An All-American Fable: The Emperor Has No Clothes.

February 15, 2024

An All-American Fable: The Emperor Has No Clothes.

May 29, 2023

Hans Christian Anderson must be laughing in his Danish grave. He wrote the fairy tale about a vain emperor who is hoodwinked by a couple of grifting tailors who get him to spend a fortune on stylish clothes that are invisible to those who are uneducated. They’re also invisible to the emperor, but not wanting to look foolish, he convinces himself that his new wardrobe is divine and leads a procession through the city stark naked. The townsfolk try to go along with this pretense, not wanting to look stupid, until a child states the obvious: the emperor is wearing no clothes. The emperor shuts the kid up and proudly struts through town like a naked peacock. We are faced with this same predicament in America today: how to speak truth to power, especially when those closest to the powerful often have the most difficulty stating the obvious.

As reported in the New York Times, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his diary that he might not run for a second term in 1956 because there was a need for “younger men in positions of the highest responsibility” at a time of “growing severity and complexity of problems that rest upon the president.” He was 64 at the time. On the other hand, our two leading candidates for the Presidency in 2024 would be 82 and 86 when they retire if they served their respective full terms. 

Is it time for us to emulate the child who proclaimed, “The emperor has no clothes”? Excuse my bluntness, but Donald Trump is a naked, vengeful narcissist and Joe Biden is hiding in the basement hoping that the only people who’ll witness him are his courtesans. For the second year in a row, he declined the opportunity to be on 60 Minutes before the Super Bowl, a prime time to get his message across. Why is he hiding from us? While I don’t agree with everything the Biden administration has done, there’s much to be proud of and he needs to be the messenger.

I come away with the question: are these the best two candidates for the most demanding job on planet earth? Is Joe too old and Donald too young (acting) to be President?

You know I’m all for “modern elders.” Yes, we do suffer short-term memory loss as we age, but our crystalized intelligence - the ability to “connect the dots” and think systemically - gets better up till our early 70s. But, still, when things decline mentally, they can decline quickly. 

Both Biden and Trump have always been “gaffe machines.” But, last week, when Joe Biden called that abrupt, testy press conference to say his memory was fine and then went on to mix up the Presidents of Egypt and Mexico (a “retrieval failure” of epic proportions given the stakes of the conference), many of my friends said I shouldn’t worry about him, I have to wonder. Due to our hyper-polarized world, do we turn a blind eye to the faults of our chosen leader, just because we hate the other guy so much? In fact, the past few days, both the Democratic and Republican national parties have been circulating videos of their rival Presidential candidate making all kinds of mental mistakes, further debasing the office of the Presidency. 

More than 70% of voters in battleground states agree with the statement that Biden is “just too old to be an effective president” and I bet a similar percentage would say Trump is “just too temperamental to be an effective president” (and many of them are older voters as evidenced in this NY Times article, “Other 80-Somethings Have Thoughts About Age and the Presidency”). We are the children who can objectively see the emperor has no clothes and we probably should be shouting this from the rafters: Biden doesn’t seem vital enough and Trump doesn’t seem trustworthy enough to be our next President. 

Of course, the people who surround Biden and Trump know best. And I think one of the ultimate indictments of Trump is just how many of his former cabinet members say he’s not fit for office (that would be the ultimate political ad), but most of the people whose current employment is reliant upon these men gain very little by speaking up as they enjoy the spoils of proximity. 

It’s hard to go from being a VIP to being a PIP, a Previously Important Person, especially if you’ve been the President. But, both of these candidates may have a substantial chance of being RIP (“Rest In Peace”) before the end of their term. So, this may be the first Presidential election in modern times when the Vice Presidential debates score the highest TV ratings. “Succession” isn’t just an award-winning HBO series, it’s a political reality for whomever wins the Presidency in November. 

In sum, if it’s a choice between Trump and Biden in November, I’ll choose Biden because leadership is a character contagion. The character of our leaders have a trickle-down effect on all of us and there’s a wide gulf between these two men when it comes to their integrity. And, at the end of the day, as journalist Michelle Goldberg writes, “Biden’s age is a campaign problem, not a governing one.”

I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone with my unvarnished thoughts in today’s blog post as I usually stay away from politics, but I feel it’s time for us to say we need other alternatives to these two men: Howard Schultz, Mark Cuban, Liz Cheney, Michelle Obama, Nikki Haley, Andrew Yang…I don’t know who, but when I go to a restaurant with only two entrees on the menu and both entrees feel a little stale, I ask if the restaurant has any Specials. This is a year when America deserves some Specials. 

-Chip

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