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Hysteria over Biden’s age is a distraction from Trump’s authoritarianism

Despite the special counsel’s commentary on Biden’s supposed forgetfulness in his report on the president’s handling of classified documents, the enormous stakes of this election remain unchanged.


Special counsel Robert Hur appears to have gotten what he was after with his final report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, claimed that Biden had “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen,” but said the evidence was insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And the special counsel also differentiated Biden’s handling of documents from former President Donald Trump’s. But more than anything else, Hur’s ample commentary on Biden’s memory has become fodder for far-right — and not-so-far-right — media.

Which made for an interesting Thursday.

On the same day the Supreme Court appeared likely to ultimately rule that Trump can’t be disqualified from appearing on Colorado’s presidential ballot despite stoking the Jan. 6 riot, some people in the court of public opinion were suggesting that Biden had become disqualified himself — for supposed forgetfulness — or that his re-election campaign had sustained a near-fatal injury. Personally, I think that’s a damning portrayal of American politics: judicial failure and journalistic failure rolled into one.

Personally, I think that’s a damning portrayal of American politics: judicial failure and journalistic failure rolled into one.

Conservatives’ obsession with Biden’s age, which we also witnessed during the 2020 campaign, has always seemed desperate to me — particularly since Trump is less than four years younger. And I thought Chris Hayes was smart to note, during Thursday’s special coverage on MSNBC, that because age is unchangeable, attacks on Biden’s age are focused on something he can’t do anything about.

But the stakes of this presidential race are unchanged from what they were two days ago — I’d argue they’re unchanged from what they were four years ago.

To me, this election is primed to be a choice between a Republican Party that stands for white Christian nationalism and a Democratic Party that stands for liberal democracy.

I thought about that while reflecting on remarks from Norma Anderson of Colorado. Anderson, a 91-year-old Republican, is one of the plaintiffs in the effort to bar Trump from the ballot in her state. When she was asked about being involved in the case, she told NPR:

I lived through World War II. I remember Hitler. I remember my cousin was with Eisenhower when they opened up the concentration camps. ... I mean, I understand protecting democracy.

It’s an ominous warning to the nation about what might await us if Trump is elected. And it also serves as a reminder for anyone seeing this election through the lens of horse-race politics, an affliction we’re now seeing in ample measure.

Because in this race, one candidate openly embraces authoritarianism. The other guy, purportedly, can be forgetful. And obsessing over the latter is a distraction from the former.