There’s a feeling that every night billions of Chinese must whisper: “May the Americans live in interesting times.”
As the Russians prepare to make nice with the North Koreans and the Chinese make moves everywhere our influence is waning (a lot of places), we are left with one inescapable fact:
Currently, the two leading candidates to preside over our government at this crucial time are septuagenarian white men who can’t stand each other and have wildly differing views of the world.
Donald Trump clearly will be the GOP standard bearer (although neither standard nor standards are words that should apply in a conversation about him). And with Joe Biden’s entry in the 2020 race, he is the leading Democratic contender, although that may well change in a spectacularly large field.
Not even the $1 million-plus “Jeopardy!” winner could correctly name all the Democratic challengers on any given day.
So, let’s compare and contrast the two men.
Trump is the “outsider” candidate of the rich – the 1 percent, who love his expensive tax cuts that the next 17 generations will have to pay for and have bizarrely embraced his bizarre ideas of spending federal dollars however he feels like it.
Oddly, Trump is also the candidate of Americans angry they have been forgotten, who think Trump is personally despicable but doing great things for America, even though they don’t own stocks.
Biden is the low-key former vice president who has been in Washington since 1973 when he became a 30-year-old senator from Delaware. He is the self-proclaimed candidate of the workers, a man who is at home in any union hall.
Biden is the candidate who was twice rejected by Democratic primary voters but whom Democrats now wish had run in 2016. He was immobilized by grief for his son, who died of cancer.
Now many Democrats are worried Biden’s time may have passed even though the third time is supposed to be a charm. (Politics, thankfully for politicians, is replete with cliches.)
Both men have so much baggage they need freight trains to carry it all.
Some historians already regard Trump, a remarkably self-absorbed individual (even among politicians), as the worst president of modern times, olden times and even ancient times.
Some historians regard Biden as a man with a tin ear who has a lot of apologies to make. Many women still shake their heads in disapproval of the demeaning way he treated Anita Hill when he was chairman of the committee in charge of putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.
Many Democrats think he is just not progressive enough, if he’s even progressive at all.
Trump has faced allegations by nearly two dozen women that he sexually harassed them and paid off a Playboy bunny and a porn star so voters wouldn’t find out they said he had sex with them. He once boasted that he liked to grab women and kiss them because he could.
Biden likes to hug women, and everyone else he meets, and now worries he has to be less touchy-feely in public.
But the true importance of the differences between Trump and Biden are profound.
Trump is riding a global wave of right-wing nationalism, of discrimination and even hatred of immigrants, of fear of the future, a mentality that rejects the unknown and embraces the past as a glorious epoch to be lived again.
Biden’s world view is traditional; he believes fully in diplomacy and kindness and live-and-let-live but he sees the Russians, the North Koreans and the Chinese as adversaries who must be dealt with warily.
Trump has relished his two fruitless summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; Biden would never have met with him at all. Trump sees Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a kindred spirit; Biden seems him as a foe.
It is more than plausible that neither man will be elected in 2020, which is a long, long time away, in political terms.
But it is true that we live in interesting, even highly frustrating times. The next year and a half will tell us a lot about how we Americans are changing and who we have become.
Are we more like Trump or more like Biden? Or neither?
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Reach her by email at email@example.com.