Evan Tucker

I didn’t watch the debate

I didn’t watch the debate. I won’t watch the debate. The moment Biden entered, I switched it off. Whether due to a cold,, or laryngitis, or whether he simply had a bad makeup job, or just that he was tired, the moment he stepped on that stage, Biden looked like that foolish fond old man in Republican wet dreams. Dearest Joe looked older than old, he looked like the increasingly wax likeness of a person in the weeks before their passing. From that moment, I knew that even if Biden were full of life for the last hour of the debate, something so shallow as a debate would be decided by the first impression, and the first impression was that Biden is close to the end.

Joe Biden may come back, even from this. American election debates are stupid. Debating Trump is stupider. Barely an American hasn’t made up their mind for whom they’re going to vote, and the few swing voters left are even stupider than they look. If you haven’t made up your mind by now, a blow of the wind will make you change your mind again, and again, and again, until your mind shows itself unable to hold anything at all.

The problem isn’t Biden, the problem isn’t even Trump, the problem is us. The problem is the whole system we’ve refused to reform for a half-century after reform’s necessity was clear. Biden is just the personification of that system.

I believe Joe Biden is the best president of my lifetime. Obama was like Jefferson: an intellectual with words more inspiring than any action; but he proved willing to ditch lofty ideals when the reality of governing set in. Like Jefferson, Obama was truly great when he was great, but sometimes he was hidebound by his own abstract ideals, and when he was the results were scarcely mediocre. George HW Bush might have been up to it, but he governed like an Adams: a patrician who might have been great had he not given his bully pulpit to a mob movement he plainly despised. So Biden is the only president I’ve ever seen equal to the task of governing, but even if he’s equal to the presidency, he’s not equal to THIS presidency. This increasingly seems a moment that demands a Washington, a Lincoln, an FDR; so even a semi-giant like Eisenhower with enormous pre-presidential experience and achievements won’t cut it. Eisenhower presided over America after a great crisis: a period when the country knew best what it was and what its mission should be, because the world had no choice but look to America for answers they couldn’t provide themselves.

Biden is a president for the mid-20th century presiding in the 21st. It is astonishing how much of the old formulas of Eisenhower, Truman and Johnson translate to our own time. Compare the first four years of Obama to the first four years of Biden: Obama did a lot, Biden did more. Yet even so, Biden is the dogmas of the quiet past unequal to our Stormy Daniels present. He’s solving 2020s problems with 1950s solutions: they still work pretty well because they were good solutions, but they’re old solutions near the end of their shelf life: incapable of solving anything for more than a couple years. Biden is demonstrably unequal to the enormity of an unprecedented crisis, not because he’s old, but because our whole era is old. Any infirmities he exhibits are just a metaphor for the bigger problem. Biden does not see a way forward except through frameworks of a past which hardly anyone lived through but him. Obama was unequal to these problems too, but Obama saw that new ways forward were needed, and he spoke to that need for a new, cleaner air which every American intuited.

Obama bet on the light of our common humanity, and that bet allowed inhumanity to slither into the sunlight unashamed. He believed that given the objective truth, America would embrace truth. But few people want the truth, they want a truth told slant to flatter them.

The problem is not Biden or Trump, the problem is the way we process information. There is so much information to process now, an infinity of statistics most find too difficult to interpret except through a filter of ideological theories. There is hardly any news anymore, there is only news that’s framed through commentary. Whether these ideological framers mean good or ill, it’s impossible for objectivity to get through them. News is no longer news, it’s just theories about what’s going on. In most people’s minds, these theories are either proved by statistics, or the statistics are lies. Artificial intelligence will only make this reality more acute as we have to doubt the veracity of everything we ever see on a screen – screens which are now the way we process the world.

Biden and Trump are just symptoms of this problem. Biden is old truths, old reliabilities, the certainties we’ve always known, the institutions that keep us together – but these institutions are falling apart, and if they’re to be renewed, they need assurance that someone can keep them going through the next four years. Biden, God protect him, can’t give that. Trump is a perfect incarnation of the doubts, the worm that eats through plants and certainties, trying to convince us the institutions that kept us together never did, never worked, and should be shed as a snake does its skin.

The problem is that Biden is the old guarantees: NATO, an impartial Supreme Court, legislatures without gridlock, lawmakers who vote their individual beliefs rather than party line. So effective were these old certainties that over of a half-century they made way for new possibilities: Civil Rights, The Great Society, Roe vs. Wade, the Kyoto Protocol, Obergefell vs. Hodges, and, most importantly, the Paris climate Agreement. The story of these victories is not the victories themselves but the lives they make better; but this improvement is temporary, we all know that now. New generations will be forced to watch as these possibilities turn into kindling little different than forest fires. Their challenge, our challenge, is to preserve or resurrect these possibilities for a better life, and to turn them into ironclad certainties.

Obama was wrong, change does not happen from the bottom up. It happens in synergy from the bottom to the top: a sturdy foundation of community activity is what creates a great leader, but change without a presiding leader is anarchy: only a great leader that lasting change is implemented without billions of unforeseen problems along the way. Leaders will come who are able to do it, but we don’t know who they are yet, and we may not for a terribly long while. New problems need to be understood before they can be solved, and great as Biden is, he was never the leader to solve them. Great leaders will only come to help us after we take the lead in our own small spaces. We have to vote, we have to volunteer, we have to phonebank, knock on doors, go to town halls, sit on schoolboards, attend those PTA and HOA meetings, clean the local parks, get the crossing guards hired and more stop signs on the roads. Obama was right in the sense that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are all our own little leaders, and there’s no point in larger leadership if there’s no leadership beneath them. To a certain extent, we get the leaders we deserve, so if most of us are not willing to demonstrate how leaders should lead, we get bad leaders.

About the Author
Evan Tucker, alias A C Charlap, is a writer and musician residing in Baltimore. He is currently composing music for all 150 Biblical Tehillim. A Jewish Music Apollo Project - because "They have Messiah, we have I Have a Little Dreidel." He is currently on #17. Evan also has a podcast called 'It's Not Even Past - A History of the Distant Present' which is a way of relating current events to history and history to current events. Most importantly, he is also currently working on a podcast called Tales from the Old New Land, fictional stories from the whole of Jewish History. The podcast is currently being retooled, but it will return.
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