Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice...

I don’t think there is any way of spinning the fact that the last several weeks have been difficult for President Biden.  When the books are written about the Biden presidency, there is bound to be a chapter on the summer and fall of 2021.  A chaotic withdrawal from America’s longest war in Afghanistan (incidentally, ordered by Donald Trump while still in office) that left 13 US service-members dead, rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and confusion over booster doses of vaccines with the White House getting out over its skis before the scientists and doctors weighed-in, a devastating hurricane producing surreal images of America’s largest city flooded, an admission that a drone strike previously touted as thwarting an ISIS-K terrorist intent on murder and mayhem at Kabul airport had killed innocent civilians (including seven children), America’s oldest ally and NATO partner, France, recalling its ambassador over a disagreement about Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines (in conjunction with another ally, the UK) to thwart an ascendent and increasingly menacing China, and a developing humanitarian crisis on the southern border.

All of this serves as a reminder that the job of a President of the United States in the early 21st century is not for the faint of heart.  The world we live in is complex.  Competing ideologies and interests increase that complexity tenfold.  The president’s job is not just ceremonial, pardoning turkeys at Thanksgiving or presiding over the Easter Egg Roll in the spring.  Decisions come with life and death consequences for real people and because of our current state of national polarization, half the country is rooting for you to fail.  Your own party wants you to be more one way or less another, the other party finds fault in the littlest of things, crazies in Congress and beyond accuse you of bizarre collusion with bogeymen of all sorts, and world events make a habit of keeping their own schedule and upsetting the best laid plans of mice and men.  But anyone campaigning for the job knows this.  And most of those given the opportunity to do it rise to the occasion.  It seems a million years ago, and I should say I didn’t vote for him, but I liked John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan — Country First; it encapsulates what every man, and someday woman, should be thinking when their eyes open in the morning and they walk the colonnade to the Oval Office.

Contemporaneous with Biden’s overflowing inbox of chaos, Bob Woodward (and Robert Costa) released a new book containing numerous examples of how unfit to do this job his predecessor, Donald Trump, was.  And is.  The aptly titled Peril is at once retrospective but at the same time a warning, particularly as Donald Trump, the carnival barker of modern politics, teases a 2024 comeback like a “coming attractions” trailer at the movies.  Chock full of interviews revealing the most powerful man in the world whinging about petty grievances and hurt feelings, at one point telling his obsequious wingman, former Vice President Pence, “I don’t want to be your friend,” if he didn’t break the law and overturn the election, the book gives us ample evidence, as if we needed it after the last four years, that Donald Trump is a dangerously unbalanced child whose election was a huge mistake we cannot afford to repeat.  Peril quotes Brad Parscale, a former Trump 2016 and 2020 campaign manager, as having this to say about Trump’s return to leadership after his ejection from the White House:  “I don’t think he sees it as a comeback, he sees it as vengeance.”  And that ought to give us all pause.

Trump’s peers in government, like then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knew they had a huge problem on their hands.  Revelations now that they weren’t buying Trump’s schtick do not excuse their inaction then or their enabling of him.  Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump won in 2016, presumably to figure out how to turn a national nightmare to his favor.  But most distressing of all is that Trump’s senate super-friend, Mitch McConnell, pandered to the former president and his base publicly while privately deriding and dismissing him.  In the privacy of the Senate cloakroom, away from the glare of Fox News’ cameras, McConnell is quoted in Peril as saying, “Do you know why Tillerson was able to say he didn’t call the president a ‘moron?'  Because he called him a ‘fucking moron’.”  Hilarious Mitch!  And you still let him skate on not one but two impeachments.  I hope you got what you wanted out of him — oh wait!… you did, a conservative majority Supreme Court!

For four years I put my hope in hearing, repeatedly, how there were “guardrails” in place to keep Trump from doing real damage.  And one could argue, January 6th and the Big Lie notwithstanding, that for the most part we made it through, bruised but not irreparably harmed.  As California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his victory speech on Tuesday night after overcoming a gubernatorial recall, "I said this many, many times on the campaign trail:  we may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country.”

Trump baby baloon

So while Biden may be struggling at the moment, I think it is worthwhile to reflect on who could be in charge; I will take a competent, mature, adult, even having a bad go of it, over a mercurial, petulant man-child any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.  We won’t be fooled again.

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