Last night’s “presidential debate” was neither presidential nor a debate. It was a disaster.
More qualified and practiced political writers can weigh in on the historical level of the disaster. Some already have. Bruce Wolpe, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, called it “the worst debate in modern American history.” Since I’ve lived through what most would consider modern American history, I can agree.
We delayed our watching to get the evening meal ready, but my 21-year-old son started watching it live. When he came downstairs he was already 30 minutes into the train wreck and he said, “the world is laughing at us right now.” I had not seen any of it yet, but his assessment, at the time, seemed like something that might be accurate. I now think he was wrong.
The world is not laughing at us. The world is crying with us.
I had been saying for weeks that it was impossible for Joe Biden to win any debate with Donald Trump. I believed that he could only lose. I was right. This is not to say I think Trump is smarter or more articulate. I don’t. The bar for his behavior is just so exceedingly low that it’s almost impossible for him to say something that will change the already negative opinion the majority of Americans have of him as a person. My close Republican friends hate Trump, the man. It’s a strange dynamic, and one I’m only beginning to understand. So, this is not a person you can beat in a debate by attacking his moral fiber. The shallowness of his character is evident even to many who will vote for him. That’s a fact. It’s a mistake to debate on him on that front and Biden took the bait and allowed Trump to control the tone and content of the “debate” all night long.
One thing did stand out last night, however. Trump was thrown a softball of a question. It should have been a home run, perhaps even a knockout punch. Instead, he didn’t just whiff at it, he purposefully hit it foul. He couldn’t resist.
From the Debate transcript, which I have corrected myself.
Chris Wallace: (41:33)
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 groups 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.
President Donald J. Trump: (41:57)
Sure, I’m willing to do that.
Chris Wallace: (41:59)
Are you prepared specifically to do it?
President Donald J. Trump: (42:00)
I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing not from the right-wing.
Chris Wallace: (42:04)
But what are you saying?
President Donald J. Trump: (42:06)
I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
Chris Wallace: (42:08)
Well, do it, sir.
Vice President Joe Biden: (42:09)
Say it, do it, say it.
President Donald J. Trump: (42:10)
What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn.
Chris Wallace: (42:14)
White supremacist and right-wing militia.
Joe Biden: (overtop of Chris Wallace above) (42:14)
President Donald J. Trump: (42:18)Rev.com
Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem this is a left-wing.
That is not a condemnation of white supremacists and militia groups. That is another dog whistle.
And I’m writing this post today because I don’t want it to get lost in the sea of pugnacious behavior that was last night’s poorly scripted reality TV show. I’m writing this today because silence is a horrible option. I can’t be silent.
Again, so I’m very clear, this question was a softball. The home run would have been, “I condemn white supremacist groups, like the Proud Boys, who we know have been creating a good deal of the tension and violence we’re seeing at the protests. I do not support white supremacy or the groups who form around white supremacist ideologies.” He probably could have added, “But I also do not support the violence being perpetrated by any other group or ideology.”
No. That’s not what he said. Instead, he called out “the left.” “The left,” by the way, has whatever meaning anyone wants to ascribe to it. And then, whether he intended to or not, he sent a strong message to the Proud Boys. “Stand back, and stand by.”
“Stand back, and stand by.” What does that mean? Did he know? Was this just another Trump gaffe? A slip? Was it another one of those times we’re supposed to ignore what the President says? To not take him seriously? I don’t care. What I know with utmost certainty is that “stand back, and stand by” is certainly NOT a condemnation. Allow me to quote Mirriam Webster.
How did the Proud Boys hear it?
They celebrated. They turned it into a new slogan for their cause. They are already selling merchandise using the President’s words as a rallying cry. The recognized Proud Boys organizer, Joe Biggs, believes this gives them permission to cause further violence. He made it very clear to his followers.
It was an easy pitch, “are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups 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.” It was made even easier because Biden took the bait, as he did all evening, and gave him the specific name he was begging for. And instead of condemning the militia group, he handed them even more ammunition. It is mind-boggling.
I had planned to say little about last night’s debate until that moment. I was simply going to encourage people to vote, regardless of what they thought about the debate. But that moment was an astounding moment in 90 minutes of completely lackluster moments.
In 2016, only 61.4% of the citizen voting-age population reported voting. It was only 61.8% in 2012.
The worst result that could come from that train wreck last night and the two upcoming train wrecks that will also be called debates is that a large number of people will not vote. They will not vote because they are not energized by the candidates set forth. They will simply say, “I can’t stand either of these guys.” And they will stay home on election day, as they have done for election after presidential election. If that is where you find yourself, then this post is for you.
I don’t care if you think this is a horrible choice of Presidential candidates. Just vote.
I don’t care what you thought about the debate last night. Just vote.
I don’t care if you are right or left or center. Just vote.
I don’t care if you’re not energized. Just vote.
Don’t stand back. Don’t stand by.
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