An extraordinary event recently took place in Washington, D.C., unnoticed of course by the news media. In a metamorphosis worthy of the strangest tales in Greek mythology, Joe Biden, current president of the United States, was transformed into Donald Trump, late evicted occupant of the White House.
The most baffling aspect of this episode is that Biden won the 2020 election campaigning as the anti-Trump. He seemed like a nice old man with very little to say, and he promised that, unlike Trump, he would never tell a lie, rant about the “Deep State” or be mean to important people. After the rolling bar fight that was the Trumpian era, Biden would work not just at “uniting our people,” but also at “uniting our nation,” and even “bringing America together.” All that unity would allow the U.S. government to function as a gigantic dispenser of free hugs.
All went well at first. When Biden took office, the country was already well on the way to recovery from the human and economic misery of the COVID-19 pandemic. To his credit, the new president did nothing to derail that progress. He did wish to spend even more trillions of taxpayer dollars than Trump had, and maybe we should have been a tad nervous about the similarity between the two men’s drunken-sailor approach to budgeting. But honestly, what else do politicians know how to do other than spend our money?
The first hint of change came when COVID statistics suddenly started to head south after the appearance of the dread delta variant. President Biden was now on his own, and he had an opportunity to super-unify everyone and bring America together on the best way to reduce the infection rate. Instead, a rolling bar fight broke out over vaccine and mask mandates, sending children to school, lockdown resumptions, and pretty much everything connected with managing the pandemic. Even the egregious Trump in his prime couldn’t have been more divisive.
Maybe—some of us thought—Biden wanted to unify the country but was unable to do so. Maybe this was a subtle attempt by the president to embrace his inner weakling and so increase the distance from his predecessor. If Trump was a New York bully, Biden would be a Delaware wimp.
The transfiguration began in earnest when Biden finally made a decision: All American troops would leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The arbitrariness of the call and the date carried a strong whiff of nostalgia. After all, Biden was following the path laid out by Trump, who had initiated the process of withdrawal. Why so total a retreat? Why Aug. 31? Alarmingly, Biden began to speak, not in policy statements, but in Trump-like catchphrases about “forever wars.”
And once the administration’s most excellent adventure in Afghanistan went full belly up and politically unhelpful images began to flood the web, a biochemical reaction was triggered in the president that led to a mysterious alteration. We don’t know whether it happened in a few seconds, like the Wolfman in the movies, or overnight, like a really bad case of heartburn. We do know that the president hid away in Camp David for a few days, and when he came back, Joe Biden had become Donald Trump.
The evidence for this calamity is too abundant to cite here. I will confine myself to a few of the more obvious examples.
Losing Is Winning
Trump was twitchy to the point of mania about winning. “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning,” he warned us during the 2016 campaign. In fact, his cognitive apparatus was such that he couldn’t tell the difference between winning and losing, so everything Trump did was, for Trump, a big win. When he lost the 2020 election by 7 million votes, he rejoiced, “We won in a landslide!”
The same disorder now afflicts Biden. He looks on the colossal mess he has stirred up in Afghanistan and sees an “extraordinary success.” To be clear, 13 Americans died along with untold hundreds of our Afghan allies (so far), an unknown number of U.S. citizens were abandoned for the Taliban to play with, and $85 billion of U.S. military hardware, including aircraft, was surrendered to the enemy. Scenes in Kabul airport showed panic and chaos—Afghans seeking to escape the Taliban clung to the wheels of our transports and tumbled to the ground. The French and British, who also had people on the ground, were left completely in the lurch by the administration.
In the style of Trump, Biden has felt inclined to brag on his defeat. “We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history,” he enthused. “No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history.” Depending on the definition of “it,” he may well have been right—but never mind that. True to his new incarnation, the president now portrayed himself as the hero of the story. “I was not going to extend this forever war,” he declaimed, “and I was not extending a forever exit.” The faint cheering sound in the distance emanated from Americans still in enemy hands.
Truth Is a Moveable Feast
Donald Trump may have occasionally dated the truth, but he was never interested in a permanent relationship. From the size of his inaugural crowd to the number of votes he received in 2020, whatever reflected on the former president came out of his mouth bigger, brighter and better than reality—with the exact inverse being the case for his opponents. This character flaw was directly connected to his mania for winning. In the world according to Trump, opinions shaped events rather than the other way around.
Biden came into office pledging to “defend the truth and defeat the lies.” Yet whenever he has spoken about Afghanistan, small growling sounds have emerged rather than the truth—the most convincing proof, in my opinion, of his bio-transmutation.
Pretty much every fact conveyed by the president about Afghanistan has been false. He said the terrorists didn’t like the place anymore, right before they blew up our people. He told us the Europeans totally loved his plan, when they were using European words like “imbecilic” to describe it. He claimed the Taliban were undergoing an “existential crisis,” but they turned out to be the same burly bearded guys who hate women and music. He ordered the Afghan president to change the “perception” of the Afghan army, “whether it is true or not.”
But the biggest, baldest Trumpian whoppers of all dealt with the people who were left behind. Having mandated the Aug. 31 getaway to be as fixed as Tax Day and as sacred as Hispanic Heritage Month, Biden then appeared to hedge by declaring that if there were American citizens left, the U.S. would stay until they were all out, and again, “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.” But he never meant it. He really just wanted out, and, like every fibber, he was saying the words that would get him what he wanted. Once all U.S. troops were gone and Kabul was forsaken, he bluntly suggested that saving 90% of the trapped Americans was, in his judgment, an amazing feat.
The trouble with lies, as any policeman will tell you, is that the story keeps changing. Biden’s people originally said there were 11,000 Americans in Afghanistan, maybe more. Ninety percent of that would be 9,900. However, the president claimed that “more than 6,000” had been evacuated, an estimate afterwards reduced to slightly more than 5,000. Somehow that left “between 100 and 200” Americans in the hands of the Taliban—though as criticism intensified that became “around 100.” No hard figures have been provided. None are needed when truth is a moveable feast.
Empathy, Except When Things Turn Sour
Trump doubtless had many charming traits that he carefully concealed from us, but as a public person, he was, let’s face it, kind of a jerk. He yelled at journalists and Democrats and invented infantile tags on Twitter for the political figures he disliked, which included many in his own party, and even in his own Cabinet. Americans, for unknown reasons, expect their presidents to be empathetic. Trump in office displayed the empathy levels of a Manhattan cabbie stuck in crosstown traffic.
Now Biden, we were told by the media, was a veritable gusher of empathy who would envelop his fellow citizens in the warm bath of human understanding. (See, for example, “How Empathy Defines Joe Biden,” “Biden’s Empathy Is What Matches Him to This Moment,” and inevitably, “Biden’s Empathy Could Reshape U.S. Attitudes About Gender.”) That saintly man vanished in a puff with the unpopularity that followed the Afghanistan horror show, and in his place the nasty Trump persona reappeared.
In a remarkable display of egocentricity, the president monopolized the conversation during a meeting with the parents of the Marines who died in Kabul, droning on about how sad he felt about the death of his son Beau from cancer six years ago. When the grieving parents tried to change the subject back to the actual purpose of the encounter, Biden grew testy with them.
As the Afghan circus played out on our screens, Biden proceeded to blame allied Afghan soldiers for allowing themselves to get slaughtered, our Afghan employees for not running away fast enough, and Donald Trump because, well, why not? He strongly implied that the stranded Americans didn’t truly wish to be rescued. “Since March,” he complained, “we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan, with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan.” That brings to mind the Jewish mother who chided, “I called you all day Saturday and all day Saturday night, and you never called back!”
I note that, in one respect, Biden’s insensitivity differs from Trump’s. Trump was a screamer. Biden is a leaver. He shrugs off questions and deserts his audience. The abiding Washington image while Kabul fell was of the presidential hindquarters.
A Perfectly Scientific Explanation
There is no truth to the rumor that Biden spends hours stretched out in a secret White House tanning salon, trying to convert his ghostly pallor to an orange hue. His Trumpification, I’m sorry to say, goes much deeper than skin tone.
The scientific cause of this disorder seems so obvious that there’s no point in consulting the experts. Biden always had a shaky sense of who he was. Once, he imagined he was a British Labour chieftain. Another time he confused himself with Bobby Kennedy. During the election, he allowed himself to be reconfigured into whatever it meant to be the not-Bernie candidate and (as we have seen) the anti-Trump.
The shock of terrible opinion polls, combined with certain trinkets left in the Oval Office by his predecessor, must have brought on an identity crisis. To the layman, this may smack of fantasy, but the entire process has been researched in detail by Dr. Woody Allen and explained in his 1983 documentary, Zelig. Sometimes people get bored with being themselves and turn into someone more exciting. Thus, Joe Biden became Donald Trump.
Such lapses into otherness tend to be temporary but serial. We can expect Biden to change again. The American public must prepare to be governed by a whole panoply of past presidents—which, when we consider the performance of recent White House tenants, may not be as alarming as it sounds.
We could see Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt again, for instance. If Biden stops using words like “infrastructure” and “equity” and starts speaking in biblical cadences, he could appear before us as the second coming of Abraham Lincoln. Admittedly, there’s a slim chance—but we can always hope.