I’m exhausted, and I’m speaking for all of us. This presidency has seemingly lasted forever, and the primary season felt like an endurance test.
But more specifically, I’m tired of Donald Trump’s incessant lying, his transparent racism, his oozing of toxicity. There was plenty of all of that on display during the final presidential debate, which again saw Trump square off against Joe Biden, this time with a competent moderator in Kristen Welker—only the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate. On the one hand, watching the event only made me more tired. On the other hand, I got a teeny rush when I remembered this was the last debate and that there may soon be no more President Trump to watch.
The kindest thing I will say about Trump is that he has not allowed the presidency to change him—he’s still the same racist his white supremacist backers voted for back in 2016. During the section dedicated to race, Welker asked both candidates to speak to Black and brown parents who are forced to give their kids “the Talk,” a conversation “to prepare their children for the chance that they could be targeted, including by the police, for no reason other than the color of their skin.” Biden acknowledged how racism supersedes class, how anti-Black discrimination and violence forces Black folks to make decisions in the name of proactive and predictive self-protection.
Trump pivoted to Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill and the many Black folks it condemned to jail, as if he expected any Black person watching to think he actually cares about those issues. The problem isn’t that Trump incorrectly identified the law as a major contributor to mass incarceration or wrongly cited it as a source of staggering harm to Black families and communities. It’s that the question demanded more than theatrical politicking. It was supposed to elicit a show of empathy with Black parents which Trump couldn’t pretend to muster. Instead, he didn’t even bother trying to speak to Black families like fellow human beings, which would’ve required a level of performative skill beyond Trump’s range.
This president regularly retweets white supremacists. He called Black nations “shithole countries,” told American congresswomen of color to go back to their countries, and is currently urging his racist followers to monitor Black folks as they vote—the list, as you well know, could go on forever. It’s a reaffirmation of the low opinion that he holds of Black folks, of how genuinely stupid and desperate and easily fooled he considers us, that he still tries these deflections and distractions on anyone beyond the BLEXIT crowd. It’s actually insulting.
So was Trump’s repeated insistence that he was the “least racist person” in a room he was sharing with a Black woman moderator. Trump also claimed, and not for the first time, that “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump… with the exception of Abraham Lincoln.” Aside from simply not being true, it’s a tone-deaf and cringeworthy statement that tells us everything about this president and how he sees Black folks—feckless and needy. “I basically freed you people” isn’t being received by Black people the way he thinks it is.
When Trump discussed immigration, it was like watching someone replay their greatest racist hits. Defending his zero-tolerance anti-immigration stance, he described migrants from South and Central America with almost the precise racist wording he used to launch his campaign in 2015, stating that “a murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come” into America. Defending his family separation policy, which saw thousands of children separated from their parents, Trump described the kids as better off, claiming “they are so well taken care of” and that the child jails are “so clean.” When that didn’t quite land, he pivoted to admitting the goal of the family separation policy in the first place, which is traumatizing families to deter new migrant flows. “They never come back,” Trump said. “Only the really—I hate to say this—but those with the lowest IQ, they might come back.”
But the most telling moment came when Biden addressed a recent report indicating more than 545 kids remain in custody because the federal government has lost track of their families. “You have over 500 kids that don't know where in God’s name they're going to be,” Biden said, in perhaps his most effectively arresting and righteous moment of the night, “and where their parents are.”
“Good,” it sounded like Trump responded.
There are moments when the breathtaking inhumanity of this president can still catch me off guard, however ridiculous that sounds. That was one of them.
Biden wasn’t my first choice. Or my second, frankly. But Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been gone from this race for a long time now. As incredibly tiring as it was to again watch tonight’s final round, it was also of a reminder that tiredness isn’t really a choice. Not with this president. Four more years of Trump is kinda the end. Succumbing to the exhaustion is what this administration hopes we’ll do. So it’s worth it to try for a second, or a twentieth, or a hundredth wind.