Houston–We Have a Problem

Presidential campaigns are rarely about what the job of being president actually entails. The campaign itself is mostly a contest between the two major parties and the respective incentives they face. Note that this process is only remotely connected to the actual job of being president. 

What presidents mostly do is make executive decisions about stuff that finds its way into the Oval Office inbox. But decision-making ability is not what the candidates typically campaign on. Instead they repeat party pieties ad nauseam, launch mindless attacks the other guy, and then proceed to assemble a poll-tested list of policy priorities. That list, often in the form of the party platform, is designed to attract a coalition that can produce 370 votes in the electoral college.  

Once in office the victor appoints White House and agency staffers with ties to the winning coalition groups. Policy priorities are then reformulated so that the groups most instrumental in securing the electoral victory are placed at the top of the pecking order.  That, in a nutshell, is how policy priorities are decided and ultimately, how policy is made. 

But the world has a habit of intruding on these neat and tidy arrangements.  Nobody in 2020, for instance, predicted our shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, or that Russia would invade Ukraine, or that Hamas, under the watchful eye of Iran, would launch a brutal attack on Israel, or that we would be bombing the Houthis, or that Venezuela would be eying Guyana. 

In fact, foreign policy was hardly even mentioned in recent presidential contests—even though the conduct of foreign policy is one of, if not the, major responsibility of the president. And not to put too fine a point on it, when during a 2012 presidential debate Mitt Romney had the temerity to argue that Russia was our principal adversary, he was brutally mocked by Obama. That was when Obama’s vice president was none other than Joe Biden, foreign policy expert. 

Which brings up our current problem. Neither of the top contenders in the 2024 presidential contest, namely, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, has demonstrated the slightest capacity for rational decision making with respect to policy. But each has demonstrated a crude personal survival instinct, the consequences be damned. Further, both have shown themselves to be inveterate liars, although not very good ones, with a penchant for corruption. 

Consider the 4 years of the Trump presidency. What exactly did he accomplish outside of what any normal Republican would have accomplished? The answer is…Nothing. 

How about uniquely Trumpian accomplishments? So remind me, where is that wall Trump promised to build? Remember…that’s the wall that Mexico was going to pay for. What did all those Trumpian tariffs accomplish other than to raise prices (an implicit tax) on consumers?  And who was it who appointed Dr. Anthony Fauci to run health care policy when the COVID -19 pandemic hit? 

And speaking of health care policy, Obamacare is still with us even though Trump had a majority in both the Senate and House. But, in fairness, he did manage to add about $7.5 trillion to the national debt. And thanks to Trump, Republicans don’t need to worry about that Senate majority anymore. Or a stable House majority. 

In fact, Republicans can credit Trumpian candidates with the trouncings they experienced in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Especially as affluent and highly educated suburban voters fled the party in droves. 

So how about Joe Biden? Well, the latest of a long series of fiascos is the special prosecutor’s report on how Biden handled, or mishandled, the classified documents he kept in his garage among other places. Which, by the way, is where his  drug addicted son had access to them since he was living there for a while. 

According to the New York Times, Special prosecutor Hur “found evidence that Mr. Biden had willfully retained and disclosed sensitive information after he left the vice presidency in 2017.” The Times continued to reference Hur who maintained that  “Mr. Biden came off as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

The White House simultaneously maintains that (1) Biden did not “willfully” retain said documents and (2) Biden’s memory is “fine”. Hmm. 

Anyway the special prosecutor declined to prosecute. He contended that it would be difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Biden formed the requisite criminal intent to commit a crime. That finding raises a couple of interesting questions.

Are we supposed to believe that Biden has the mental acuity to be responsible for the potential use of the nuclear football, but lacks the mental sharpness needed to form criminal intent? Are we supposed to believe that the formation of criminal intent is actually necessary to charge Biden with a felony? What about gross negligence—which does not require criminal intent. 

So why was Trump charged, but not Biden? Without question, both mishandled classified documents. But the evidence strongly suggests that Trump actively sought to hide evidence of wrongdoing from investigators, while Biden did not. Also remember that the prosecutor insisted he had proof that Biden shared classified information (implicitly) including sources and methods. Whether Trump shared information or was engaging in mere braggadocio has yet to be determined. 

None of this serves to excuse the behavior in question. It only affects the level of the charge. In Trump’s case, attempts at concealment suggest criminal intent. In Biden’s case there is no suggestion of intent. Just negligence, perhaps born of entitlement.  Or dull-wittedness.

But the difference between intent (in Trump’s case) and gross negligence (in Biden’s case) is simply a factor in calculating the severity of punishment. Both are still felonies. And let’s further consider the idea that a reasonable jury wouldn’t convict Biden because he is old and infirm. While that could be true, it is more likely that Biden couldn’t be convicted because partisan passions are running so high. 

Which is also the case with Trump. Remember that there are still millions of people who are utterly convinced that Trump won the 2020 election but that the election was stolen from him. And who still call the January 6 rioters “patriots”. 

Any reasonably competent defense attorney would make sure that at least one true believer was on a Trump jury, thereby insuring a hung jury. Pretty much the same way O. J. Simpson’s attorneys made sure that none of the jurors had taken high school chemistry. 

So where does all this leave us? Well, like the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission, we have a problem. The problem is that both of the (heavily favored) candidates for their party’s respective presidential nominations are manifestly unqualified for the job. And both have the records to prove it. 

It is also the case that the “leaders” of the Republican and Democratic parties are terrified of their respective primary voters. Consequently they have chosen to remain silent. With rare exceptions they have chosen either to kiss the ring of Donald Trump (the Republicans) or in the Democrat’s case go along with the nomination of Joe Biden. This in spite of Biden’s obvious frailties and the real possibility of ushering in the administration of President Kamala Harris sometime in the next few years. 

In poll after poll, the great majority of voters insist that they do not want a Biden-Trump rematch. But that is where we are headed. It is clear that both the Republicans and Democrats  are sacrificing the interests of the country in order to appease their respective interest groups; both those who show up for the primaries and those who have a lock on the party machinery.

Unfortunately, unless something shakes up the race, the likely outcome is a Biden-Trump rematch which would delight Russia, Iran and Beijing. There is still a long time between now and the nominating conventions. It is not too late for things to change, but it gets less likely by the day. 

In the final analysis we have met the enemy and the enemy is…us. After all it is the voters who show up in the primaries and the general who ultimately determine who the victors are. And despite their insistence that they don’t want a Biden-Trump rematch, the voters, sheeplike may very well vote for one. 


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