I’m awfully glad there won’t be any more debates this year. If nothing else, they’re exhausting to watch. Four takeaways from the one tonight:
DT showed self-control. Although he may be an emotionally immature narcissist with sociopathic tendencies, the president demonstrated tonight that some degree of self-control isn’t completely beyond him. He was belligerent and rude and several times insisted on talking over the moderator, but he knew that with his microphone muted he’d look supremely foolish for trying to interrupt Joe Biden during the former vice president’s initial answers. So he didn’t. In a way, this makes him look even worse because if he is capable of controlling himself, it means he chose not to do so at the earlier debate. In other words, he was intentionally making an asshat of himself before.
DT has no shame. Okay, so everybody knew that already, but calling himself the “least racist person in the room” reinforced the fact that he doesn’t hesitate to make any claim about his own character or abilities, no matter how demonstrably false or patently offensive, if he thinks it will suit his purposes. He looks in the mirror and sees perfection. Yet behind that…façade, shall we say, is a deeply ignorant, narrow-minded man of extraordinary privilege who wouldn’t know racism if it stared him in the face. Which it does—when he looks in the mirror and when he meets with the various white supremacists with whom he associates.
DT is really, really dense. Comparing one’s record to that of Abraham Lincoln is a risky thing for any president to do. Though not beyond criticism by a long shot, our 16th president was probably the best one we’ve had, to date. By all accounts, he was bright, compassionate, and humble—three adjectives one would be hard-pressed to apply to our 45th president unless one were making some kind of sick joke. It was interesting what happened when Joe Biden jokingly referred to his opponent as Lincoln. Anyone else with a modicum of mental sharpness would have laughed or at least smiled, maybe cracked a joke in return. Instead, DT expressed surprise, indicating he thought Joe had misunderstood him, and took pains to explain that he hadn’t called himself Lincoln. It was a missed opportunity for DT to come across as a little more human, and he blew it.
Joe has the power. Speaking of bright, compassionate, and humble, Joe Biden gives every appearance of sharing those attributes of Lincoln’s. Like Lincoln, he will (God willing) to take over the reins during an especially dark and trying time in American history. (We’ll hope there won’t be any sort of civil war again.) Having watched his performance now in a whole lot of debates, including those during the primaries, I am confident that he has what it takes to return the nation to a normal state. I also believe he is willing to take bold action on the interrelated issues of pandemic, climate crisis, and jobs. In doing so, he could well end up being the most transformative president since FDR. Transformation for the better, I mean.
What was supposed to be the second of three presidential debates morphed into two concurrent town hall-type broadcasts on competing networks because a certain Republican candidate was too chickenshit to appear in a virtual setting. His non-debate provided more evidence (as if any more was needed!) of his unique blend of malevolence and vacuity. Joe Biden’s non-debate went well. What it lacked in excitement, it more than made up for in substance. Joe demonstrated the considerable breadth and depth of his knowledge on an array of policy matters, he handled all of the questions competently and respectfully, and without even trying he reminded us what a breath of fresh air a return to normality would be. Three takeaways:
DT is either ambivalent about winning the election or he’s even dumber than I thought. His core supporters are very much still with him; he didn’t need to give any further ammo to their conspiracy theories. Yet he feigned ignorance of QAnon and, when it was explained to him, declined to denounce it. This was an apparent attempt to alienate the remaining non-whack conservatives still on the fence because, deep down, he doesn’t want four more years…or it was just plain stupid. It’s not as if the QAnon creepers would abandon him for denouncing their theory. (It’s a coded sign, don’t you know? By pretending to denounce us, he was really giving us clues about a certain congresswoman’s favorite pizza topping. And you know what that means!)
DT and his Republican enablers are a bunch of crybabies. Did a big bad journalist ask tough questions? Did yet another “nasty woman” fail to genuflect before His Royal Heinousness? Poor, poor president! (Honestly, these people have the nerve to call progressives snowflakes?)
Joe Biden is everything that DT is not. He has dignity, class, manners, poise, knowledge, intelligence, empathy…and he’s not a crybaby.
I like Joe Biden and believe it is essential that he be elected. I also think he could have performed better in this debate, but perhaps he didn’t need to.
The incumbent lost the debate—not because Biden performed well but because anyone would have seemed wonderful in contrast to a raving lunatic. To those who have been living under a rock for the past four years, the true character of the president was revealed. He is an unhinged, deranged bully with no manners and no class.
Biden missed multiple opportunities. He failed to articulate a coherent, easily understood plan for restoring sanity to the country. He failed to deliver one single memorable soundbite that was policy-related. He failed to say anything especially inspirational. With the exception of the pandemic and health care, he failed to call attention to any particular vulnerability of his opponent—and there are a great many. Instead of doing these things, he became mired in detail. How many voters care that violent crime decreased 15% under Obama?
Biden is a man of supreme self-control. He twice called his opponent a clown. (This was apt in the narrow sense of horror-movie clown, such as Pennywise, and not the usual sense of someone being inappropriately funny and maybe just a little irritating.) And at one point, his exasperation showing, he told the “clown” to “shut up, man.” Other than that, plus perhaps a slight loss of focus, he seemed impervious to the constant barrage of interruptions, false accusations, insults, and inanities emanating from the other candidate. I tend to agree with Sam Donaldson, who advised him to show a little anger, but perhaps extreme unflappability plays better with the voters. Especially when one’s opponent is practically foaming at the mouth.
Chris Wallace wasn’t up to the task. It wasn’t the first debate I’ve seen that featured multiple interruptions. It was the first in which one candidate interrupted almost continuously from start to finish, showing complete disrespect for the moderator, the other candidate, and the process. When it became clear that asking nicely wasn’t working, Wallace should have laid down the law: do that again, and I’ll turn off your mic. And then done it. One wonders what the reaction would be if Biden had calmly said to Wallace something like this: “My opponent clearly has no respect for you or the audience, no regard for the gravity of the occasion, no idea of how to comport himself in line with the dignity of his office. I’m not going to waste my time standing here while he insults our intelligence with these interruptions.” And then, equally calmly, flashed that blinding smile, given a thumbs-up to the cameras, and walked offstage.
The crises continue. The emergency has begun. The situation in this country vis-à-vis lots of things (e.g., climate, civil rights, corruption, economic inequality) was dire before the pandemic struck, and it’s been getting steadily worse for the past six months. Now the president has doubled down on his support for violent right-wing extremists, refusing to condemn white supremacist groups, inciting direct action to intimidate voters, and openly encouraging criminal thuggery. In all probability, the next six weeks or so are are going to be scary in ways that the U.S. hasn’t experienced since the 1960s. Let’s just hope it’s not like the 1860s.