The headlines said it was a disgrace, a national embarrassment, and a shitshow, but the debate wasn’t any of those things.
Donald Trump was, and why don’t we say so? Putting his actions in the passive voice, as things that happened rather than things he did is to show how little has been learned since 2016 and how successful he’s been at normalizing the unthinkable. Putting all that on the debate, rather than the president, lets him off the hook for behavior so frightening that parents who let their kids stay up to watch rushed them off to bed early. Watching the president spew hot air and bile could have put them off civics class and voting for life.
The metaphors all missed the point. Trump isn’t a bad boyfriend, an overbearing boss, a drunk uncle, a crackhead, or a mansplainer. He’s a menace to life, liberty, and democracy and America as we’ve known them. The problem wasn’t the debate; it was the last four years with this miserable human being polluting our minds, a living, breathing doom scroll equipped with the nuclear codes.
A more apt comparison might be closer to home in the latest Trump aide to self-destruct. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager until he bought a Ferrari and three houses on Trump’s dime, kept a home arsenal that Wayne LaPierre would envy and allegedly beat his wife before holding police at bay for hours while threatening violence. The officer who finally subdued him assured the local Trump celebrity that he’d let him up in a minute.
At least Trump is unarmed, except when he calls up the militia for a walk across the park to church to display a Bible, a threat which he hangs over the election. Among so many things that were bad about Tuesday night was Chris Wallace’s selection of The Integrity of the Election as a subject, which gave Trump a yuge platform, even with the ratings down, to share his fantasy about how he’ll win a rigged election, or else.
Trump battered a venerated ritual of democracy nearly to death and will likely relish two remaining opportunities to finish it off. And those are likely to happen: Biden can’t refuse to go through with forthcoming debates without being called scared and the Presidential Commission on Debates wants the show to go on. In an understatement, the group said the format needs “additional structure” which could only mean a playpen for one. Co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, former chair of the RNC and casino lobbyist, previously passed on the useful structure for controlling Trump, nixing real-time fact checking despite incontrovertible evidence that when Trump breathes, he lies.
It took a few hours before Trump got a chance to revise and extend his remarks. If the first story doesn’t fly, you’ll like his second one. On his way to Marine One for a crowded, unmasked rally Wednesday, Trump suddenly didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, although they’ve already printed T-shirts quoting Trump’s request to “stand by.” But he did know that antifa is a scourge the “weak, whining Biden” hasn’t condemned. That was all the Susan Collinses of the world needed to vaguely condemn extremists on both sides.
There’s a mystifying equivalency when it comes to Trump. Whatever Trump does, there will be an “on the one hand, on the other hand” paragraph or two about a similar flaw in Biden, often generated by Trump with no underlying basis. Biden is actually weight-appropriate, fit from daily jogs, with a natural tan. Trump is overweight, takes a cart to play golf that he’s yet to master, has thinning hair that required $70,000 worth of care (which is nearly 100 times what he paid in federal income tax the year he ran for president and kept swearing he’d release his taxes) and a face that is orange.
Will Trump ever be confronted with the fact that Biden didn’t shuffle onto the stage in bedroom slippers, befuddled, drugged, and smuggling an earpiece? Not a chance. His supporters and Fox will never think otherwise.
Trump isn’t just the meanest, most bullying, dishonest, dangerous, malicious and corrupt person to occupy the White House. He is the meanest, most bullying, dishonest, dangerous, malicious and corrupt person alive. I doubt that any of the journalists stretching for a comparison worked with, dated, married, did business with, bought a car from, or encountered, even at Walmart or the DMV, anyone as awful as Trump. I’ve met Trump and your uncle, drunk or sober, is a dream. Four more years of him and Maduro will look good.
He is destroying what’s uniquely good about the country, he’s tearing us apart, and standing by as a pandemic kills an outsized number of those he’s supposed to be protecting because it wouldn’t help him, the Dow Jones, open a school or a football stadium, or insure his re-election. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington just released an investigation that found 3,400 ethics violations by Trump and his family, including Ivanka. If Trump wanted to lock Hillary up, he should have adopted her and given her an office down the hall.
It seems that practically no one could bring themselves to say that Biden won the debate without the caveat that it was only because Trump was too hot, too much of who he is at his rallies, and too desperate about running behind to pull himself together in an elevated setting. We aren’t talking about someone violating norms in the Harvard faculty lounge but about a vile, crass, feral, snarling creature who went after two of Biden’s sons, including the one whose death will always be a fresh wound.
The overpowering stench of Trump’s hate was so heavy it was hard to take in anything Biden said. But he had one that went to the heart of our darkness. Biden took Trump’s execrable line about the mounting virus deaths, and added one of his own: “It is what it is because you are who you are.”
There’s no other side to that story.