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Biden and the left’s reality distortion field

The crisis prompted by the president’s cognitive decline was the inevitable result of a movement that refuses to face unpleasant facts.

U.S. President Joe Biden visits the No. 1 Boba Tea shop in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.
U.S. President Joe Biden visits the No. 1 Boba Tea shop in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

The revelation of President Joe Biden’s precipitous cognitive decline at last week’s debate has come has a shock to many, including myself. In retrospect, of course, we were all foolish to dismiss the plethora of evidence that the decline was underway. But beset by the machinations of a collaborationist news media and what was clearly a carefully managed cover-up by the White House, we can’t be entirely blamed for holding on to our illusions.

There was, moreover, a great deal of wishful thinking involved. Many of us were dissatisfied with Biden’s performance in office. But the idea that the man with the nuclear launch codes was swiftly approaching senility was too terrifying to contemplate. Now, of course, we know we should have been terrified all along.

Legions of pixels have been expended on prognostications, and I will not add to them. Certainly, there are fateful decisions that now must be taken by the Democratic Party and the country.

But there is a larger phenomenon at work that has been little remarked upon. It is what the astonishing dereliction of duty on the part of White House officials, the media and the entire Democratic Party says about the center-left in general.

The legendary founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, famously operated with what even his admirers referred to as a “reality distortion field.” Jobs would often become seized with wrongheaded, impractical and at times outright impossible ideas. Defying all available information, he would refuse to believe that his ideas could not be realized. He would dedicate hundreds of man-hours, millions of dollars and much of his personal reputation to pursuing those ideas. Sometimes, of course, they worked and led to spectacular success. At other times, however, the results were embarrassing and even disastrous.

What was most remarkable about Jobs’s reality distortion field was its effect on others. Quite often, those close to him who ought to have known better were swept up in his mad enthusiasms. They convinced themselves that Jobs’s ideas were viable and happily followed his instructions even when it became clear that they were foolhardy.

Something very like this afflicts the center-left in general and especially its progressive wing. From the Green New Deal to reviving socialism to defunding the police to the advisability of launching a campaign of genocidal antisemitism, the progressive left is often nothing more than a farrago of mad and sometimes politically suicidal ideas. Yet almost without fail, progressives hold on to them with religious fervor. The reality distortion field is raised, and the world becomes what the progressives want it to be.

I attended a hyper-progressive high school in a hyper-progressive suburb. I can well remember the headmaster’s graduation speech, in which he praised us all for our success in fostering diversity and overcoming barriers of race and prejudice.

There was thunderous applause, of course, but every last one of us knew this was barbarous nonsense. Racial tensions at our school were often unbearable. For the most part, white, black, Asian and other racial groups segregated themselves, both consciously and voluntarily. Violence and similar pathologies were by no means unheard of and, at certain points, common and expected. Undistorted reality, in other words, was very ugly indeed.

I do not believe that headmaster was consciously lying. I think he really did believe every word he said. He had convinced himself, perhaps with great effort, that every word was true. He was deep in the reality distortion field.

In other circumstances, such things might be almost comical. But these people wield real political power. This makes their distortions of reality not just absurd but dangerous to life and limb.

The results are clear in every area of policy: For example, progressives want to believe that illegal immigration has no deleterious effects, such as crime and strained social services—so they decide that there are none. In similar fashion, they convince themselves that demonizing the police and preventing them from doing their jobs will not result in a rise in crime—so they decide that it doesn’t. They want to believe that shutting down huge swaths of the energy sector in the name of the environment will create jobs for working-class families—so they decide that it will. As Jobs could have told them, the reality distortion field is a very powerful thing indeed.

In the end, however, the reality distortion field leads to catastrophe. Progressives want the world to be a certain way, so they act as if it already is. This forces them to reject the most simple admonition imaginable: If something isn’t working, stop doing it. Within the field, everything is working, so progressives keep doing whatever they’re doing. That everyone else suffers as a result does not even begin to occur to them.

The refusal to see Biden’s sad decline and face what it might mean for the United States is, in some ways, a relatively small example of the left’s reality distortion field. With self-deception on such a scale, convincing oneself of an elderly man’s mental competence is not such a difficult thing.

Beyond mere recriminations, however, the Biden deception ought to give all Americans pause. They should put partisan schadenfreude, anger or despair aside and accept a reality that cannot be distorted: If you refuse to face unpleasant facts, you will be crushed by them. For this, you will have no one to blame but yourself.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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