go out to vote. Many of the young people dissatisfied with the candidates take refuge in these two categories.

But as November 5 approaches, it will become clear that the election revolves, more than anything, around the destruction or salvation of American democracy. Trump and Biden are just the faces of these two options. It is not that they are irrelevant as political figures, since each one represents a different leadership style. But what really counts are the ideas behind them and how capable of supporting them the political platforms and government teams on which they rely are.

So far Biden and his team have demonstrated an ability to make sensible decisions. Trump has proven the opposite. From that perspective, Biden is not only the lesser evil, but also the best option. Although the surveys right now are not favorable for him, the voters are the ones who will decide the future of their country at the polls.

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