Attacks on Joe Biden’s “mental acuity” are increasing and coming from several places, some surprising at the least. The nature of these claims – although unfounded – tells us more about who we are than who Joe Biden is.
Critics of Biden have grown to use any misstep in speech, any stutter, any hesitation that falls below the threshold of an experienced orator, as significant proof that he is suffering from mental illness, or at the very least, is incapable of debating Donald Trump. Some of the criticism is so mean spirited that I hesitate to repeat it (unfounded claims get enough repetition as it is).
The stuttering disorder) affects approximately 70 million people. Three million of those live in the United States. There is a genetic aspect to stuttering – the majority of sufferers have a family member who stutters or used to stutter. In Biden’s case it came from his uncle who stuttered his whole life.
The stutterer has problems with ordinary speech presented as repetition or a blockage in producing a sound. Speaking aloud summons dread, and when it occurs, it is usually followed by sighs or laughter from the audience. There is an unfortunate but common misconception that the stutterer is dumb.
The biggest challenge for a stutterer is to keep it at bay. This requires a lot of energy – both physical and mental. If it becomes too difficult to utter a specific sound, they might switch to an alternative word, and when that happens, the sentence can come out twisted or mangled. Then it’s not uncommon for the stutter to be mistaken as a memory lapse. At other times, it may seem like he loses his train of thought or makes outright mistakes. Although the average person thinks that this is unrelated to the stutter, they themselves are making a mistake, because there is a direct relationship.
Biden is a politician and he is aware that politicians are subject to a lot of criticism. His verbal misfires only add to the problem. People, especially opponents, see it as their duty to take him down. Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with the criticism, especially in debates, because he is supposed to represent someone who can respond to questions with perfect acuity and agility.
Biden has shown empathy for others that stutter and he knows that their verbal mistakes are the root of many problems, especially when they’re mistakenly perceived of as problems with cognition and memory. He uses what tools he can to work with this problem by talking in phrases, marking up copy, and even having special characters injected into his teleprompter script.
Critics and opponents, like Donald Trump Jr., are quick to falsely position Biden as mentally ill. On Instagram, for example he once posted Biden’s picture with the words, “I put the DEM in DEMENTIA.”
The president himself once posted a series of Biden’s gaffes and tweeted, “WOW! Sleepy Joe doesn’t know where he is, or what he’s doing. Honestly, I don’t think he even knows what office he’s running for!” This type of criticism isn’t new – it’s precisely what Trump did in 2016 when running against Hillary Clinton. He kept saying that she wasn’t up to the job, and ironically stated, “She is a totally unhinged person.”
GOP Senators have accused him of declining and losing energy. Fox News often paints a picture of a mentally-challenged Biden. They also use contemporary tools such as “manipulated media” (cleverly editing media so that it’s taken out of context) and even worse, “DeepFake video” which allows the complete altering and misrepresenting of what a person has said (and how they say it).
Sadly, there are even people in Bernie Sanders’ camp that misunderstand what stuttering is really about and how it can broadcast a false impression of Biden having mental issues. They also may not be aware of manipulated media and DeepFake video and are posting “proof” that Biden is unfit not only for the job, but for debating Donald Trump in the election.
It has come to this and it’s ugly. In today’s political climate, criticisms are mean spirited. At best they are misguided and deceitful, and at worst they are out-and-out lies. If we all look at this as acceptable, as the new order of things, as “par for the course,” then we are endorsing it and willing and able to adopt it ourselves. We must ask ourselves if this is who we are. It doesn’t work well in politics, but also is distasteful in our everyday lives.