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There is a splendid, although now largely debunked, myth that Grigory Potemkin, a former lover and official in the service of Russian Empress Catherine the Great, constructed a series of lovely fake villages (by erecting only facades) along the Dnieper River that could be moved as the monarch progressed, to impress her with this actually insubstantial evidence of her imperial glory.

Whatever the truth of this Russian ministerial chicanery, it appears that we are in the throes of what could be described as a “Potemkin presidency.” Joe Biden makes some ceremonial appearances but avoids almost all substantive encounters with the press, and when he does speak in public, he has a halting delivery, appears to struggle with inaccurate memory, and betrays confusion.

If Biden is as ineffective as he appears, and if others are running the show, then we are experiencing a fundamental betrayal of “our democracy.”

We are told by those who purportedly work with Biden that in private he is quite different and that he is, supposedly, much sharper than his aides. The notion that the private Biden is everything one could want in a president was exploded in an influential Wall Street Journal exposé, headlined “Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping,” based on interviews with 45 Republicans and Democrats occurring over several months.

Biden is now the oldest incumbent president and will presumably be nominated by his party to serve another four-year term. There are certainly grounds to question his fitness for office. But curiously, most of the mainstream media seems content not to question his abilities and to accept at face value the claims of actor Michael Douglas and MSNBC host “Morning Joe” Scarborough, both of whom describe Biden as “sharp as a tack.”

There have been other times in our history when the spirit of Potemkin reigned. Edith Wilson appears to have been the power behind the last months of her husband Woodrow’s presidency. The same was said of Eleanor Roosevelt and some of FDR’s other advisers at the end of his time in office.

The present motto of the Washington Post is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” At the moment, the American people are in the dark about who is actually running the executive branch of our government. It could be Jill Biden, or Barack Obama, or Susan Rice, or some other holdover from an earlier administration, or some set of lower-level functionaries in this one. If we had a press with the same zeal that investigated Richard Nixon and drove him from office 50 years ago, we might know how capable Biden is and who, if he is not, is actually in charge.

If Biden is as ineffective as he appears, and if others are running the show, then we are experiencing a fundamental betrayal of “our democracy” and quite possibly something much worse. The Constitution provides mechanisms to remove an incompetent president, but these depend on the vice president and the Cabinet acting to accomplish this, and for whatever reason, those officials show no inclination to act.

Perhaps we can wait five months until voters have a chance to weigh in on Biden’s fitness for office, although we are, sadly, deprived of the information with which to evaluate him fully. Still, when one special counsel has concluded that Biden is too old and infirm of memory to be tried for misconduct involving classified documents, when the speaker of the House can state that “It’s quite obvious to everyone that he [Biden] is not on his A game. I’ll say that charitably. He intimated to me that he didn’t quite understand what he had signed,” and when the acerbic but usually accurate columnist Kurt Schlichter can declare, “We watched him at Normandy staggering about, looking like Mr. Magoo without the edge,” we are in dire straits.

Enterprising reporters should be asking cui bono? Who is benefitting from this Potemkin presidency, and what relevance does this have for November? Is Biden being propped up, like Potemkin’s insubstantial walls, to conceal domestic corruption or foreign intrigue? The myth of the fabricating Russian official was a tale of a dishonest courtier who sought to please his former lover and sovereign, but what is happening with this nation is much more venal and much more dangerous.