Biden his time: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on watching the sorry state of U.S. politics from north of the border

The numbers touted by Jewish Democrats—a year before the election in question.

This was my first Canada Day weekend as a Canadian citizen, one in which I was all set to spend this moment feeling disconnected from the political situation in my home country of the United States. Yes, I’m still American as well—I’m one of those Jews with more than one passport, it’s true—but the stakes of whether it’s former president Donald Trump or the current one, Joe Biden, the next time around strike me as less pressing, with all the other local and global situations to ponder. There are rightward swings in smaller high-stakes elections that occurred in Toronto and New York last week, and now a national shift for France.

Why was I not more panicked about Trump specifically? American democracy did not disintegrate during his first administration, and my hunch is that a second Trump term would be a yet another go-around with a crummy Republican president, not the end of a great civilization. Yes, his up-to-no-good status is now more legally established than it had been, what with him being a convicted felon, but nothing revealed about his behaviour has been particularly surprising.

Also—not to be morbid, or at least, not just yet—Trumpism is a cult-of-personality sort of deal, and Donald can only possibly have so many years left in him. There’s not going to be a 300-year-long Trump dictatorship is what I’m saying.

Then a cousin texted me from the States, just as Thursday’s debate had gotten started, and seemed… concerned.


I started watching the two gentlemen face off and had the usual thought of, is this really the best that either side would come up with? But that’s a typical presidential-debate thought for me to have. What I saw on the screen was not typical.

There was, in the one corner as it were, Trump, refusing to answer moderator questions about specific policy issues like childcare costs and the climate, preferring to hold forth in his usual bombastic manner about how he is very good and his opponent is very bad. Trump is the best, the greatest. Biden is the worst. Who knows what he was talking about. The gimmick seemed to be that he’s simply too alpha to be bothered addressing specific points, like some sort of nerd. And this probably appeals to his fans, supporters, whatever one calls them.

And then there was Biden.

Biden stood there looking… I’m trying and failing to think of a diplomatic way of putting it. He looked like a man who might or might not survive to see the end of the debate. Whether there are many 81-year-olds who’d be up to the presidency, I cannot say, but this particular one did not appear to be.

And it isn’t just about age itself. Trump at 78 seems awful in his usual ways, but in no way on the cusp of keeling over mid-thought. Biden was another matter. He came across as the shell of a formerly fine politician, someone it might be necessary to sort of poke to see if he was still there. Some of this—a lot of it—was about affect, a hard-to-read expression that made him seem not quite right. But it was also the nimbleness of his answers, or rather the complete lack thereof.

When prompted to discuss childcare costs, it’s expected that Donald Trump will bluster on about whatever his pure-id self thinks is important. It’s anticipated that Trump will ignore high-stakes issues in favour of a discussion of his own golfing abilities. But if you’re Joe Biden, might you not think to rise above it and ignore whatever Trump is saying and just answer the official debate questions?

For reasons known only to himself and maybe whichever inner circle he’s “huddled” with, who are telling him he’s doing great, Biden opted not to answer the questions, either, but instead to address whatever Trump had just said, however off-topic. This meant the American public—and anyone, anywhere in the world, with an interest in what the U.S. is up to—left with little new information about what a second Biden administration would, you know, do.

It was when Biden started up on his own golfing abilities that I started to seriously wonder the point of the whole thing. How exactly is this man running for president? How is it that he is the president?


It turns out my impressions were widely shared. The New York Times, centre-left commentator Matthew Yglesias, all the individuals and entities projecting calm normalcy—the things Biden ostensibly represents—were saying, in unison, that Biden needs to step aside. That nomination needs to go to someone else, likely to VP Kamala Harris.

This led to its own discourse about how actually the Times should be speaking out against Trump, evil Trump, Trump the felon. Which struck me as a bit silly because much of this criticism of Biden is coming from people who want Trump defeated and don’t think Biden can do it, people who want this addressed before a nominee is selected. Before it’s too late.

Will Biden do as basically everyone normal thinks he must? I’m hopeless at predictions—I thought Hillary Clinton would win in 2016!—but I went from thinking this was a given to remembering that very powerful people have their strongest cheerleaders insulating them from criticism, including the constructive kind. Ignore the haters, they told Hillary, and look how well that went.

As for Team Biden, those on it, his family members especially, are so invested in Biden-Harris 2024 that it’s as if the nomination has already happened.

It’s tricky to say anything about Biden’s performance that would not sound ageist or ableist. Except certain -ism concerns are perhaps less applicable when you’re talking about someone running for a four-year stint as leader of the United States.

It’s not ageist or ableist to say that I, a 40-year-old woman whose athletic limit is a leisurely 40-minute jog in High Park, should not be competing in the Paris Olympics. I’m withdrawing my application to do so as I type, for the good of the free world.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on X. She is also on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.