Has Joe Biden Chopped Down the Cherry Tree?

What do the first president and the latest US president have in common? They both have claimed to be committed to telling the truth. Some people, even in the Democratic Party, are hoping Biden will be committed to a retirement home rather than continue his course for re-election.

Washington DC in Spring – Cherry Blossoms an Washington Monument © Orhan Cam / shutterstock.com

July 03, 2024 04:32 EDT

When I was a child in elementary school, during one of our rare, random forays into history, we learned an amusing story about our first president. One day during his youth, George Washington ventured out into the family’s orchard, hatchet in hand, and chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree. Not many of us at Castle Heights Elementary School in Los Angeles, California had cherry trees. The idea that Washington’s father might not only have a cherry orchard but also a favorite tree seemed absurd to me. But the whole point of teaching history in early school years is to prepare children to accept a world in which what adults think and do is often absurd.

For us, young George did something none of us would have dared to do: engage in an act of unprovoked aggression against our father. In such cases, we would expect some grave punishment. Instead, when his father managed to assess the damage, he summoned his son and asked, “Who did this?” George famously replied: “I cannot tell a lie.”

I had to wait until adulthood to learn the story was apocryphal, invented by a certain Pastor Mason Locke Weems not long after Washington’s death. A century and a half later, our teacher made sure we all understand that great presidents don’t lie and neither should we. The other lesson only became clear to me much later: that fiction presented as history would be a permanent feature of our way of life.

I can only speculate that current US President Joe Biden may have had a similar experience at school and that he too learned the legend was invented, according to Snopes, because “Weems was motivated by profit, and knew readers would be curious about Washington’s private virtues, including his relationship with his father.” The story seems to have left a trace in Biden’s memory. Following the debacle of last week’s debate against former President Donald Trump, a confirmed liar, Biden humbly defended himself with the following argument:

“Folks, I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Tell the truth:

In the great American tradition as practiced by preachers and presidents, the act of explaining things in a way that sounds so inspiring the public is likely to believe they are factual, even if they are not.

Contextual note

What Biden really meant was that the number of lies he tells cannot compare to Trump’s, who has made outrageous lying part of his brand. By contrast, Biden has cultivated the science of telling lies that appear on the surface to be true, despite scores of documented cases of Biden flagrantly bending the truth. That includes appropriating a British politician’s biographical narrative in 1988. More recently, who can forget the 40 beheaded babies he claimed to have seen proof of following the Hamas revolt on October 7, 2023?

The Democratic Party is in a dither about retaining a faltering Biden as their presidential candidate. But it’s not just the party stressing. The Biden family itself appears divided, as The New York Times explains. “One of the strongest voices imploring Mr. Biden to resist pressure to drop out was his son Hunter Biden, whom the president has long leaned on for advice.”

Hunter Biden is the author of a book titled, Beautiful Things. It recounts, apparently truthfully and sincerely, the endless series of wrong decisions he tends to make. Why would someone as honest and truthful as Joe look to Hunter for advice? As CNN explained, Beautiful Things is full of “ugly truths.” An obsession with truth seems to run in the family. George Washington himself would be proud.

When Pontius Pilate responded to his prisoner’s claim to “bear witness unto the truth” (John 18:37), he asked Jesus the most basic epistemological question: “What is truth?” While Biden himself believes that he knows “how to tell the truth,” he hasn’t revealed with any clarity how he accesses it. George W Bush once claimed to get it directly from God the Father, like Jesus himself. The Biden administration appears obsessed with accusing anyone who publicly challenges official doctrine on foreign policy or Covid mandates of spreading “disinformation.” We must therefore assume that Biden has sources of truth not available to the rest of us. At least we now know that Hunter is one of them.

Historical note

By the time I was old enough to determine that Weems’s story of the cherry tree was creative fiction, I had already read most of the works of psychologist Sigmund Freud. Thinking back to my early intuition that the tale might have been too absurd to be true, it occurred to me that the tale may conceive a deeper lesson than simply to follow Washington’s example and avoid telling lies.

It occurred to me that Weems may have eerily anticipated the insights of the founder of psychoanalysis. Perhaps in the depths of his unconscious, and therefore unbeknownst to himself, the pastor was articulating an authentically “true” interpretation of the significance of the legend he himself created. After exploring that intuition, this is what I discovered.

The father’s “favorite cherry tree” is not just a tree but a stand-in for George’s father’s phallus. The future president, even at the age of six, unconsciously assaulted his father’s genitals, the source of his own creation. Chopping down the cherry tree correlates perfectly with the Freudian theory of the male child’s wish to castrate his father.

But Weems’s account doesn’t actually use the verb, “to chop.” According to Weems, young George “unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it.” For Weems, George effectively rendered the tree incapable of producing fruit, which is the whole point of castration.

But our symbolic reading becomes more complex. He “tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful” object suggests that the tree, which for one moment is the father’s phallus, is also the “body” that the father uses to bear fruit — in other words, his wife, George’s mother. What Weems describes is the boy’s attempt to commit Oedipal incest with his mother. The fact that it was specifically a cherry tree adds more credibility to this interpretation.

Weems reports that George was six years old at the time of the castration. Freud claims that age marks the culmination of the phallic stage of development, which lasts from the ages of three to six. The oral and anal stage precede the phallic stage, which is followed by latency, in which sexual feelings are repressed.

To my knowledge, Freud never tried to analyze this legend. I believe the good doctor, had he been aware of it, would find it as intriguing as the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which Freud analyzed similarly. And just as Hamlet is a story with both a political and psychoanalytical dimension, the cherry tree story fits perfectly with Washington’s future political vocation.

George’s symbolic aggression against his father’s phallus perfectly prefigures his successful military campaign against a father-figure, the English king, whose name also happens to be George: George III. The symbolism is complete.

Freud was right when he said “a cigar is sometimes a cigar,” which can also be taken to mean that a cherry tree is sometimes the father’s phallus. Washington’s historical vocation consisted of unseating and replacing the symbolic father, the king of England. And of course, all Americans remember Washington as “the father of his country.”

Joe Biden undoubtedly thinks of himself as something more than just the father of Hunter Biden, even if he puts all his trust in his son’s wisdom. Just as his son put all his trust in his father’s name (and title as vice president) to get his cushy job on the board of Burisma Holdings’s directors in Ukraine.

Some people will claim that everything above is disinformation. But I think not only Freud, but even Pontius Pilate might have accepted this as truth.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

[Lee Thompson-Kolar edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


Only Fair Observer members can comment. Please login to comment.

Leave a comment

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member