Spare us further degradation. No more presidential debates, please.
Last night the president of the United States attempted to bully his way through a debate, if one can be excused for using that word to describe what took place.
It’s regrettable, to say the least, because there was a time when political candidates attempted to present themselves in dignified, honorable ways and treated opponents with respect. It would have been surprising 30, 20 or even 10 years ago if someone had said the entire debate strategy of a 2020 presidential candidate would be to alternately talk over and shout down his opponent.
Donald Trump was a sad caricature of this nation’s statesmen of the past. He proved (again) that he knows no dignity, respects only himself and has no honor. Intelligence? Forget about it.
He further proved that he is the one, the person journalist H.L. Mencken referred to in July 1920 when he wrote that one day “…the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Here we are, just over a century later, living – and dying – the consequences.
Trump’s conduct should have raised bright red flags for anyone who values our democracy.
Because a significant percentage of U.S. voters sat back in their recliners last night and nodded in agreement with every discredited lie Trump expressed. They cheered for every string of incoherent “look at what’s happening here, look at what’s going on over there, look at what they’re doing in that other place…” nonsense he uttered. And they fist-bumped every time he wouldn’t let Joe Biden get a word in edgewise.
They not only approved of his performance; they loved it. They believed it showed strength. They proudly said as much on social media.
The rest of us saw the man and the debate for what they were – a boorish person engaged in a painful exercise in absurdity. Not only did Trump fail to present anything even hinting at a solution to our nation’s multitude of challenges, he refused to condemn racism or white supremacy and essentially blamed fires caused by the climate crisis on trees.
Mostly he tried to rile Biden.
Joe’s restraint was admirable. He held his ground and did his best to ignore Trump’s onslaught of asininity, speaking directly to the American people at every opportunity, instead. He attempted to present ideas and plans over the din of the dunderhead to his right. Unfortunately, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace couldn’t or wouldn’t control the Disrupter-in-Chief.
To be clear, contentious moments in debates are nothing new. Throughout my lifetime, politicians have sought to stick their opponents with “Gotchya!” moments on debate stages. In some cases those moments revealed something important about one or both candidates.
But after last night, it’s painfully clear our nation has gone thousands of miles too far down this self-destructive path.
Trump got by with behaving in a manner that further degraded the quality and value of public discourse. More than that, he demonstrated a weakness of character that has infected too many of our fellow citizens.
He’s made it OK to be an absolute jackass.
It’s doubtful that will change soon, even if Trump loses the election. Unfortunately, Trumpists and complicit Republicans have completely embraced “alternate factualism,” “bullyism” and bald-faced hypocrisy as acceptable forms of political behavior and maneuvering. No matter what happens from now through Jan. 20, 2021, they are going to remain part of this country.
Unfortunately, there will be more Trumps.
The USA will be forced to reckon with that in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, there’s no reason to hold more presidential debates. Trump made a sham of this exchange; further opportunities will bring more of the same. Additional debates will do nothing to clarify positions or inform voters. All they’ll accomplish is to make us feel as if we’ve been dipped in sticky slime that refuses to be scrubbed off. Again.
No one will win if we hold more debates. There will only be further loss of our national soul.
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Featured photo by Reuters via BBC News Service.