Will two delusions sink America?

By Harlan Ullman
President Joe Biden attends the first debate of the 2024 presidential election Thursday, June 27. File Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/UPI
1 of 5 | President Joe Biden attends the first debate of the 2024 presidential election Thursday, June 27. File Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/UPI | License Photo

July 3 (UPI) -- A warning: few Americans knew that in 1944 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for a fourth term, he was gravely ill. FDR died in April 1945, barely a month after taking office. That was deception. Today, the presidential race has moved beyond deception to delusions.

Could two delusions sink America as a responsible country? Both were in stark evidence in Thursday's presidential debate. No one watching that debate and President Joe Biden's stuttering performance could conclude he was in full control of his faculties.


Similarly, no objective observer listening to Donald Trump could tolerate his failure to answer questions directly, relying instead on falsehoods and outright lies to make his case with no substantiation other than bravado and bluster.

Surely Democrats and people close to Biden must have known or witnessed the president's occasional lack of mental acuity. Perhaps one reason the administration does not want the tapes of the nine-hour presidential interview on wrongful possession of classified material with Special Counsel Robert Hur released, beyond executive privilege, is that they would show Biden's lapses similar to those made during the debate. In the case of FDR, the nation was at war.


Though Roosevelt was dying, a case could be made that continuity in leadership was essential. An insurance policy was taken out by replacing Progressive Party Vice President Henry Wallace with Harry Truman. And the imminence of FDR's demise was not predictable.

That argument will not hold today. If any president has potentially severe limitations that prevent him or her from carrying out the responsibilities of the office, the 25th Amendment of the Constitution is designed for that purpose and finding a successor. However, in choosing to run for re-election, it is irresponsible in the extreme to withhold vital information from the public on the candidate's ability to function.

One can imagine the arguments for Biden to stay the course. While his acuity may be diminished, these "spells" are temporary and not disqualifying. Further, Biden is convinced he is the only Democrat who can defeat Trump. And withdrawing at this stage and depending on an "open" convention to find a replacement would lead to chaos.

The Democratic party is too divided among factions. Finding consensus could prove impossible. No individual stands out as an obvious replacement. And what about Vice President Kamala Harris?

Harris is less popular than Biden. Her credentials and accomplishments are virtually nil, beginning with her assignment to oversee the border. But unlike Henry Wallace, who was not a Black woman, removing Harris from the ticket could prove disastrous unless she agreed to remain as vice president. Regardless, with about four months left until the election, mounting a new campaign, fundraising and other logistics critical to winning would be, at best, a close run situation.


Equally disgraceful and cowardly is how Republicans continue to embrace Trump, an individual with such grievous flaws to make him unfit for office. After the January 6th riots, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump "despicable." And now McConnell is forced to do a volte face.

Incapable of admitting failure or error, Trump creates his own reality and universe. Loyal to virtually no one, including three wives, Trump demands absolute loyalty from below with no quid pro quo. Further, no other president in history has been rejected by his vice president, his two secretaries of defense, a chief of staff, two national security advisors and many junior staffers as unfit for office. And aside from Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney, both now outcasts, no Republicans are prepared to admit that their emperor and would-be dictator lacks more than just clothes.

Yet, one of these two candidates will be president unless an extraordinary event intervenes. Most Americans prefer alternatives. In the nation's best interest, both Biden and Trump could stand down. That has virtually no chance of happening.

When two parties are delusional about their leaders, can the nation survive? Of course there is always hype and exaggeration about a candidate's qualities. But one candidate has obvious mental and physical shortcomings that could be disabling, as well as a highly unpopular running mate. And the other has mental and ego issues that challenge his judgment and character.


No constitutional solution is in place to rectify this reality. In 1876, the Electoral College could not reach a majority to elect a president. To resolve this crisis, Congress established a commission, outside the Constitution, that then elected Rutherford B. Hayes, the loser of the popular and electoral vote. No such mechanism exists today.

So tell me how this ends.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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