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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The devil may be enjoying this election season, but I am not



Supporters of former President Donald Trump, and protesters, gather outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse in Miami, on June 13, 2023. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

By Thomas Friedman


When I look at my country’s presidential contest, the first thought that comes to mind is that only the Devil himself could have designed this excruciating mess.


Both men running for president right now are unfit for the job: One is a good man in obvious cognitive and physical decline, and the other is a bad man who lies as he breathes, whose main platform is revenge — and who is in his own cognitive tailspin.


But the most important difference for the country — where you really see the Devil at work — is in the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The plain fact is that only one party in America’s two-party system is ready to defend our constitutional order anymore. The other party is interested only in gaining and holding power for the sake of it.


The GOP’s moral emptiness is manifested in several ways. The party has been purged of virtually every Republican politician unwilling to submit to its Dear Leader — Donald Trump, who attempted to overturn our last presidential election. The wife of a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice advocated overturning the results of the election on utterly bogus grounds, which shows you just how little respect that party now has for our sacred institutions. And it is ready to renominate Trump even though many of those who worked most intimately with him in his first term — including his vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, chief of staff, national security adviser, press secretary, communications director and attorney general — have warned the country in speeches, interviews and memoirs that Trump is erratic, immoral and someone who must never be let near the White House again.


One of the biggest mistakes Americans would be making if they were to elect Trump again is assuming that because we survived four years of his norm-busting, law-abusing, ally-alienating behavior once, we can skate by again without irreparable damage. It is the political equivalent of assuming that because you played Russian roulette once and survived you can play it again. That’s insane.


But that is precisely why this election is so important and precisely why the Democratic Party, which still prioritizes defending our democracy, must urgently produce a presidential candidate with the wits, vitality and appeal to independents to build an electoral majority to preserve our constitutional order.


Nothing else matters today — nothing, nothing, nothing.


But the leader the Democratic Party has right now, President Joe Biden — someone I admire but who clearly has lost a step cognitively and physically — has combatively dug in his heels, lashed out at his critics and dared them to challenge him at the convention, despite the mounting calls for him to step aside. One would hope that his wife and family, who surely know the extent of his physical and mental frailties, would prevail upon him to step aside, but they won’t — seemingly oblivious to the risk this is posing to the country and the whole Biden legacy.


My God, the Devil must be enjoying this. I am not.


If Biden were to win, we’d all need to pray that he can get out of bed every day to carry out his agenda as well as he did in the past. If Trump were to win, we’d all need to pray that he stays in bed all day so that he can’t carry out his impulsive agenda, which seems driven first and foremost by which side of the bed he gets out of.


We can do better than this — and we must. Because this is also no ordinary election season. We are at a profound hinge of history that is going to put us on a roller coaster of job market volatility, geopolitical volatility and climate volatility.


Democrats, if they are being responsible, need to imagine Biden two or three years from now, given the inevitable march of time. Do those running the Biden campaign and those Democratic Party leaders who tell Biden to hang tough really believe that in two years he will have the capacity to carry out the rigorous job of president, with all its pressures, even on a good day? He is already saying he doesn’t want to schedule events past 8 p.m., but the presidency has never been and will never be an 8 a.m.-to-8 p.m. job.


And can you imagine the conspiracy theories that will be circulating on social media and Fox News over “who is actually making decisions?” at the Biden White House when people see a president in two years who is more physically and verbally impaired? The only-Biden Democrats — and the Biden campaign — owe the country an answer to that question. I take no joy in asking it, but ask it we must.


Ditto for Trump. What will it mean for America in the age of AI to have a president who swore in an affidavit in a 2022 court case, “Since at least Jan. 1, 2010, it has been my customary practice to not communicate via email, text message, or other digital methods of communication”?


What will it mean to have a president who is a crude-oil-loving climate change skeptic when nearly 70 million Americans were under heat alerts Sunday, a day on which temperatures in Las Vegas hit 120 degrees for the first time in recorded history?


What will it mean in an age when there is no important problem that can be solved by one country alone — whether mitigating climate change, regulating AI, dealing with massive global migrations or confronting nuclear proliferation — to have a president who believes in America first and only, and that most allies are freeloaders, that U.S. tariffs are paid by China, not American consumers and that global multilateral institutions — NATO, the WTO, the European Union, the WHO, the U.N. — are an alphabet soup of useless “globalists”?


Of course, I will vote for Biden if he is the Democratic nominee. And you should, too. We have to do anything we can to stop Trump. But Democrats continuing to insist on putting him there are behaving with dangerous recklessness.


I repeat: Just because we managed to barely survive the Trump stress test to our constitutional order once — not without some serious damage — does not mean our democracy can survive another four Trump years with his now Supreme Court-fortified sense of impunity. Especially if we combine the self-induced stress levels from a second Trump term with the boiling external stresses already building up around us.


That would indeed be playing Russian roulette again — only this time with a fully loaded pistol. That’s a game only the Devil himself would design.

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