Biden vs. Trump 2024: Even weirder and uglier the second time around

Whether or not Trump runs again, his entire operation is about undermining the guy who's actually trying to help

By Brian Karem


Published October 7, 2021 9:18AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

Time to dial it up to 11, as Nigel Tufnel would say.

If my fellow Louisvillian Dr. Hunter S. Thompson were still among us, this is when he'd drop multiple hits of acid, snort up enough marching powder to keep his shirts stiff for several months, drink copious amounts of Wild Turkey sufficient to numb or knock out the average human being — and then show up at a White House briefing in shorts, drenched and babbling like a ferret on Benzedrine.

Hunter actually did show up, according to his Playboy Interview, for a press briefing in nearly such a state, but today no one does. Hell, Hunter was the only one who ever did.

There are plenty of reasons to do so today. The debt ceiling. Infrastructure. Build Back Better. Not to mention that video surfaced this week of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham being booed by his own supporters for suggesting they get the COVID-19 vaccine. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and others from the alternative-facts coalition continue to undermine the government they serve. And the United States as I know it, according to a growing number of pundits and analysts, continues to slouch into oblivion; merely weeks or months away from death.

The world's in trouble. There's no communication, as Joan Jett told us. 

Perdition isn't a done deal, no matter what you may see on television or the internet, or hear in your secret meetings with the odd handshakes. But the rending of hair and gnashing of teeth among the members of a Democratic Party that seems intent on duplicating Christopher Walken's self-destruction in "The Deer Hunter" is enough to lead soulless members of the Republican Party to guffaw in hearty laughter, never realizing they're laughing at their own demise.

Meanwhile President Biden continues to preach about getting people to work together, with very little return for his efforts — even according to his loyalists.

Compounding those problems is the coming census-mandated congressional redistricting. First Amendment attorney and activist Nora Benavidez is among many who believe redistricting is one of the most important and least-covered current news issues. "It is a direct threat to majority rule," she told me. 

If the GOP can gerrymander enough districts in key states, they can quite likely situate themselves to take back the House, the Senate and ultimately the presidency — without a majority of popular votes, if necessary (as often seems to be the case recently with Republicans). 

We know the election wasn't stolen in 2020 and we also know Trump is setting up to try and steal it in 2024. Whether or not he runs for office is irrelevant. If the Republican Party is successful at manipulating congressional districts, and continues to replace election workers with flunkeys who will do whatever Trump wants, then Trump will have the mechanism in place by which he can reclaim the presidency. 

Whether he will opt to be king or the king's puppeteer will then be a far easier decision for him to make. Considering that many people who know Trump, like his longtime former fixer Michael Cohen, believe he won't run for a second term, it's easy to see how he could still take advantage of the situation without having to expose himself again to the pressures of the presidency. Never mind that some, like former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham, believe Trump isn't healthy enough for another run.   

Trump keeps the rest of the world busy dealing with other issues by throwing shade while his loyalists continue to lay the groundwork for authoritarian rule. As late as Tuesday in Michigan, President Biden had to reinforce the fact that he was a capitalist and that he won the election last year. He's fighting the Big Lie nine months into his presidency and seems mired in the past because he can't get ahead of the news curve. Trump plays the media like a fiddle to create the news.

But you can't just blame the press. We cover it because it's money for us — and it's only money for us because it's of interest to the general public. Trust me, if as many Americans tuned into a chess match, a jazz concert, local theater or a talking polar bear reading Socrates out loud in a Fran Drescher accent, we'd air that. Because whatever sells, baby — that's what corporate journalism is all about.

When Biden isn't addressing the withering accusations tossed at him by the Trump crowd, he's  endeavoring to see if he can sell us his vision of America. Tuesday, on the stump in Michigan, he implored us to "Invest in resilience." 

Hey, It's almost like he gets it. He's not going to go Hunter Thompson or Nigel Tufnel on us, but Biden certainly recognizes the nation is at a serious crossroads. Or, as he put it, "We're at an inflection point. . . . We risk losing our edge as a nation. Our infrastructure used to be the best in the world . . ."

It's not even close today. Our ranking as a developed nation for students seeking post-high school education led the president to say, "We're at the bottom of the heap."

Biden also proposes expanded access to community college, Pell grants and other expanded educational opportunities. It's hard to see where a working-class family would disagree with the federal assistance Biden proposes giving them by redistributing a small portion of the wealth of the richest Americans into the pockets of the poorest Americans so we can achieve something greater together.

Despite the "inflection point" Biden claims we've reached, he remained decidedly even-keeled and optimistic in Michigan, making what amounts to his latest stump speech. He avoided dialing it up emotionally, calmly reiterating that no one making less than $400,000 a year would pay more taxes — and saying that's  why he won't back an increase in the gas tax, because people in the middle or working classes spend a much greater proportion of their income on gasoline than the wealthy do. 

Biden's demeanor was calm, but his pitch dialed it up several notches. He again proposed the end to 40 years of supply-side economics that have created an immense gulf between the richest and poorest American citizens. Biden's appeal is to every working-class person across the country, but some of those people continue to roar against the Lion in Winter. Biden's sane detractors question his policy decisions while the insane continue hypocritical personal attacks or claim that Biden is one of the Illuminati, or is merely a skin-suit worn over a lizard body.  

The bottom line is that Trump and his minions have been very successful in politicizing and contaminating every aspect of life in the United States. Music. Cinema. Arts. Food. Sports. Science. All of it. This has made it increasingly difficult to get anything passed in Congress. It threatens to make it prohibitive to deal with the basic needs of society. Those who are stirring up the storm want you to forget the reality of what Biden is trying to do — and to ignore the power grab the GOP is trying to make.

No great civilization can stand without addressing its infrastructure. Biden not only acknowledges that but takes it a step further, saying that the world of tomorrow is about economic competition, and we have to wake up to the fact that we must work together to survive and thrive. Authoritarian regimes believe democracies are too weak because we respond more slowly to stimuli than do autocratic governments that can turn on a dime through the will of a single head of state.

Biden, the eternal optimist, sees the U.S. not only competing with the world but once again leading it, while simultaneously closing the gap between the rich and the poor and providing better education to all Americans. At least that's the sales pitch. It is worth noting that Biden describes and envisions a world 10 years down the road, not a world that changes every 10 minutes according to what television show you've been on or watched. He is trying to chart a future he may not live to see.

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit, the Greek proverb tells us. The Bible tells us wise men plan for the future.

We should at least listen to someone who has a vision of the future that isn't a dystopia plucked from the recesses of Hell — and not dismiss his proposals as politics as usual. Because there's nothing usual about today's politics.

You can't dust for vomit and life isn't a reality show, but we do need to dial it up to 11.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Build Back Better Commentary Donald Trump Elections Gerrymandering Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Redistricting