A Delusional Presidency Requires a Biden Reality Check

As a lifelong psychologist, I have seen many delusional patients, but I never thought I would see an American President unable to confront reality. Yet this is the through line that explains President Trump and his administration. From refusing to acknowledge he might legitimately lose the election to magical thinking on COVID-19, Trump repeatedly seeks to create his own reality where the rules don’t apply to him and he is unchallenged.

After the FBI unraveled a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Trump embraced audience calls to “lock her up” at an October 17 Michigan rally, an event that itself disregarded the reality of COVID-19 spreading through crowds. Trump was merely reprising his prior demands to “lock up” Hillary Clinton and, perhaps even more revealingly, his repeated statements that neither she nor former Vice President Biden should be allowed to run.

Trump’s constant interruptions in the first debate, though thankfully not reprised in the most recent faceoff, similarly evinced his belief that the rules of reality do not apply to him and, most of all, his privileged aversion to being challenged. Although Trump’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels buried that truth before the 2016 election, Trump’s fantasy of silencing his opponents remains elusive.

Fortunately, if polls are right, most Americans want a president connected with reality and constrained by the rule of law. While Biden does not share Trump’s narcissism and aversion to reality, his administration must address several difficult realities confronting the nation.

First, Biden must face America’s polarized divisions that are exacerbated by misinformation. Many Americans mistakenly believe their hunting rifle or church is threatened by his administration. Biden can help bridge the gap by appointing Republicans and, along with his team, appearing in conservative media.

Another reality the new administration must confront is the $27 trillion national debt ignored by both campaigns. Even before the pandemic, the debt had grown under this administration. Though additional pandemic-related aid is long overdue, our future cannot be divorced from the burden of $82,000 in debt attributable to every adult.

Of course, there are progressive demands for social spending that would outstrip the additional revenue created by Biden’s proposed, and much needed, tax increases on the wealthy. Biden must acknowledge trade-offs. Runaway debt will eventually result in one or more of the following scenarios: interest on the debt crowding out other spending, tax increases on the middle class, or inflation and erosion of the dollar as the sole reserve currency.

Finally, perhaps the most crushing reality that Biden must face is the myth of American exceptionalism. Not only is the U.S. COVID-19 death rate among the worst, the U.S. has long been trailing many European nations in life expectancy and quality of life.

The pandemic has exposed pernicious health disparities along racial and economic lines while also widening the gulf between the rich and poor. Likewise, this year’s racial reckoning reveals a nation with exponentially more police shootings than other developed countries. Rather than being a human rights leader, the U.S. has been embarrassed by the willful separation of children from their parents.

The only wall this administration has completed is between the White House and reality. The sad truth is that, assuming Biden prevails, he will inherit a nation in decline. Dumping the delusions of Trumpism is just the start. The future cannot be cheated; it must be confronted. Only by squarely facing the harsh realities of division, debt, and decline can a Biden administration lead America to its rightful place not on an imaginary perch, but among those nations that embrace democracy, solidarity, and human dignity.

Ellen Levin, PhD is a retired psychologist in Houston, Texas. She served as the clinical director of The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research Challenge Program

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Ellen Levin

Ellen Levin, PhD is a retired psychologist in Houston, Texas.