23 April, 2024
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Physically and mentally unfit Joe Biden puts US democracy in crisis


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American doctor Marty Makary, a John Hopkins University surgeon and professor, has claimed Biden is undergoing “cognitive decline right in front of our eyes”, during an interview with conservative TV channel Fox News. Dr. Makary is not the only one to have noticed – as he says: “it’s not really a medical diagnosis as much as it is obvious to even a lawyer who essentially made the diagnosis in this report of age-related dementia… It’s very obvious how he’s performing today versus, say, five years ago, and it’s sad, really.”

More importantly, Makary is not the only voice saying that out loud, the said lawyer being attorney Robert Hur, who, on February 5, published a report  on Biden’s controversial case (while he was Barack Obama’s vice president) of illegal storage and disclosure of US classified documents pertaining to American military and foreign policy in Afghanistan and other national security issues – the documents were recovered by FBI agents from Biden’s home in Delaware and private offices of his. Hur oversaw the 2023/2024 investigation into this alleged mishandling of classified documents, and, in his aforementioned report, he famously justified his decision to not recommend prosecution of Biden thusly: “We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory… It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him – by then a former president well into his eighties – of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

According to the same document, the US president could not remember when exactly his one son died. Ronny Jackson, Biden’s former personal physician, has also stated the president should pass a battery of cognitive health exams before running in the next presidential election.

In what appeared to be a collective case of “pluralistic ignorance”, also known in social psychology as collective illusion, for a while, everyone could in fact notice that the emperor is senile, while mistakenly believing that (almost) no one else did – even though this has been the subject of memes and tweets for years in face of Biden’s lapses and often incoherent speech visible in widely shared clips. Such was the case until now, when the topic is making national headlines almost everyday.

According to a NBC poll, 76% of US voters now have concerns about Biden being physically and mentally fit for the presidency. Less than half of voters had similar concerns about Trump’s mental and physical health, which, in any case, is still a quite large number. Unlike the incumbent president, Trump does not display obvious signs of senility but the man is 77 years old nonetheless (Biden being 81 years old). Again, it is quite remarkable that the political system of a “thriving” democratic superpower, in both the Republican and Democrat parties, simply cannot find viable alternatives to such over-aged politicians. The Democrats have to go with Biden, no matter how senile he is or how much his family is tangled up in Ukrainian controversies and, likewise, Trump remains the Republican favorite, even with all the coup attempt accusations and the several legal problems he currently faces. His recent arrests (on March 2023 in New York and on August 24 in Georgia) are, in any case, largely seen as politically motivated. All of that certainly undermines the credibility of the US institutions. Things will likely get worse, as the election looms.

US journalist Lee Fang writes that, by persisting on the ballot, Biden has in fact “effectively preempted the possibility of a credible Democratic challenger mounting a traditional bid for the nomination.” Moreover, should he abruptly exit the race for whatever reason within the next eight months, Fang speculates, then, voters arguably will have no direct say in his replacement because, in this scenario, Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials, “including lobbyists for companies like Google and UnitedHealth,” could “ultimately determine the party’s nominee.” Far from being a “solution” to a possible crisis, such a scenario could bring about further complications. This happened in 1968, when convention delegates (not voters) selected the Democratic presidential nominee, who was then-vice president Hubert Humphrey. The convention faced protests and riots while Humphrey won the nomination “without running as a candidate in a single primary.”

The overall US political crisis is also a crisis of its federalism: there is no unified national legislation on election procedures, there being different rules for each state. This brought chaos and uncertainty in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, when several Representatives filed objections to the Florida electoral votes. At the time, George W. Bush, like Donald Trump in 2016 (and like 3 other US presidents before them) won the election even though he actually lost the popular vote, due to the complexities of the US Electoral College.

As I wrote,  Biden’s own inauguration, in January 2020, was not free from concerns about a major political crisis or even a coup, taking place, with Washington DC on high alert in the aftermath of  the January 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol. Back then, there was a large nationwide political “conspiracy” to prevent Trump from being re-elected, as a 2021 Time magazine article detailed, with “shadow campaigners” getting states “to change voting systems and laws”, and recruiting “millions of people to vote by mail for the first time” (actually “half the electors”, in a “revolution in how people vote”). It is no wonder, then, that by June 2023 a third of US Americans had doubts about the 2020 election result itself.

The 2020 US presidential election was a peculiar one – and one should not expect the 2024 to be any different. Considering the unprecedented ongoing Texas border crisis, yet another instance of the federalist “contract” being questioned, with calls for secession on the rise, this year’s elections should in fact be even more “interesting” than the previous one. Washington views itself as the champion of democracy worldwide. Domestically, however, things are not going smoothly.

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