The world watched the nadir of this republic last night — at least it is my most beseeching prayer to God that this was the bottom; or the beginning of the bottom, as the last days of the Trump era play out on the world stage and disgrace all Americans living and dead. The first presidential debate of 2020 was not a debate in the definitional sense, a formal discussion in a public meeting, for the airing of opposing views. There was nothing civilized about this discussion, let alone formal.
Joe Biden, naturally, being the only adult on stage, attempted to stay aware of time constraints and to tailor his responses to the specific question asked, while the drunk at the end of the bar bullied and interrupted. Good for Biden for telling him to shut up early on — although the fact that that was necessary was a cringeworthy moment in American history. This debate, like all other presidential debates to date, will be recorded in the archives of American rhetoric, alongside FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech and Kennedy’s man to the moon speech. This is another seminal moment in our history, and one that shows our national character, the way the FDR and Kennedy speeches did, but in reverse fashion. It shows how low we have fallen from the once great nation that we were, a people who rightfully believed in its own exceptionalism, only to be hustled by a TV huckster, into giving him the keys to the mansion on the hill. The entire world marvels at our degradation and our stupidity. They wonder — as do we — is this an aberration or is this who America is?
The bully in chief didn’t intend to ever debate, because he can’t, having no policies or ideas, only canned talking points. So he came to insult and insult he did. Vanity Fair’s headline is “TRUMP INTERRUPTS JOE BIDEN TALKING ABOUT DEAD SON TO CALL THE ONE THAT’S STILL ALIVE A DEADBEAT.” Is that National Enquirer-esque enough for you? This is who we are in 2020. The Week:
“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe,” the president said in the opening minutes of the debate. “They’re going to dominate you, Joe,” he added a few minutes later, referring to the radical left, while talking over the former vice president, thereby illustrating Biden being dominated.
It took less than 20 minutes for Biden to lose his cool for the first of many times, exclaiming, “Would you shut up, man,” after Trump refused to let his opponent speak without constant interruption. Later he added, “you’re the worst president America’s ever had,” and, in exasperation, “it’s hard to get any word in with this clown.” I can’t have been the only viewer to watch the display with mounting disgust — about Trump, yes, but also about the fact that our democracy has sunk to such depths. […]
Trump was something else entirely — some kind of post-truth, street-fighting, full-spectrum bulls**t artist. Say anything. Dominate constantly. Display no warmth. No compassion. No empathy. Just fight, fight, fight. Kick everyone’s ass, including that of the moderator, Chris Wallace, who repeatedly tried and usually failed to impose order on the chaos.
Chris Wallace stank on ice. Admittedly, he was put in a difficult position, but it’s not like he doesn’t know what Donald Trump is all about.
Chris Wallace is unwilling or incapable of restoring order. #Debates2020
— Fernand R. Amandi (@AmandiOnAir) September 30, 2020
So, as far as I can tell, the rules of this debate are:
1) Chris Wallace asks a question.
2) Biden gets 2 minutes to answer the question.
3) Trump gets 2 minutes to respond.
4) Trump gets an indeterminate amount of time to heckle Biden.
— Ian Millhiser (@imillhiser) September 30, 2020
The debate spiraled out of Wallace’s hands early on and he never regained the reins. It was a travesty and Wallace owns his share of it. The Bulwark:
Moderator Chris Wallace, who belongs to a network whose top personalities spent the day calling Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “senile,” pathetically pleaded with Trump numerous times to let him ask questions. Wallace and Biden implored Trump, trying to put the very words into his mouth one by one, to condemn white supremacists. (He didn’t.) Trump insulted Biden’s family and called him “dumb” and a “liar”—and here I am becoming complicit in this disgusting exercise by repeating Trump’s amoeba-brain insults that a preschooler would be put into the corner for saying to a classmate.
The entire exercise was a total disgrace. The worst part of it is that no one had any good reason to expect anything else.
— The Recount (@therecount) September 30, 2020
But this felt like the last twitches of desperate sycophancy. The reality is that Trump was appalling — an insult to the institution of the presidency, the democratic process, and our intelligence. His chronic indecency almost goes without saying.
I don’t know if I even want to tune into the next one. This was an assault to the senses. It felt more like a domestic violence incident or a road rage encounter, the kind of thing that it takes a few days to fully recover from, it was that visceral and abrasive. Donald Trump, at his core, is an ugly little man, with a dwarfed intellect and an infinitesimal spirit. If you wrung out his soul like a sponge, you wouldn’t find a drop of decency in it. His depravity and his ugliness were on full display Tuesday night and now we are all the ugly Americans in the eyes of the world. I am ashamed to be an American today, a sentiment that I’ve had in varying degrees since Trump was elected, but hopefully our dignity will be restored November 3 and we can raise our heads again. It’s been said that democracy is on the ballot. It’s even more basic than that. Darkness and light are on the ballot. This isn’t a presidential election, Democrat v. Republican. This is far more primal. This is about Good v. Evil.