Neither Biden Nor Trump

The first televised candidates’ debate preceeding the next U.S. presidential election in November was a disaster.

On June 27, Joe Biden, the oldest president in American history, locked horns with Donald Trump, his Republican predecessor who seeks another four-year term in the White House. Their encounter confirmed widespread fears that neither of them is suitable for the highest office in the land.

Their widely-anticipated clash, covering a diverse array of domestic and foreign issues, produced more heat than light and was far less than inspirational. They gratuitously insulted each other and turned what should have been an illuminating debate into an unpleasant slinging match that produced only bile, bitterness and disappointment.

The candidates inadvertently underscored the reality that there is a surfeit of sound leadership on the national level, and that both men are past their prime and should step aside for the greater good of the country.

Biden, 81, did not acquit himself well in any respect, proving critics’ point that he should have announced his resignation and allowed the Democratic Party to pass the baton on to a younger, vigorous and more capable candidate who can defeat Trump.

From the moment the debate got underway, Biden was wooden, wobbly and woefully lacklustre. At times, he was lamentably incoherent, conveying the impression that his mental acuity leaves something to be desired. And when Trump spoke, he usually had a blank and bewildered look on his face.

This was not a sitting president who projected confidence, competence, or strength.

Joe Biden

Vice-President Kamala Harris admitted he got off to a “slow start.” But she was being charitable. Biden and his coterie of advisors spent five days at the Camp David retreat rehearsing for this crucial moment, but judging by Biden’s disjointed, dismal and embarrassing performance, the tutorials were of little help.

Biden looked and sounded weak and infirm. His handlers claimed he had a cold, but their explanation was self-serving and rang hollow.

The following day, in a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, Biden delivered an impassioned speech in an attempt to dispel doubts about his capacity to lead the nation. “I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,” he said. “But I know what I know. I know how to tell the truth. I know how to do this job.”

Biden, the former vice-president under President Barack Obama, is a fine and decent person with good political instincts and a genuine desire to make America a better place for all its citizens. But the painful truth is that he suffers from cognitive decline, which he and his family are apparently unwilling to acknowledge publicly. As The New York Times noted in an editorial, “Biden is not the man he was four years ago.”

The sad signs of his infirmity are obvious.

He cannot deliver a speech without a teleprompter. At meetings with world leaders, he can barely function without the assistance of notes, which he often consults. At his rare press conferences, he invariably walks away abruptly without answering reporters’ questions. And he walks unsteadily.

As The New York Times editorialized, Biden should retire in dignity. Instead, he places his interests above those of his party and country.

Trump, 78, was more decisive and exercised self-restraint, yet he was not  an impressive debater. Although he appeared steadier than Biden, he was often blustery and untruthful, the hallmarks of a super narcissist and serial liar.

Being disingenuous, he consistently dodged important questions.

He declined to explain his subversive role in the January 6, 2021 riot/insurrection on Capitol Hill. He would not promise to accept the outcome of the election should he be defeated again. He did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, nor would he criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-sided and imperialist definition of what he thinks constitutes a peace agreement with Ukraine. And he initially ignored a straight-forward question regarding his view of a two-state solution to defuse Israel’s protracted conflict with the Palestinians.

Donald Trump

Incredible enough, Trump continued to insist that the Russians would not have invaded Ukraine and that Hamas would have refrained from attacking Israel on October 7 had he been the president during that period. Trump’s claims are incredulous and cannot be validated.

Saddled with the dubious distinction of being a convicted felon who may yet face imprisonment, Trump shamelessly peddled the widely discredited conspiracy theory that he was the real victor in the last election. And in the wake of the disgusting and antisemitic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, he coddled white supremacists.

As president, Trump had his moments of triumph. He prepared America for the existential battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. And he laid the ground work for the historic 2020 Abraham accords, during which Israel launched the process of normalizing relations with four Arab countries.

In most respects, however, he was a mediocre, divisive and unpresidential president who created more chaos than stability. Trump, as a New York Times editorial concludes, is “an erratic and self-interested figure unworthy of public trust.”

That the Republican Party has chosen him as its presidential candidate is a measure of its dangerous descent into extremism.

Neither Trump nor Biden should be on the Republican or Democratic ticket. America needs a steady and discerning hand on the tiller. Surely there are talented men and women out there who can do the job.