The Slatest

Joe Biden Wiped Out Big Time on the Air Force One Stairs

A series of four photos, taken from the side, showing Biden stumbling on a set of airplane stairs.
Biden stumbles while boarding Air Force One in Maryland on Friday. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images and Carlos Barria/Reuters.

President Joe Biden tripped three times while walking up the stairs of Air Force One on Friday.

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This is, frankly, a paralyzing event from the perspective of a news blogger or pundit. There’s a lot to consider.

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• Gerald Ford fell down the steps of Air Force One while president and was lampooned for it on Saturday Night Live by Chevy Chase, leading to the general impression, also conveyed for years by the mainstream press, that he was a bumbling klutz. There is, however, a retroactive sense that this was probably unfair to Ford, who was actually a national champion college football player in the 1930s and, compared with certain more recent presidents, was basically the definition of a dignified statesman.

• Although Ford’s pratfall dominates the cultural memory, he is not alone in having had trouble in similar situations. An Obama stumble in 2015 led Slate’s Josh Voorhees to survey the historical record of presidents and other public figures struggling with photo-op stair-using, and against gravity in general.* It’s a slippery world out there, and physics does not respect rank or position!

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• Donald Trump took some grief for being extremely timid while going up and down stairs and ramps in public, which may have been deserved given the ridiculous claims about his purportedly intimidating virility and manhood that were made by many of his supporters, and given how willing he was to mock other people for things related to their bodies that they had no control over. But it also probably involved some mean-spirited schadenfreude about a widely disliked figure experiencing the reality of age-related physical decline. On the other hand, Mike Pence tripped while boarding Air Force Two and no one made a big deal of it.

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• Right-wing media is already all over Biden’s fall; the best reaction yet was probably given by Greg Kelly, an anchor for the pro-MAGA conspiracy channel Newsmax, who posted a picture of the president’s stumble on Twitter and wrote with grave concern that “Resignation should be considered.” After years of enabling the right wing by giving oxygen to contrived, bad-faith claims like “Obama was born in Kenya” and “Hillary has Parkinson’s” even in the course of debunking them, the more mainstream press has become justifiably cautious about giving out free ammunition. And yet:

• The president fell down a bunch. That is, at the least, something that the public probably would like to know about, even if only to be able to discuss the video of his experience, which, assuming his sprightly finishing move at the top of the stairs means he was not seriously injured, admittedly has a certain comic timing to it.

Anyway, the video is above. React to it however you want. It’s Miller time!

Correction, March 19, 2021, at 3:47 p.m.: Due to an editing error, this post originally misspelled Josh Voorhees’ last name.

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