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Yes, I watched the final presidential debate and, yes, it was a definite improvement from the first. But, I mean, it’s like a cheap tv dinner for Saturday’s lunch after a week on Michelle Obama’s school lunch program. It may be a step up for your palette, but it only punctuates how far it’s fallen.
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Best Debate Ever
I’ve heard lots of talk about how this was Trump’s best debate performance ever. That’s a fair enough assessment, but it begs the question: is the debate commission going to be in charge of Trump’s microphone for the next four years?
Seriously though, think about what we’re saying here. For Trump to turn out a stellar performance, someone had to have a mute button. Trump’s enablers embracing this debate as his best effort flips their narrative on its head. Isn’t Trump the fighter, the man who tells it how it is, the unabashed and unrestrained diviner of liberal tears? Isn’t this the same crowd that defends the President’s out-of-control Twitter habits, his stream-of-consciousness performances, his ad hoc asshattery?
What does it say about the claims of Trumpism if forcing Trump to operate within the constraints of at least minimal decorum won him the day? Couldn’t it then be reasonably argued that a dash of self-control, a modest respect for norms, and a smidgen of humility might have been a good thing after all? Isn’t this conceding that, I don’t know, telling the President not to tweet after 8 pm and demanding that he stick to his teleprompter more often might have avoided a whole lot of problems and delivered a few more “stellar performances”?
But let’s be honest. Trump-enamored conservatives and their excuses for loving the Donald are moving targets. Last week, he had his best debate performance because he was measured and didn’t, I mean, wasn’t allowed to interrupt. This week, he’ll probably go off half-cocked, dripping venom, and spouting nonsense all over again, and he’ll be hailed as a fighter once more. Next week, well, I guess we’ll see what they’ll be saying next week.
Back to Formula
“Joe, I ran because of you.”
Trump’s closing argument before the American people essentially amounted to the first argument he offered after descending the golden escalator. He argued again and again that he isn’t a politician, and he ran because politicians, like Joe Biden, had run this country into the ground.
While it’s admittedly probably the best tactic Trump has left in his arsenal, it still makes for an interesting scene. If it wasn’t for poor old stuttering Joe Biden there trying to remind us that Donald J. Trump is, in fact, the current President of the United States, you’d be forgiven for thinking he, and not Trump, was the incumbent.
It’s really not that far removed from the bizarre Trump campaign commercial that warns against the violence in the streets that would occur under a Biden presidency by showing clips of violence in the streets happening under…the Trump presidency. Returning to formula may be an effective tactic. But it’s just not going to work for anyone who isn’t willing to suspend their belief and act like four years in the White House doesn’t make someone as much of a politician as anyone else, and doesn’t make someone responsible for what’s happening in the here and now.
Yo COVID, Ya Wanna Go to the Zoo?
American history is full of heart-stopping crises that brought people together in a unified struggle. It’s almost part of the American psyche to speak in hushed, reverent tones of the times when we united in common purpose against some great threat.
The last presidential debate of 2020 demonstrated clearly that COVID-19 will not be one of those stories.
President Trump’s tone was indignant and empty, just about as empty as his plan for what to do next. Joe Biden’s tone was better and presented a far more reasonable sense of leadership, but many of the policy prescriptions he offered felt pulled from the progressive wish basket.
On the one hand, we were presented with a President who defiantly glories in sticking his finger in the eyes of people who’ve studied and prepared their whole lives for the kind of crisis we now face. At every turn, President Trump has undermined the messaging of epidemiologists and medical professionals.
He’s led his followers on a merry-go-round of ever-changing and contradictory messaging. Sometimes, the claim is that the crisis is overblown and just a Democratic tactic to drag down the “greatest economy in history” in a desperate attempt to rob the “greatest president in history” of another four years in office. Other times, the claim is that Trump alone saw the threat for what it was from the beginning, engaging in bold action others opposed, and thwarting a crisis that would have killed millions if not for the breathtaking, omniscient leadership of Donald J. Trump.
I mean, it truly is amazing how fluidly Trump and his supporters jump from being victims one minute to being victors the next, especially on COVID-19.
But, on the other hand, we saw a career politician teetering somewhere between the JFK Democrat he (probably) mostly still is and the progressivism he has to channel to keep the increasingly radical wings he beat in the Democratic primary from bolting before they at least check the box next to his name on their mail-in-ballots.
As with most of Biden’s messaging, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. He leaves no stone unturned as he presents himself as a moderate, a centrist, a calm figure in a sea of storms, and a steady hand to steer the ship back to the seas of normalcy. Yet, time and time again, he stops short of repudiating the hard-left wings of his own party.
Repealing tax cuts? Raising the minimum wage? Retreating from localism, federalism, and the flexibility of state government and instead imposing inflexible, slow-correcting national standards? Biden sure likes to talk about how he beat out the other more radical visions in the Democratic Primary, so you’d think his COVID plan would look a little less like an AOC Twitter manifesto.
With the Possible Exception of...
I could go on with these two, but what’s the point? Millions and millions of Americans have already voted, and most of those who haven’t are all mostly decided about what they’re going to do. Is there anything else to do but sit back and watch the train wreck? Have these debates really been good for anything? (No). Were Donald Trump and Joe Biden already known quantities? (Yes).
I mean, Trump supporters and Trump voters have now had five years to make their peace with him and have made telling “the real story” about everyone else’s hypocrisy both a science and an art. They’re convinced the polls are wrong, the press is lying about everything, Schumer’s a zombie, Pelosi files her horns down every night, Hillary’s selling kids at the local pizza place, and Trump’s giving ol’ Abe a run for his money in freeing slaves or, you know, giving out tax breaks that black people got too.
Meanwhile, just about everyone left-of-center (and many right-of-center) have long been ready to crawl over broken glass to vote against Donald Trump. All Biden had to do at these debates was demonstrate proof of life. Mail-in-ballots are being filled out as we speak, the box next to Joe Biden’s named checked off by anti-fascist pens, deep in cellars hiding from the jackbooted Gestapo, shouting glorious defiance to their Nazi overlords and prepared to deliver a resounding defeat to the neo-confederate hillbillies who threaten the very notion of democracy itself, that they may soon come out into the light of day unafraid of the iron fist, and blond comb-over, of the darkest dictatorship this side of Caligula.
As I recently said on Twitter during a mini-meltdown (yeah, I admit it), I'm just tired. I'm tired of the noise, of the nonsense, of the hysteria, the hypocrisy, the fear-mongering, and just the sheer void of substance in the public square.
I’ve started what I’m calling a “marathon-to-the election-finish-line” of republications on Medium. Check out what I’ve put up so far:
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