I watched the first presidential ‘debate’ last night between Joe Biden and Donald Trump with the idea of taking notes for an analytic blog post but within the first few minutes I gave up because what was happening was, to put it mildly, an utter disgrace. It was not a debate. It was a display of childish, petulant, rude behavior by a man-child that happens to be the president of the United States.
From the beginning Trump had an angry, choleric look, florid, scowling, and pouting, constantly interrupting and talking over Joe Biden and the moderator Chris Wallace. (Don’t they put make up on people so that they do not look so red?) Wallace was reduced to pleading with Trump to follow the rules that his team had agreed to and let the other person speak but it was no use. Trump simply raged on. Wallace has been criticized for losing control of the debate but it is not clear what he could have done other than simply get up and walk off, since Trump was so out of control. And I really mean out of control. Trump did not look like someone who was carrying out a pre-planned strategy of interrupting to throw Biden off balance. It was the other way around. Not only did Biden not get rattled, he would laugh at Trump and call him a clown and a racist and that seemed to enrage Trump even more. Trump looked like a man who is angry and thinks he is going to lose the election because he is being treated unfairly by everyone, including people in his own administration, and just let all his grievances pour out. It was a litany of the applause lines that he gives the audience at his rallies and on twitter but in the context of the debate they just seemed like random rants that had no connective tissue.
Here is a good impression of Trump last night.
Moderator: Mr. President it is not your turn to speak…
— evan (@evancarsn) September 30, 2020
There were so many low points in the debate that it is hard to pick one but my money was on the moment when he was asked by the moderator if he would condemn white supremacy and and not only did he not do so, when Biden named the Proud Boys, one of the most odious of those groups, Trump asked them to ‘Stand down and stand by’. What the hell did he mean by that? It is no surprise that that group is exulting over what they take to be a presidential endorsement.
Within minutes, a social media account for the Proud Boys had turned Trump’s quote into a celebratory graphic. Their leadership cheered Trump. Joe Biggs, a prominent Proud Boy in Portland, subsequently wrote, “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy.”
“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir!” Biggs wrote separately. “We’re ready!!!
It was anything but a condemnation, as civil rights groups pointed out.
“This is all they’ve wanted since 2016,” wrote Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, referring to the Proud Boys leaders’ posts and Trump’s non-condemnation.
“Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission,” wrote Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.
“@POTUS owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”
The big question is whether it is worth having the other two presidential debates. Is there any point, since this was a waste of time, unless one wants to see Trump behave like an utter boor yet again? Of course, Biden will not ask to cancel the next two debates because Trump will accuse him of running away. In fact, I think that debates like this help Biden, because he comes across as not unhinged, especially the occasions when he spoke directly to the camera and addressed the American people about his plans for them. Biden is not a great debater and his performance was not particularly good but tonight, compared to Trump, all he had to do was act like a normal human being.
My daughter texted me after the event saying that my university Case Western Reserve University is now associated with the worst US presidential debate of all time. We’re #1, baby!