Both candidates are old. Only one has shattered presidential norms.

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

As everyone opined in the aftermath of the Biden-Trump debate, our grandchildren (ages 4 and 5) were arriving to spend the Fourth of July holiday week with us, so we were careful in how we discussed the debate within their earshot. And we were certainly not tuning into TV pundits who, I later learned, spent most of the last week poking fun at old age and excusing rampant lying.

Are these the American values we’re teaching our kids these days? 

Joe Biden is 81. Donald Trump is 78. This is not new information. Had we not all, prior to the debate, posited that younger candidates should have been considered? Making this point moot? 

According to fact-checker Daniel Dale at CNN, Trump told at least 30 falsehoods during the debate, which, in a 90 minute program, constitutes a lie every three minutes. A blip, compared to Biden’s advanced age, in the news cycle.

In his July 4 speech, Trump said, in part, “Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny,” and “My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country.”

The memorial to Heather Heyer, an anti-racist counterprotester who was killed in a car attack during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Would you teach your kids and grandkids that telling a lie every three minutes is integrity? And what should we make of his line about “our heritage”? 

Weeks after Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” dismissal of white men marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 carrying tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us!,” historian and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic to remember that Trump is “the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch.”

Coates wrote, “The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy — to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification.”

Much has happened since, including Trump’s conviction on dozens of criminal counts, liability for sexual assault, and then some. To say the bar has been lowered (and lowered and lowered and lowered again) since Trump first came down that escalator in 2015 and declared his candidacy is an understatement of mass proportions. 

He has still not conceded he lost the 2020 election, something we say so often the meaning disappears into the ether, even as he continues to insist the last presidential election was stolen (it wasn’t), that our elections are rigged (they’re not), and that there was massive voter fraud in 2020 (there wasn’t). 

Lies, lies and more lies.

In his July 4 speech, Trump also stated what seems, like so much of his bluster, a throwaway lie. “I am here as your president,” he said. 

I am trying, as I write this, to imagine President Barack Obama claiming, years later, in a public speech, that he was still president. We would wonder if he’d fallen and hit his head.

So many of our historical norms have been shattered by one old white man, and his name is not Biden.

Recall that the Trumps did not invite the Bidens, as is customary, to the White House during the transition period. 

Recall that Trump did not attend the 2021 inauguration. The NPR headline that day: “For 1st Time In 150 Years, Outgoing President Doesn’t Attend Inauguration.”

Recall that, due to substantiated threats, Washington D.C. had to be fenced off and locked down in 2021 in order to hold a public inauguration at all.

Recall how, on Jan. 6, Trump sat in the White House for hours, watching his supporters on TV as they ransacked the Capitol and fought police officers, pouting and angry because Vice President Mike Pence had refused to help him illegally overthrow a federal election.

What have we taught our kids in these Trump years?

Biden is old. He is a lifelong public servant who often mumbles or misspeaks. Should we ask questions about his competency? Absolutely.

But Trump is also old, and he has spoken in rambling gibberish for years. He posts his rage and pettiness almost daily on social media. His singular entree into politics was birtherism, the years he gleefully sowed racist lies about our first Black president. 

It is beyond irony that Trump’s Republicans — as they resoundingly demand the old white Democrat disappear — has firmly defended their old white man even as he repeatedly insisted our first Black president was illegitimate (while that president was in office) while having the temerity to falsely declare on July 4, 2024,”I am here as your president.”

Do you have to be a racist to support Trump? No. But you have to be comfortable with his felonies, his lies, his hatefulness, his racist dog whistles; you have to be comfortable with Charlottesville and Jan. 6 and the trashing of norms; you have to be comfortable with a leader whose political power began in, and survives today in, the roots of racism. 

Where is the competency test for that?

If the Republican Party had an ounce of the pride, integrity and dignity that Trump spoke of on July 4, they would have demanded his removal as their leader long ago. So why haven’t they? Because that, my friends, would be something worth teaching to our kids.

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