My wife did better—it was nearly ten o'clock when she asked if I wanted to see the end of the Yankees game instead. I did. Even a one-sided baseball game was better than what was called—but was nothing like—the "debate" that was broadcast last night.
First off, let's stop calling that sort of thing a debate. Doing so is a disservice to great orators of course, but also to regular folks who have debated issues at the dinner table, discussed the pros and cons of courses of action, have even held family meetings to decide on a vacation or a movie. For the sake of clarity, let's call those discussions, for what separates them from debates is the seriousness of purpose and the observing of protocol.
In a true debate, the first participant presents an arguments in support of the resolution. I should be president and here's why. The opposition presents the argument against: No you should not, and here's why. Each of these assertions is followed by specific arguments (facts and opinion) to support one point of view or the other. And there's a time allotment too. The length is not important, but within whatever time frame has been decided, there cannot be any interruptions. Speakers must wait their turns. The moderator enforces the rules and violations may lead to penalties.
Any similarity between what was broadcast last night and a formal—or even informal—debate is purely coincidental. In fact, to viewers old enough to remember Monty Python in its heyday, the argument clinic must have come to mind—a sketch filled with absurdity that mirrored a little too closely last night's...display.
But what also comes to mind is the utter impossibility of reasoning with a recalcitrant two-year old. Pre-school teachers and day-care workers understand the importance of parameters, but they are unlikely to lay down a set of formal discussion protocols for their charges. Doing so for a child—or a man-child like Donald Trump—is equally futile.
But last night—at least the 25 minutes I saw—showed a man no longer in control of his emotions. He was that angry toddler, in a snit over being booed away from the Capitol rotunda last weekend by people honoring Justice Ginsberg, furious over the Times' exposé of his financial duplicity, and fuming over the polls that show him doing poorly in the states he carried easily four years ago. Like the Monty Python character, Trump was ready for an argument, not a debate. And although Biden could have done better, Trump could not have embarrassed himself or his country any more.
And invariably there's a darker side to Trump. Beyond the bluster and incompetence, beyond the ignorance and excess, there's the depravity that flows from his psyche so easily and effortlessly that all the excuses his supporters make for him fall flat, and all the claims that he "says what others are afraid to say" sound more hollow and vacuous with every repetition. (Note to Trump supporters: others aren't "afraid" to say those things; others just aren't that cruel and thoughtless.)
And it always spills out, as in this exchange between him and Chris Wallace, the moderator.
Wallace: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia group and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.
Trump: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.
The neo-fascist group celebrated Trump's approval by turning his words into a logo that has been widely circulated on social media. On the right-wing social media site Parler, Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs said he took Trump’s words concerning the danger of BLM protest groups as a directive to, as Mr. Biggs put it so eloquently, “f--- them up.”
Last night's debacle could have been no more than a sad sideshow. an embarrassing moment for America, something to lament and forget. Only Donald Trump, with his empowerment of a white supremacist militia as peacekeepers, could have made it worse. And he did.