Why is the pundit class so desparate to push Biden out of the race? | Rebecca Solnit

I am not usually one to offer diagnoses of people I’ve never met, but it does seem like the pundit class of the American media is suffering from severe memory loss. Because they’re doing exactly what they did in the 2016 presidential race – providing wildly asymmetrical and inflammatory coverage of the one running against Donald J Trump.

They have become a stampeding herd producing an avalanche of stories suggesting Biden is unfit, will lose, and should go away, at a point in the campaign in which replacing him would likely be somewhere between extremely difficult and utterly catastrophic. They do this while ignoring something every scholar and critic of journalism knows well and every journalist should. As Nikole Hannah-Jones put it: “As media we consistently proclaim that we are just reporting the news when in fact we are driving it. What we cover, how we cover it, determines often what Americans think is important and how they perceive these issues yet we keep pretending it’s not so.” They are not reporting that he is a loser; they are making him one.

According to one journalist’s tally, the New York Times has run 192 stories on the subject since the debate, including 50 editorials and 142 news stories. The Washington Post, which has also gone for saturation coverage, published a resignation speech they wrote for him. Not to be outdone, the New Yorker’s editor-in-chief declared that Biden not going away “would be an act not only of self-delusion but of national endangerment” and had a staff writer suggest that Democrats should use the never-before-deployed 25th amendment.

Since this would have to be led by Vice-President Kamala Harris, it would be a sort of insider coup. And so it goes with what appears to be a journalistic competition to outdo each other in the aggressiveness of the attacks and the unreality of the proposals. It’s a dogpile and a panic, and there is no one more unable to understand their own emotional life, biases, and motives than people who are utterly convinced of their own ironclad rationality and objectivity, AKA most of these pundits.

Speaking of coups, we’ve had a couple of late, which perhaps merit attention as we consider who is unfit to hold office. This time around, Trump is not just a celebrity with a lot of sexual assault allegations, bankruptcies, and loopily malicious statements, as he was in 2016. He’s a convicted criminal who orchestrated a coup attempt to steal an election both through backroom corruption and public lies and through a violent attack on Congress. The extremist US supreme court justices he selected during his last presidential term have themselves staged a coup this very Monday, overthrowing the US constitution itself and the principle that no one is above the law to make presidents into kings, just after legalizing bribery of officials, and dismantling the regulatory state by throwing out the Chevron deference.

His own former staffers are part of the Heritage Foundation’s team planning to implement Project 25 if Trump wins, which would finish off our system of government with yet another coup. “We are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be,” said the foundation’s president the other day. This alarms me. So does the behavior of the US mainstream media, which seems more concerned with sabotaging the only thing standing between us and this third coup.

“Why aren’t we talking about Trump’s fascism?” demands the headline of Jeet Heer’s piece in the Nation, to which the answer might be a piece by the Nation’s own editor-in-chief titled “Biden’s patriotic duty” that proposes his duty is to get lost. Sometimes I wonder if all this coverage is because the media know how to cover a normal problem like a sub-par candidate; they don’t know how to cover something as abnormal and unprecedented as the end of the Republic. So for the most part they don’t.

Biden is old. He was one kind of appalling in the 27 June debate, listless and sometimes stumbling and muddling his words. But Trump was another kind of appalling, in that almost everything he said was an outrageous lie and some of it was a threat. I get that writing about the monstrosity that is Trump faces the problem that it’s not news; he’s been a monster spouting lurid nonsense all his life (but his political crimes are recent, and his free-associating public soliloquies on sharks, batteries, toilets, water flow, and Hannibal Lector, among other topics, are genuinely demented). He’s a racist, a fascist, and a rapist (according to a civil-court verdict).

We are deciding if this nation has a future as a more-or-less democratic Republic this November, and on that rides the fate of the earth when it comes to acting on climate change. If the US falters at this decisive moment in the climate crisis, it will drag down everyone else’s efforts. Under Trump, it will. But the shocking supreme court decisions this summer and the looming threat of authoritarianism have gotten little ink and air, compared to the hue and cry about Biden’s competence.

Few seem to remember that Biden’s age and his verbal gaffes were an issue in the 2020 campaign. Biden is a lifelong stutterer, and the effort to keep his words on track means that he operates under an extra burden with every unscripted answer he gives, particularly under pressure (though he had a long, easygoing conversation with Howard Stern a couple of months ago, in which he discusses his stuttering at about the 1:13 mark).

Some speech pathologists have suggested he may (not does, just may) have a disorder that sometimes accompanies stuttering, called cluttering, which is not an intellectual deficiency but a sometimes hectic and disorderly translation of thoughts into words. In recent months, actual gerontologists have said in print that Biden appears to have normal signs of aging, not signs of dementia. Nevertheless, the amateur armchair diagnosticians have been out in packs, and their confidence in their ability to diagnose from watching TV is itself an alarming delusion. I am not giving Biden a clean bill of health; I’m saying that I don’t have a basis to render a verdict (and neither do the august editors of large publications).

Although the Biden administration seems to have run extremely well for three and a half years, with a strong cabinet, few scandals and little turnover, a thriving economy and some major legislative accomplishments, the narrative the punditocracy has created suggested we should ignore this record and decide on the basis of the ninety-minute debate and reference to newly surfaced swarms of anonymous sources that Biden is incompetent. Quite a lot of them have been running magical-realism fantasy-football scenarios in which is fun and easy to swap in your favorite substitute candidate. The reality is that it is hard and quite likely to be a terrible mess. Nevertheless this pretense is supposed to mean that telling a presidential candidate in mid-campaign to get lost is fine.

The main argument against Biden is not that he can’t govern – that would be hard to make given that he seems to have done so for the past years – but that he can’t win the election. But candidates do not win elections by themselves. Elections are won, to state the obvious, by how the electorate turns out and votes. The electorate votes based on how they understand the situation and evaluate the candidates. That is, of course, in large part shaped by the media, as Hannah-Jones points out, and the media is right now campaigning hard for a Democratic party loss. The other term for that is a Republican victory. Few things have terrified and horrified me the way this does.

The Guardian