In the immediate reverberation of last night’s – what do we call it? Debacle? Horror show? Demolition derby? – most of the pundits were unloading on Chris Wallace, the last genuine Fox News journalist, who drew the short straw and did his level best to act as moderator of the “debate”. He didn’t control the room! He didn’t restrain Trump! He was weak! And so on. Nobody had much to say about what the poor man was supposed to have done, exactly, with a raving lunatic on stage ignoring not just the theoretical debate rules, but the once prevailing strictures of basic decency, presidential decorum, and plain common sense. Wallace didn’t have a kill switch for Donald’s microphone, after all, and even if he had, Trump probably would have hollered at the top of his lungs with sufficient volume to create almost as much disruption. Maybe the moderator should have been issued a garden hose – Daily Show host Trevor Noah wryly suggested that if somebody had threatened to muss up Donald’s Taj Mahal of a hairdo with a good burst of water, that might have terrified him into submission – or maybe there should have been muscular bouncers in black T-shirts ready to intervene and restrain the unruly, just like there used to be on the Jerry Springer Show. Short of that, Donald was going to do what he wanted to do, and what he wanted was to stage a 90 minute flop-sweating, frothing-at-the-mouth tantrum throughout which he would never once shut his filthy lying pie-hole.
Biden, to his credit, didn’t wither and didn’t look shell-shocked. Taken aback, maybe, but not stunned into submission. He couldn’t get a word in edgewise, of course, and often lost the thread of what he was trying to express under the unrelenting bombardment of Trumpian sound missiles, finally growing at turns incredulously amused and visibly exasperated, but so what? Was that supposed to have been some sort of failing?
There were those prepared to say so. Depressingly, way too much ridiculous “both-sideism” was going on among the pundits offering their hot takes in the post-game recaps, as if anything that was horrifying about the affair was in any way Biden’s fault. Some were even obtuse enough to criticize Joe for doing what many of us have longed inexpressibly for someone to finally do, telling Trump to shut up, for the love of all that’s holy (I was only sorry he didn’t yell “would you please just shut the fuck up?”). Yeah, sure, that moment of exasperation really lowered the tone. Indeed, being reasonable and even-handed and all, fair to say that watching the orangutan throwing big clumps of his poo all over the stage was going just fine until Biden sent things off the rails. Or at least, there was arguably equal blame. Fairness and balance etc.
ARRGH. It’s so very disheartening that anybody in the media still strikes that sort of tone, but I’m sure most of what had to have been a steadily declining population of viewers didn’t see it that way. I’m sure the overwhelming majority shared Biden’s frustration and admired his generally calm demeanour as he tried gamely and repeatedly to make his points. I wonder, though, whether Joe might have done even better to just lean on his podium and let Donald rant and rave, maybe departing the stage for a while to come back with a sandwich, or pouring himself a drink from a flask of scotch, while between sips encouraging his opponent to please, go on. If nobody’s going to show some sense by calling a halt to the entire fiasco, why impede Donald’s effort to portray himself as the spiteful, ignorant bully he surely is?
So what’s the good news? Trump screwed himself. Royally. In any rational world, Donald’s crazed, brutish performance wouldn’t just have been the death knell of his re-election bid, it would have provided the grounds for this morning’s Cabinet invocation of the 25th Amendment. That’s in any rational world, and that ain’t here, but still, even with things as they are, Donald couldn’t have done anything to advance what looks increasingly to be his desperate losing cause. Even some of the hard core MAGA monsters must have been dismayed, and if there were any of those damnable undecideds still on the fence after watching even a bit of last night’s 95 minute stage production of the works of Hieronymus Bosch, well, there’s always a few, aren’t there? Probably very few by now, though.
The bad news? Trump, chillingly, continued to telegraph his determination to lie, cheat and steal his way back into the White House by any means possible. He slapped aside the notion that he ought to commit to a peaceful transition of power once the election results are independently certified, and refused, even, to disavow the violence of white supremacist groups. In what will surely go down as one of those historic Debate Moments, eclipsing prior zingers like “there you go again” and “you’re no Jack Kennedy”, Donald sent this message to the Proud Boys, the white crypto-Nazi group of armed militants famous for street violence, and, lately, for showing up to make trouble at Black Lives Matter protests: “stand back, and stand by”. That’s what everybody was talking about this morning. Stand by. That was the Defining Moment. Asked to condemn racist violence, he instead ordered his loyal thugs to stand at the ready. Apparently, the time was drawing near when their services would be needed. Almost immediately a new patch bearing the “stand back, stand by” slogan was being shared on social media by Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs, and by this morning you could buy the branded Proud Boys merchandise on Amazon:
For some reason they’ve yet to translate it into German.
There are supposed to be two more of these shit shows to come, at least one of them structured as a town hall with supposed “typical voters” in attendance to ask questions. That sounds like fun, yes? Won’t that be a hoot? Some, like Frank Bruni at the NYT, were opining this morning that further debates should be cancelled, and Biden should flat out refuse to participate. WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin disagreed, writing that there was every advantage in giving Trump two more opportunities to show off what an A-hole he is. On MSNBC last night, famed Democratic strategist David Plouffe thought so too. I’m not so sure. As former RNC chair Michael Steele said during the same interview segment, was there really anything more anyone needed to see? Was it really possible that anybody’s mind now needs changing, or even could be changed? Was this horrible defilement of the democratic process fit to continue? Should the whole world be given further demonstrations of the frighteningly shambolic state of the American polity?
Should Trump be handed the megaphone yet again to issue more calls to arms to his Brownshirt buddies?
34 days to go.