The Battle for America’s Sanity

“The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”

– Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction writer, 1939-1988

In this corner, Joe Biden, fighting a Quixotic campaign against “semi-fascism,” that has taken over the Republican Party in trying to save what he sees as the wounded soul of America.

In the other corner, Donald Trump, disguised as a Dungeon Master in the guise of carrying on a surreal battle for a second term hoping voters will believe his insistence that he already won it.

If he already won, as he argues consistently and mercilessly, why is he running? Unhinged?

Despite the significance of the November midterms over who will control Congress, both men lashed out at each other as if the 2024 presidential election will be held next week. More than another two years of this back and forth between the real and the surreal will be hard to take.

Biden’s job is more difficult because he must persuade millions of voters that Trump’s forever narrative that he won the 2020 election is nothing but a Big Lie.

Isn’t Trump’s running proof of that? And so much of Republican life and rhetoric is based on that lie, including voting restrictions for minorities, despicable outrage against society’s most vulnerable, those tiny communities like the LGBTQ+ that need protection.

Republican candidates for offices involved in deciding elections, such as secretary of state, are campaigning on a Trump-won theme. If they win their primary fights, and some have, they will have the authority to declare a winner in 2024 regardless of actual vote totals – if they can get away with such an illegal act.

Biden Jab: “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” he charged at his primetime televised speech last week in Philadelphia. That’s where this country was founded.

“But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” he said, sounding angry. “And that is a threat to this country.”

It sure is. Republicans are afraid to run for office if they’re not blessed by Trump, as if he were their party’s pope.

It’s as if we on the other side were watching a movie and then being struck by reality when we walk out of the theater, saying, “Hey, this is no joke, it’s really happening.” Yeah. Because it’s a documentary in real time.

Biden spoke forcefully to hundreds of people seated in front of Independence Hall near the Liberty Bell, hallowed ground perhaps not equal to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., but nevertheless a powerful symbol of American freedom and democracy. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and signed in the building. It opened in 1756 and was the Pennsylvania State House.

Trump Jab: Biden’s speech two days earlier was “the most vicious, hateful and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president.” He spoke at a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township, Penn., Saturday for two GOP candidates but focused mostly on himself. What else is new?

“You’re all enemies of the state,” he told thousands of his followers. “He’s an enemy of the state, you want to know the truth.”

That’s not the truth. It’s just more blathering nonsense without anything to back up what he’s spitting out. It’s typical rhetoric in mostly all of Trump’s speeches. Yet so many people seem to believe him, and in him.

Biden Jab: “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”

He’s right about that.

Proof? Watch the ultra-conservative Supreme Court, influenced by the Trump-created right-wing atmosphere that has gripped most of the country.

See the end of the legal right to abortion; Justice Clarence Thomas threatening to end same-sex marriage and contraception; permitting concealed handguns outside the home in New York for self-defense (thus aiming at similar laws in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Hawaii); rolling back the EPA’s plans to reduce carbon output in power plants; blocking administration plans for vaccination or testing for COVID-19 among major employers, etc. You get the idea.

“For a long time, we’ve told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it’s not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”

Trump Jab: Referring to the FBI raid on his huge seaside estate and resort, Mar-a-Lago, in a search for classified documents, “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers and the media, who tell them what to do.”

The search was “one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history” and “a travesty of justice. They’re trying to silence me and, more importantly, they’re trying to silence you. But we will not be silenced, right?”

More crap. FBI agents were not abusing their power. They were acting on a judge-approved search warrant against someone keeping materials that belong in the country’s archives as part of its history. In short, they were doing their job. If a byproduct of that results in silencing Trump, so be it.

Court records show, according to The New York Times, that the FBI found 18 documents marked top secret, 54 as secret, 31 as confidential and 11,179 documents or photos without classification. It is against the law to take presidential records out of the White House. They must be housed with the National Archives.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that southern Florida’s U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon Monday approved Trump’s request for an independent arbiter to review the materials taken to Mar-a-Lago.

Her order will delay the investigation into whether Trump held those materials illegally and obstructed the authorities from taking them back. It also prevents federal prosecutors from using any evidence found in piles of documents and other papers.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr, once Trump’s major apologist, told the Times about the documents and the need for an arbiter:

“I think it’s a crock of shit,” Barr replied with a laugh, the Times reported and printed. “I don’t think a special master is called for.” Of course, it isn’t.

Calling for a special master is nothing more than a move by Trump to stall this investigation of him. That’s the ploy he’s used in courts and with lawyers all of his adult life. The other tactic is denial. That’s M.O. in legal battles.

With so many investigations against Trump, we can expect many denials, many delays – a saga that may go on for years. It means more headlines, boosting his already inflated ego and wearing us out.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.