As TV entertainment goes this season, I found the first presidential debate slightly more entertaining than most TV comedies and certainly more so than Donald Trump’s old TV reality series, “Celebrity Apprentice.” But perhaps I’m too easily amused. Aside from whatever entertainment value the debates may provide to audiences confined to home by the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t imagine why we need two more repeats. If the first didn’t change any undecided minds, except perhaps to decide to vote for neither, I doubt that two more would. And now the alarming news of the President’s and first lady’s diagnoses with the COVID-19 disease should rule out further presidential debates in the short time before the election. Mr. Trump will need to conserve his energy to facilitate the speedy recovery that we all should wish and pray for.
In a boxing match, the fighters are instructed to shake hands and come out fighting. These belligerents skipped the handshake, didn’t even bother to bump elbows and just started fighting. This shootout should have been staged at the OK Corral. At least it would have been a safer outdoor venue. For younger voters watching, if any were, they might have thought it was a remake of the 1993 Warner Brothers movie, “Grumpy Old Men”. (Full disclosure: I’m old and occasionally grumpy.)
I doubt that moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News found it very entertaining or amusing though. He had expressed the hope that the candidates would interact freely and that he would be largely invisible. He may as well have been for all the success he had in keeping the candidates from interacting all over each other and ignoring his pleas to wait their turn. President Trump started the interrupting but former Vice-president Biden took the bait and quickly joined in with each man talking over the other and exchanging insults and making faces at each other.
A debate between the president of the world’s most powerful nation and the man who aspires to be should be conducted with dignity and at least some attempt at mutual respect. This was less a debate than a dogfight, with apologies to the canine species. Debate? Neither of these two apparently knows how to debate. Both have trouble staying on topic or completing a thought. I wonder if Mr. Trump has ever completed a sentence in his entire life or if Mr. Biden has ever taken a firm position on anything.
We already knew what Trump’s debating style was, so spare me the shocked reactions of some of the pundits. We watched him demolish and insult the other, better-qualified candidates during the 2016 GOP primaries. He won the election because he faced a highly-flawed candidate who ran a terrible campaign and yet, in spite of her flaws, probably was on track to win until James Comey’s eleventh-hour meddling. There was hope that he would become more presidential as he grew into the job but that just didn’t happen, perhaps in part because Democrats never accepted his election as legitimate and squandered four years trying to undermine his presidency and remove him from office. But I expected that the usually-mannerly Joe Biden would at least maintain his cool. But it wasn’t cool to call the President of the United States a liar, a racist, a clown (twice), the worst president the country has ever had, tell him to “Shut up, man” and accuse him of being responsible for COVID-19 deaths. He wouldn’t say whether or not a Biden Administration would try to pack the Supreme Court or push for District of Columbia and Puerto Rico statehood. He said he did not favor defunding the police but that when responding to 911 calls they should show up with a psychologist or psychiatrist to talk people down and keep from having to use force. (Question: How many behavioral scientists does it take to defuse a 911 situation? Answer: One, as long as at least two armed police officers are there to protect the behavioral scientist and the potential victims.)
Trump, in turn, or rather without bothering to wait for his turn, questioned Biden’s intelligence, referring to a recent claim by Mr. Biden that he “started out” at Delaware State University, a historically-black college that, in fact, he never attended. Trump said that Biden wasn’t smart, did poorly in school and that he (Trump) did more in 47 months as president than Biden did in 47 years as a senator and vice-president.
The most serious part of this 97-minute food fight concerned the economy, the president’s trump card as it were, and a major area of disagreement between the two parties. Republicans generally favor an early re-opening of the economy citing the economic harm and emotional damage caused by prolonged shutdowns while Democrats generally favor a more cautious approach. Biden said that the economy can’t be revived until the pandemic is defeated. This is a major issue that voters must consider along with the issue of continuing violence in the cities. Trump said that he could quickly stop the violence in the cities, blaming it on poor leadership by Democrat mayors and local officials. He boasted of his widespread support by law enforcement organizations and challenged Biden to name even one that supported him. Biden was willing to condemn violence but wouldn’t concede that it was caused mostly by leftist agitators as Trump alleged.
Our Chinese and Russian adversaries must have watched this spectacle with great amusement. We really don’t need two rematches for voters to realize they again have a choice between two awful candidates and that the more important choice will be between the policies that each party plans to implement if successful. Maybe by 2024 they can find someone to run who actually knows how to be president or at least act like one on TV.
Dr. Kelly is a freelance writer and retired Navy Captain who commanded three ships and the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center and taught ship handling, seamanship and navigation at Naval Base San Diego. He earned his doctorate in education from USD, taught graduate students and was a senior vice-president and Director of Training and Development at Great American Bank. He has written over 1500 newspaper and journal articles and has been a regular contributor the Eagle&Journal since 2001.