NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

Trump went to Cleveland not to debate Biden, but to destroy another U.S. civic institution

If any­body thought, going into Tues­day night’s debate, that Don­ald Trump couldn’t go any low­er, they were quick­ly dis­abused of that fool­ish assump­tion. Trump flew out of con­trol and stayed unhinged for more than nine­ty minutes.

There is no evi­dence that Trump per­suad­ed sub­ur­ban women (a demo­graph­ic of inter­est to Repub­li­can oper­a­tives) or any­one else to sup­port his reelec­tion bid. Instead, Trump played sole­ly to — and for — his already com­mit­ted fans.

The incum­bent was par­tic­u­lar­ly repul­sive at the very end.

As Joe Biden talked proud­ly of his deceased son who served in Iraq and won a Bronze Star — not­ing that Beau Biden was not a “los­er” – Trump inter­rupt­ed to say that Biden’s son was a drug addict dis­hon­or­ably dis­charged from the military..

He was, of course, smear­ing Biden’s sec­ond son Hunter. It was obvi­ous­ly a moment for which the for­mer vice pres­i­dent had not pre­pared. Biden respond­ed, how­ev­er, by not reply­ing to Trump, but talk­ing to the coun­try, not­ing that his son had a drug prob­lem, which he dealt with… like many Amer­i­cans watching.

The answer summed up a set-to which in one respect resem­bled the first of all pres­i­den­tial debates, Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960.

Six­ty years ago, Nixon spoke to John F. Kennedy. Kennedy spoke to Amer­i­cans, many of whom had doubts about him going into the Chica­go debate.

Don­ald Trump prac­ti­cal­ly made Richard Nixon look like a a truth-teller and an hon­est man. He did not want Biden to be able to com­plete a thought.

The result was one of the ugli­est spec­ta­cle Amer­i­cans have ever seen.

There were no high points. Just lows.

The worst came about mid­way through. Giv­en repeat­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties, Trump refused to denounce right-wing extrem­ists and kept the dog whis­tles coming.

He refused to say he would accept results of the elec­tion, telling sup­port­ers to “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys loud­ly cheered on social media.

“No hyper­bole: The incumbent’s behav­ior this evening is the low­est moment in the his­to­ry of the pres­i­den­cy since Andrew Johnson’s racist state papers,” tweet­ed his­to­ri­an Jon Meacham, also an acclaimed author.

Biden’s strat­e­gy was to piv­ot. When Trump launched an ini­tial attack on his son Hunter, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent deliv­ered one of his best lines, telling view­ers: “It’s not about my fam­i­ly, or his fam­i­ly. It’s about your family.”

Trump tried his usu­al riff about Biden want­i­ng to wreck America’s sub­urbs, leav­ing unspo­ken the racist dog whis­tle – peo­ple of col­or mov­ing to the suburbs.

“Our sub­urbs would dis­ap­pear,” intoned the incumbent.

“He wouldn’t know a sub­urb unless he took a wrong turn,” Biden coun­tered. He explained that sub­urbs look like Amer­i­ca in their diversity.

(Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton is so diverse that whites are no longer a major­i­ty.)

Biden added that sub­ur­ban res­i­dents are hurt­ing from the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, los­ing jobs to the coro­n­avirus, and shar­ing in the uncer­tain­ty of Trump’s America.

Biden is like­ly to be fault­ed for let­ting Trump dom­i­nate the debate.

The chal­lenger was eclipsed in post-debate dis­cus­sion on cable tele­vi­sion net­works. Biden was “rarely in sight tonight,” vet­er­an nation­al pun­dit Ron Brown­stein, adding: “but it hard­ly mat­tered. In that way debate is micro­cosm for the elec­tion. Fifty-five per­cent of the coun­try doesn’t want Trump as president.”

Biden’s job was sim­i­lar to that of John F. Kennedy in 1960, and Ronald Rea­gan twen­ty years lat­er. The Delaware­an, who polls show is lead­ing the incum­bent nation­al­ly and in swing states, had to reas­sure Amer­i­cans he is up to the job.

At times, Biden seemed to adopt the “rope-a-dope” strat­e­gy used long ago by Mohammed Ali when he fought George Fore­man (a fight held in the Con­go that Ali called the “Rum­ble in the Jun­gle”).

Ali let Fore­man flail, round after round, until the champ lost it.

Biden didn’t score a knock­out. Trump was still talk­ing as Wal­lace end­ed the debate. But he let the air out of Trump.

“It is hard to get any word in with this clown,” the for­mer vice pres­i­dent said at one point. At anoth­er point, Biden said: “He needs to shush for a moment.”

The rejoin­ders from Trump were vicious, but not very effective.

Trump engaged in self-pity, telling Biden: “They give you good press and then give me bad press.” When Biden chal­lenged Trump to get off the golf course and nego­ti­ate a COVID-19 pan­dem­ic aid pack­age, Trump replied: “You prob­a­bly play more golf than I do.” (Get­ting Trump to and from the links, most­ly at Trump golf cours­es, has cost tax­pay­ers $133 mil­lion at least.)

As a boy in Belling­ham, I once watched famed lion tamer Clyde Beat­ty tame a cage full of snarling cats.

Chris Wal­lace, I saw Clyde Beat­ty, and you’re no Clyde Beatty.

The Fox host did not admon­ish Trump for ignor­ing rules of debate, to which his cam­paign had agreed, until almost one hour and fif­teen min­utes had elapsed.

Near the end of the un-debate, Wal­lace did an unex­pect­ed piv­ot to climate.

He put a cli­mate ques­tion to Trump, who repeat­ed his inane claim that California’s forests are burn­ing because of debris left on the for­est floor by state offi­cials. (Fifty-sev­en per­cent of the Gold­en State’s forests, how­ev­er, are fed­er­al land.)

Biden tried to explain that clean ener­gy will mean mil­lions of jobs, and four mil­lion retro­fit­ted build­ings. It’s a theme per­fect­ed by Wash­ing­ton’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, who argues that the Unit­ed States must wrest the lead in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy away from for­eign com­peti­tors – prin­ci­pal­ly China.

Alas, Biden appeared a bit shaky on the sub­ject. He needs a bet­ter grasp of his own ener­gy and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice plan, which is in large part the work of folks who advised Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee in his brief pres­i­den­tial bid.

Biden was, of course, cease­less­ly heck­led by Trump.

Dur­ing the 2016 debates, Trump repeat­ed­ly lost con­trol in the late going, skill­ful­ly goad­ed by Hillary Clin­ton. What we saw tonight in Cleve­land was per­haps a metaphor for what a sec­ond Trump term would look alike, a com­plete loss of con­trol, the pre­pos­ter­ous belief that he is always right, with enablers who will take Amer­i­ca down the path to auto­crat­ic rule and full blown fascism.

What must America’s erst­while allies have thought of last night’s per­for­mance by the incum­bent? They were prob­a­bly appalled.

So were many, many Americans.

The instant post-debate poll by CNN found Biden the “win­ner” by a six­ty to twen­ty-eight per­cent mar­gin, and more cred­i­ble by a sim­i­lar two-to-one margin.

Biden also won with his own sup­port­ers, secur­ing $3.8 mil­lion in a sin­gle hour, accord­ing to his deputy cam­paign man­ag­er Kate Bed­ing­field.

For­get the sil­ly “Trade Barbs” lan­guage of the Wall Street Jour­nal, or “both sides” false equiv­a­len­cy on tele­vi­sion, or a par­tic­u­lar­ly inane Seat­tle Times tweet: “Pres­i­dent Trump and Demo­c­ra­t­ic rival Joe Biden sparred in their first debate.”

Faced with the chal­lenge of turn­ing around his bid for a sec­ond term, Don­ald Trump turned what was billed as a debate into a debacle.

“That was… bad,” said Stephen Nichol­son, a recent grad­u­ate of The Ever­green State Col­lege, speak­ing for mil­lions of viewers.

Or in words of for­mer Barack Oba­ma press sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs: “It was an epic dis­as­ter for Amer­i­ca and for Amer­i­can democracy.”

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