Last Saturday was a typically glorious autumn day in New York — refreshingly chilly under a bright, clear blue sky.
‘We’re going for a brisk walk through Central Park,’ I informed a dear friend and native New Yorker.
‘Take off your watches,’ she shot back, ‘tell Susan [my wife] not to wear any jewellery and don’t carry cash. There are muggers everywhere.’
Such warnings were commonplace when I first moved to New York in the late 1970s and the city was the crime capital of America. But over the years, under a series of strong mayors (above all Rudy Giuliani), New York became a pretty safe city by American standards. No longer.
The Big Apple is on the slide once more. The pandemic has scarred the city much more than London. Signs of decay and dereliction are everywhere, even in the affluent parts.
As we headed for the park through midtown Manhattan, row upon row of retail outlets were boarded up. The homeless lie in sleeping bags at street corners. Panhandlers (as Americans call beggars) are back, contributing to a general air of menace.
President Joe Biden has had nothing to say about his country’s growing crisis, hampered not just by the fact that he doesn’t seem to care but also because the worst crucibles of crime are all under Democratic control and the president is, of course, a Democrat
New York is not alone in its decline. Some other U.S. cities are in an even worse state.
Parts of Chicago are war zones. In one weekend alone, last month, at least 28 people were shot, six of them killed.
Meanwhile, the greater San Francisco area has become the shoplifting capital of America. Gangs ransack and loot luxury retail stores with impunity, stripping their shelves of merchandise.
And the police are all too often nowhere to be seen. Or they turn up after the robbers have fled. In the current anti-police climate created by Left-wing politicians and activists, they are reluctant to act swiftly or boldly.
Urban America isn’t just fraying at the edges. It is rotting at its core. And the man Americans expect to lead them in times of crisis is missing in action.
President Joe Biden has had nothing to say about his country’s growing crisis, hampered not just by the fact that he doesn’t seem to care but also because the worst crucibles of crime are all under Democratic control and the president is, of course, a Democrat.
So it is no wonder that over 70 per cent of Americans think their country is heading in the wrong direction and Biden’s approval ratings are tanking. The latest USA Today poll gives him an abysmal 38 per cent approval rating. About 50 per cent don’t think his health is good enough for him to perform his duties effectively.
Only last week he had a benign-appearing polyp removed from his colon under general anaesthetic, a procedure that necessitated a transfer of power to Vice President Kamala Harris, making her, for precisely 85 minutes, the first female acting president in U.S. history.
Only last week he had a benign-appearing polyp removed from his colon under general anaesthetic, a procedure that necessitated a transfer of power to Vice President Kamala Harris, making her, for precisely 85 minutes, the first female acting president in U.S. history
The President’s spin doctors insist he’s in fine fettle and say that not only is he up to the job but that he plans to run for re-election in 2024, when he will be 82 (he’s already the oldest president ever).
Of course, the White House has to say he will run again. Even the slightest indication to the contrary would immediately turn him into a lame-duck president and power would drain inexorably from him. But signs of senility abound and there is every reason to think they will be much worse by 2024.
It is far from certain that Biden will be in any shape to run again. The American people have already made up their minds: over 60 per cent don’t think he should. It’s easy to see why.
We can dismiss as social media tittle-tattle — in the absence of any evidence to the contrary — stories of him having what has been euphemistically called a ‘bathroom incident’ when he recently had an audience with the Pope. Likewise, unsubstantiated scuttlebutt that he wears nappies.
We can also forgive him for grabbing 40 winks during the Glasgow climate change jamboree earlier this month. Who wouldn’t nod off during the interminable and repetitive virtue-signalling of world leaders? But other gaffes are harder to shrug off.
In recent weeks he has mixed up Syria and Libya while trying to warn Russia against further meddling in the Middle East, referred twice to an American defence treaty with Taiwan which doesn’t exist, and signed a watershed military agreement with the prime minister of Australia whose name he couldn’t recall (Biden was reduced to calling him ‘the fella Down Under’).
We can dismiss as social media tittle-tattle — in the absence of any evidence to the contrary — stories of him having what has been euphemistically called a ‘bathroom incident’ when he recently had an audience with the Pope (pictured)
He also told a U.S. military base in the UK that he ‘keeps forgetting I’m President’ and struck a bizarre ‘jet-pack’ pose — raising two clenched fists and standing still for 15 seconds — on cable news when asked about inflation.
Reports that while trying to curb global emissions in Glasgow he emitted a major emission of his own by breaking wind while chatting to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are hardly of any great political significance — except that they add to the growing perception of him as a figure of fun among U.S. voters and undermine any pretensions he might have to leadership.
Any suggestions that senility is setting in infuriates Left-wing politicians and commentators in America. They dismiss it as a Right-wing smear. But if it were only that, Team Biden would not put so much effort into shielding their man from public scrutiny.
They limit his public appearances to a few scripted speeches, on the basis that they are reasonably confident he can read the autocue, though this week he managed to include a prompt — ‘end of quote’ — in a speech.
But the moment he’s done speaking he’s whisked away before anybody can ask him a question; and when he can’t avoid questions he is rambling, incoherent and often grumpy.
Hardly surprising for a man pushing 80 who’s had two brain aneurysms and sometimes gives the impression that he’s not sure where he is — or why.
In the circumstances, perhaps we should welcome Biden’s announcement in September that America was hanging up its boots as the world’s policeman in the wake of its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He also told a U.S. military base in the UK that he ‘keeps forgetting I’m President’ and struck a bizarre ‘jet-pack’ pose — raising two clenched fists and standing still for 15 seconds — on cable news when asked about inflation
The U.S. was done with ‘remaking’ nations, he said, a change of course that will have been welcomed by Beijing and Moscow but spells bad news for the people of Taiwan and Ukraine, who live in fear of invasion by their superpower neighbours.
Key Democrats I spoke to in America last week are aghast at the idea that Biden might be serious when he says he will run again. The problem is that their Plan B has already crashed and burned.
Party managers have always seen Biden as a one-term president. The plan was to seamlessly hand over the Democratic nomination in 2024 to Kamala Harris who, as a woman of Jamaican and Indian heritage, ticked several key boxes for today’s Democratic party.
That plan is now in tatters because Harris has turned out to be even more incompetent and unpopular than the president.
Biden’s approval ratings may be a terrible 38 per cent but hers are in the dirt at 28 per cent. And there are no signs they will recover. She responds to even serious questions with a bizarre cackle.
She has been given responsibility for dealing with the illegal migration problem on the border with Mexico and, so far, has made not one jot of difference.
The scale of the problem is almost incomprehensible. In the 12 months to the end of September, more than 1.7 million migrants were apprehended trying to smuggle their way into America across the Mexican border, three times the 2012-20 average.
In October, a further 160,000 were taken into custody by border police. Given the numbers, it is increasingly easy for the drug cartels to ship vast quantities of opioids, heroin and fake pills across an overwhelmed border.
The Biden administration has abandoned Donald Trump’s wall. But it has nothing to replace it. Migrants surged north because they believed Biden would be more welcoming.
The Biden administration has abandoned Donald Trump’s wall. But it has nothing to replace it. Migrants surged north because they believed Biden would be more welcoming
Now the U.S. government is reduced to pleading with them not to come and Team Harris is currently complaining that she’s been sent on a fool’s errand, given an impossible task designed to discredit her.
There is now a full-scale briefing war at the very top of the U.S. government. This being 21st century America, race inevitably enters the calculations.
Harris’s supporters contrast the way she thinks she’s been abandoned with the way the president puts his arm around transport secretary Pete Buttigieg, who’s getting billions to spend as part of the Biden infrastructure programme while Harris struggles to hold back the tide on the border.
Team Harris underlines the fact that Buttigieg is a white man, Harris a woman of colour. Biden’s folk say that’s stuff and nonsense — she’s just not up to the job.
The Democrats are now suffering in elections because of a growing sense that they’ve lost control of both the border and the towns and cities — and that lawlessness is increasingly the order of the day.
There is no question in my mind that the Republicans will win back control of the House of Representatives in next November’s mid-term elections.
I’m pretty sure they will take back the Senate too. That will mark the end of Biden’s legislative programme, which is struggling in Congress as it is.
Virginia, which voted solidly for Biden last year, elected a Republican governor this month. New Jersey, which is even more reliably Democrat, almost went the same way.
Harris’s supporters contrast the way she thinks she’s been abandoned with the way the president puts his arm around transport secretary Pete Buttigieg, who’s getting billions to spend as part of the Biden infrastructure programme while Harris struggles to hold back the tide on the border
But, as always with America, it is what’s happening away from the big cities that is most telling. Take Columbia, South Carolina, which Biden carried by 40 points last year. This month it elected a Republican mayor.
The pro-Democratic media — which in America means most of the media — is in a state of near panic. As I saw for myself firsthand last week, newspapers and news channels are awash with commentators bloviating on what Biden and the Democrats need to do to stave off the Republican resurgence.
‘What Democrats need to do to maintain power in 2022’ was a typical headline in the slavishly Democratic Washington Post. Of course, when you read the article it turned out that the writer hadn’t a clue. None of the Democratic commentators has.
Then there is their worst nightmare: Donald J Trump. The man who lost the White House to Biden teases them about running again. He might even be serious.
He has already accumulated a war chest of $100 million and will add millions more to it with a lavish fundraiser this coming Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago club on Palm Beach.
His supporters are already conducting polls in the five states he lost to Biden last year — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and finding that he is leading in them all. In some, such as Wisconsin, by double digits.
The Republicans currently hold an eight-point lead over the Democrats nationally, polling 46 per cent to their opponents’ 38 per cent.
I spoke to one of Trump’s closest confidants in Florida this week. ‘Trump hasn’t yet made up his mind to run again,’ he told me.
‘He’s in no rush. He will wait to see the outcome of next year’s mid-term elections. Then see what the polls are saying after that. He doesn’t need to decide much before the end of 2023.’
Then there is their worst nightmare: Donald J Trump. The man who lost the White House to Biden teases them about running again. He might even be serious
Other Republicans close to Trump confirmed this. What is clear to me, however, is that should he choose to run again the Republican nomination would be a coronation.
I doubt any major Republican figure would dare to challenge The Donald, such is his grip on the party’s base, even though many possible contenders wish he would just go away.
Meanwhile, as uncertainty reigns over Biden’s future and Harris is increasingly regarded as a busted flush, I very much doubt either of them would be given a clear run for the Democratic nomination.
Seven names were mentioned to me this week as likely contenders — and the presidential election is still three years way.
There is every prospect that the Democratic primaries will be a bloodbath. At stake is not just a second term for Biden or his successor.
At stake is something far more existential. This was meant to be the Democratic decade. Now they’re wondering aloud if, post-2024, more years in the wilderness beckon.
If they do, Biden will deserve as much blame as anyone.