It is not about age, it is about team.

Much attention has been directed at Joe Biden’s mental lapses and physical frailty. Less attention has been spent on Donald Trump’s cognitive difficulties and physical limitations, with most focus being devoted to his insults and exaggerated claims (as if they were not indicative of his mental state). Biden is 82 and Trump is 77, so one would expect that the passage of time has taken some toll on them, both physically and cognitively. It would seem that the difference, as Mickey Savage of The Standard phrased it, is that Biden is well-intentioned but hapless, whereas Trump is evil and dangerous.

I agree with the characterisation of Trump but not that of Biden, who I believe has far more mental acuity than the orange toned weasel. People forget that Biden has a life-long stutter, which from time to time shows up in his speech. And yes, he occasionally forgets or confuses a name or date, but then again so does the malignant narcissist serial liar. Biden rides bicycles and exercises regularly at the White House and home gyms. Trump rides a golf cart from tee to wherever his ball lands, off the designated paths and onto fairways and greens. He is not exactly a fine physical specimen, despite his corrupt doctor’s claims to the contrary.

Be that as it may, the mental and physical fitness of either of these men is not what matters when to comes to their suitability for office. Instead, as a starter, it is their temperament that matters. Biden is measured, calculated and calibrated in his actions, even if prone to the occasional profanity (as befits a guy from a blue collar background). Trump is impulsive, vindictive and petulant. Biden has 50 years of public service as his background, including terms as a US Congressman and Senator, Vice President and now POTUS. Trump first ran for office in 2016, and that was for the presidency that he won. We know what happened next, which should serve as a warning of things to come–and worse–should he get back into office. In any case it should be clear to impartial observers that Biden is the better qualified candidate in this year’s presidential election, above and beyond the elderly foibles of he and his rival.

Temperment and public service experience are not just what differentiates the two likely presidential candidates. The biggest difference is in the teams that surround them. The importance of the governmental team was driven home to me by a colleague at a Brazilian research institute in the late 1980s after George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as president. I was lamenting the fact that a Vice President who claimed to have seen or heard nothing about Iran-Contra and other Reagan administration scandals had won the presidential election of 1988, and my colleague said to me “but that is why, unlike here in Brazil where we struggle to find someone who can lead us out of darkness and into the modern world, in the US you can have a monkey as president and the machine will still keep on running without missing a beat.”

By “the machine” he was presumably referring to the US economy and institutional architecture, including the government of the day. It was more than one person and although the presidency is a vital cog in the machine, it is not the only one. Trump stretched the limits of institutional resiliency, to be sure, but it bent without breaking and Trump was thwarted in many of his most inane or perilous initiatives by a mixture of constitutional features (separation of powers, state’s rights, government regulations and civil service protections) and the interventions of cooler heads in his administration (the so-called “adults in the room” who acted as guardrails against his more thoughtless, spiteful or ignorant impulses). All along, in spite of the incompetent, incoherent partisan and polarised response to the Covid pandemic, the machinery of the US rolled on with that combed-over monkey at the wheel.

That is the important thing to consider. Biden has assembled a first class team that has steered the US out of the economic doldrums and into a period of sustained growth. He has expanded Obamacare, bringing in millions of people into affordable health insurance schemes, has capped the price of essential prescription drugs, and has funded a slew of infrastructure projects that have brought employment and modernisation to many localities, including in red (MAGA) states. In fact, US employment is at 50 year lows, and wages have started to catch up to inflation. He has passed student debt relief bills and increased social security benefits for the first time in 35 years. To be sure, there are challenges ahead, including getting some measure of control over the Southern border (which has just seen an all-time record of undocumented migrants, creating friction with the reactionary state government in Texas and fuelling Trump’s xenophobic and racist attacks on recent arrivals), and stabilising energy prices (which if low by international standards are an economic benchmark in the US). But by most objective standards, including its international image in spite of its ill-considered support for Israel in its war on Palestinians, the US is generally better off under Biden than his predecessor. Just ask NATO and the EU as well as US Asian allies (on this and. the broader context of US decline, see

Biden’s team has a coherent programmatic agenda that addresses the damage done by Trump’s reckless and self-serving policies but also more longer term and not exclusively partisan goals when it comes to the US domestic and international position. The US has a malaise, and they want to remedy it. Trump’s team, on the other hand, are all about paybacks for grievances caused by an assortment of non-supplicants, and even then they are divided about who to punish first. The Trump team is incompetent and incoherent at its core because everything depends on the day to day whims of the would be czar.

Biden does not sweat the details of his administration’s initiatives. He leaves that to his cabinet and senior managers who have expertise in the areas covered by their portfolios. These are technocrats and political operators who know the ins and outs of the federal bureaucracy and Congress and therefore know how things work. Even with a divided and dysfunctional GOP majority in the House, they have gotten things done. In other words, if passing legislation and implementing policy is like making sausage (and old aphorism of US politics), then Biden’s team knows how to do so, the institutional way.

In contrast, Trump has vowed to come back into office with a revenge agenda against his opponents. He has announced that we will use the Justice Department as his instrument of retribution. He and his aides have drawn up a list of 400-500 loyalists who will take control of the apex agencies in the federal bureaucracy and who will re-write civil service legislation in order to engage in whole-scale purges of the “Deep State” apparatus. He aims to kill off entire departments (ministries, In NZ terms), especially those that cater to “woke” sentiments such as the Department of Education, Health and Human Services, the Civil Rights Commission, etc. One only has to look at the writing of Stephen Miller, one of Trump’s leading political advisors who was responsible for his border policy that included family separations and incarceration without charge upon arrival and detention (in spite of many migrants claiming refugee status from violence prone societies like El Salvador, Colombia or Honduras, to say nothing of left authoritarian regimes like those in Venezuela and Nicaragua) to understand the extent of Trump’s dark plans for his next term. His loyalists will swear allegiance to him before the constitution, and his judicial appointments will confirm his authority to undertake the overhaul of the federal government. His Vice President will be a brown-nosing lap dog, and his cabinet will be a collection of misfits and misers keeping what is left of the public trough to themselves and their private sector cronies. There will be no “adults in the room” and institutional counters to put up guardrails around him, and he will introduce fickle criteria to his micromanaging of pet policy projects. The US reputation will resume its nosedive.

And then of course there are the sycophantic opportunists and grifters who always travel in his political circles and who see his return to power as a means to advancing their personal ideological and material agendas.

I will leave aside for the moment the impact these two very different teams will have on things like US-PRC relations, the Ruso-Ukranian War, the Middle East meltdown, rise of techno-sovereignty challenge to the Nation-State, climate change mitigation, and more policy areas ad infinitum. The differentiation line is stark not because of which monkey is driving the machine, but because of who else is along for the ride as navigators and mechanics.

That is why the focus on Biden and Trump’s age and mental acuity is more of a side-show than a critical issue. Temperment is more important, especially when one guy has senior moments of forgetfulness or confusion and the other is an incoherent raving lunatic. Most important of all are the teams that will surround them, and on that score I think that the difference is clear.

Razor sharp clear.

15 thoughts on “It is not about age, it is about team.

  1. Spot on thank you, apart from the ad hominem comments that few of us can resist when discussing Trump.

  2. Thanks Jim,

    Sorry for the derogatory remarks but my loathing of the guy is such that I lose my usual sense of decorum when discussing him.

  3. Thanks also for this. As with NZ I am increasingly concerned about stuff coming out of the US, the most graphic recently the comment by Trump asking Russia to fire on NATO countries who do not pay their bills. What ails the man – that really was the most lunatic fringe, unhinged thing I have ever heard. And your writing above only elaborates my concern as you expand the discussion to include those gathering around him.
    2024 is already proving to be interesting, in all the worst ways!

    Thanks for another post – you may have got me out of a jam I suspect lol

    Kind regards.

  4. Barbara,

    One of the sad ironies is that Trump has done and spoken so many (as in thousands) of insane, vulgar and stupid/ignorant things, we have become immune to the utter lack of temperment he has for any public office, much less the presidency. But 30% of the voting public seem to think this is a guy who will solve their problems. Which is a measure of the depth of their problems, and of the country as a whole. There is serious collective delusion in that polity.

  5. I totally agree with you Pablo, & Jim Rolfe, on your summing up of the characters and abilities of both men. If Biden had not been so fulsome in his support for Israel’s stance against the slaughter and kidnapping of the hostages, he’d have earned almost a 100% pass mark in my book. He has done amazingly well to turn around the disaster of the Trump years. Let’s hope the people of the US vote the way they did last time and get Biden & his team back in – it doesn’t seem as if the DOJ & legal system will move quickly or surely enough to prevent Trump being back on the ballot. A few minutes ago I read on Phillips O’Brien’s twitter post that Tom Suozzi (Democrat) won the third district in NY and that the Dems are outperforming the polls.

    Perhaps there’s still hope?

  6. I find it deeply ironic that in our current Parliament there are many on the Govt benches saying our children need to be well educated for the future, by attending school regularly, sure, but then quoting the US as a model of education for us to follow. With the ignoramus Trump as a model and his followers exhibiting extremely low levels of education, reasoning and even a modicum of basic five year old common sense this position is ludicrous to say the least. There, I’ve vented!

  7. If a second Trump presidency is as dire as one suspects with an all-out assault on democracy and an attempt by Trump to make the presidency an absolutist throw back to the pre-enlightenment era one wonders how long the military would stand aside as the country descended into chaos and they become the last functioning federal organisation.

    I would say the US military top brass already has a rather distasteful view of Trump. I wonder if they’d reason they are the final guardians of the nations secular constitutional legacy, sort of like how Turkey’s military once was the guardian of Ataturk’s secular legacy.

    A military coup with the professed aim of ending the rampant corruption in Washington and resetting the constitutional order before retiring to the barracks (assuming that is possible) might not be that unpopular in the USA these days.

  8. Sanctuary:

    That is an interesting but improbable possibility. If Trump is able to stack courts with loyalists who grant him broad executive powers, and if the GOP retains congressional majorities that facilitate the confirmation of loyalists in a wide range of positions such as the general officer ranks of the military, then he will be able to replace so-called military constitutionalists with loyalists. The Heritage Foundation list of senior-level appointees for the federal services includes retired and even active duty officers. Mike Flynn has been designated as the probable SecDef. Between judicial interpretation of what is constitutional leaning in his favor and senior officers and DoD staff pledging fealty to him, there is unlikely to be a move against him unless something truly unimaginable happens. In a sense, the military is hamstrung by its own corporate ethos, which is institutionally biased against domestic repression unless there is civil war, etc. (which admittedly could happen).

    The analogy with the now defunct secularist Turkish military is reasonable but also shows the perils of a determined authoritarian deciding to re-make the military in his preferred image. I would not be surprised if the Heritage Foundation has studied Erdogan’s purge of secularists with an eye to doing the same to US military “institutionalists” or “constitutionalists.” If Trump can emulate even a part of Erdogan’s project, say, by changing the curriculum of military service academies and making loyalty to the presidency a criteria for promotion and selection to senior officer ranks–again, all enabled and abetted by a GOP led Congress, thereby lending “constitutionality” to the process–then he might well succeed at least in part in changing the professional orientation of the US military.

    My final observation is that if the military were to move against Trump, there will be significant civil disorder and public violence. In fact, I believe that if Trump loses the upcoming election, January 6 will look like an after-school play date.

  9. I often wonder about the possibility of military intervention (like @Sanctuary).
    It might come to being the lesser of two evils.
    Hopefully many in the senior ranks will have read Mary Trumps ‘ Too Much and Never Enough’. She sure as hell has the measure of that seriously sick unit, and those that keep his company. In the era of the narcissist, as we’re now seeing in Ao/NZ, ego plays a huge part in it all.
    I’m hoping to go see extended family in Santa Clara and it looks like it should be sooner rather than later

  10. Paul:

    The issue of military intervention is further complicated by the presence of National Guard and reservist units in every state. These are usually mustered by governors in the event of a crisis (say a tornado), even while they rotate to active duty status at regular intervals (the soldiers recently killed in Jordan were from a National Guard unit outside of Atlanta, Georgia). That could complicate any move to remove Trump by force since MAGA/Red State governors can order their Guard units to take federal agencies/personnel prisoner in the event that the JCS orders that Trump be removed. Then a whole can of worms will be opened as allegiances split in at least those states. And should rightwing militias come to the party then, well, the s**tshow will be full on.

    Since Trump is by now a well-known quantity whose outbursts get more unhinged by the day, and because his circle is increasingly and transparently littered with sociopaths and syncopates, I find it hard to believe that the voting public outside of MAGA morons will vote for the guy even if they hold their noses and vote for Biden instead. Of course, there could be a disaster of some sort–the ME war expands and involves US casualties, something happens on the border that results in the death of Borde rPatrol or US citizens, some scandal in the WH. Anything is possible and the GOP/Trump side will do everything in their power to engineer a crisis of confidence in Biden.

    No matter by how much he may lose, I predict that Trump will repeat the lie that the election was stolen and at that point things will hit the fan.

    Which makes me agree with you that a visit to the US is best done sooner rather than later. Conventions are mid-year and after that the political lunacy will kick in big time.

  11. @Pablo
    Which way do you think the military, national guard et al – the whole apparatus might line up if and when things turn to s**t.?
    There are retired generals, and I suspect a few current seniors that are committed to the Constitution as opposed to swearing allegiance to the seriously sick Mr Orange.
    Questions questions questions!
    A Military coup or putsch – or- civil war?
    And then of course, would it actually be a coup if abiding by the Constitution rather than an Orange Interloper was legit.
    Unfortunately I suspect Biden’s missed a trick or two ( such as increasing Supreme Court numbers) – although I understand if he had, it’d not be a good precedent
    Then of course there are things we should/can’t not talk bout – especially if one claims pacifist tendencies: Which of the Kennedy’s was it that were assassinated?. Remind me – and why was that.

    Kamala: “we won Joe!!!!!!!!!!!:”
    Let’s hope

  12. Paul:

    I assume that most US military officers are constitutionalists whose professional ethos and corporate identity will make them resist any attempts to usurp or bend the Charter for Trump’s personal-political gain. But even then it would probably require a plea from Congress to do so. Moreover, as I mentioned, if the courts rule favourably on his consolidation of Executive powers so that what he does is deemed “constitutional,” then they will have to grin and bear it.

    I am hoping that Trump’s remarks about Russia, NATO and Putin come back to haunt him with security conservatives. He has remained silent so far on the Navalny’s death, unlike Biden and many in the GOP.

    You have me stumped on the Kennedy murders (John and Bobby). They were not exactly pacifists even if on the left wing of Democratic politics (such as it is). I do not see conspiracies in their deaths although questions have been raised about Mob/CIA involvement.

  13. Oh, re the Kennedy’s. I just meant that although I am a pacifist, I’m not sure if some patriot chose to sabotage Trump Force One, or a General (retired or otherwise) nutted out, I’m not sure if I’d have enough emotional capital to feel any sympathy. But I realise that is what would be expected of me. I’d make sure I didn’t cheer too loudly in public though And as you know, there are parallels here in little old Ao/NZ that punches above its weight.

  14. I think it was once said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had ‘a third class intellect and a first class temperament.’

  15. Thanks Brett,

    I had not heard that one before. It is a good one.

    Here is one for you:

    When I was interviewing for my first academic job after completing my the mid 80s I gave talks that used Gramsci’s ideas to analyse post-WW2 developments in Argentina. At one elite institution I got about 5 minutes into the talk before a well-known conservative political theorist loudly announced that I was “using a second rate thinker to analyse a third-rate country.” He then stood up and left the room, followed by every other academic staff member of that department save the head of the recruitment committee. That fellow then turned to me and said “well, the good news is that you do not have to stay overnight and have dinner with us because there is a afternoon flight back to Chicago that you can catch if we hurry.”

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