April 12, 2024

cognitive debate

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The cognitive debate
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – Asked by a reporter that given his age, 77 years, if he’d been tested for any mental decline, the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, responded by declaring, “I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”
          The Trump campaign and Fox News have been pushing the line for months that Biden is over the hill, past his prime, and no match for President Trump. As polls show Biden leading nationally and in every battleground state, Trump allies are counting on a poor showing by Biden in the three scheduled presidential debates.
          Biden has never been known as a great orator. He has had to overcome a stuttering problem, and he tends to ramble. But that is about the worst you can say after watching him in public life for more than 40 years.
          On the other hand, what about Trump’s cognitive and physical capability? He had trouble negotiating a ramp at West Point, and he needed two hands to manage a glass of water. If that had been Biden taking halting steps and fumbling with water, imagine what Trump would have said.
          At Trump’s rally in Tucson last month, he said he told his aides to stop testing so much. The more you test, he said, the more infections you find, and we don’t want that. White House aides said he was joking, but Trump said, “I don’t kid.” As the coronavirus surges in multiple states, Trump has withdrawn federal resources for testing.
          There are different ways to measure cognitive capability. One is a person’s acceptance of reality.  Trump’s willful refusal or inability to accept the dangers posed by the coronavirus, to say  recently that Covid-19 will go away “like a miracle,” and to sideline the public health officials best equipped to understand the virus, makes him cognitively unfit to lead the country he is refusing to lead.
          He doesn’t wear a mask because he thinks it makes him look like “the Lone Ranger.” Actually, if we could get the Lone Ranger, a fictional masked former Texas Ranger, who together with his Native American friend, Tonto, relentlessly fought outlaws in the American West, we’d have a better shot against the virus than we have with the easily bored Trump.
          Vice President Mike Pence, Senate leader Mitch McConnell, and former Vice President Dick Cheney are all wearing masks and urging others to do so, all acts of defiance in Trump’s world. They are heeding the warning from CDC Director Robert Redfield that if the surges we are seeing go unheeded, the results will be “apocalyptic.” Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Senate hearing that the 40,000 cases a day we are seeing will jump to 100,000 a day without more restrictive measures in place.
          Trump openly acknowledges he doesn’t read the intelligence briefings provided him. His former national security advisor, John Bolton, says oral briefings are a waste of time because Trump doesn’t listen and does all the talking. Trump spends the bulk of his time watching cable news and tweeting questionable content that recently included a video of a guy in a golf court at a Florida retirement community shouting “white power.”
          It is hard to select which of Trump’s behaviors is the most problematic for the leader of the free world. When Fox News host Sean Hannity served up a softball to Trump in an interview asking him to name “his top priority items for a second term,” Trump mused about how “experience” is a word but he places more stock in than “talent.” He never named a single goal or priority.
          When voters watch the debates in September and October, they can weigh the substantive arguments each contender makes about why he is the best person to lead the country. They can judge for themselves who has the better grasp of the enormous challenges ahead, and the political will to bring Americans together in the fight to reclaim our democratic values.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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