There are some days I wish I weren’t so interested in politics. There are some days I yearn for ignorance of our national state of affairs. There are some days where I just want to apologize to the rest of the world for the absurd, nihilistic spectacle that is American politics. Some days I just can’t take it anymore and want to give up — find an uninhabited island somewhere and become a hermit.
Today is not one of those days. It can’t be. Passivity is not an option.
After bearing witness to the debate — if you can call it that — between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last night, I wanted it to be one of those days. I wanted to wash my hands of it, wrap myself in a blanket, watch reruns of Star Trek, and dream of a better world. But I can’t. The stakes are too high and the state of things is too low.
Lots of people have thrown around descriptors for how the night went. Jake Tapper called it “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a trainwreck.” Others called it a disgrace, an embarrassment, or a shitshow. All of these are correct, and correct for one reason alone: Donald J. Trump, Toddler-in-Chief. Scratch that, I have a toddler — as wont as she is to scream or throw the occasional tantrum, she is also capable of caring. She can listen. She can empathize. She has no capacity for cruelty. In these respects — and I say this without an ounce of irony or sarcasm — my toddler is infinitely more qualified to be president than Trump. On display last night was a US President who was downright monstrous, hellbent on dominating every single moment and lying about every single issue. It was deeply unsettling.
Through it all, Biden held fast. He was by no means impressive in his oratory or arguments, but all he needed to do was not break under Trump’s endless barrage; not distract from Trump’s journey off the rails. He got a few good shots in, but mostly resorted to staying above the fray and weathering the storm. Biden was most effective when talking directly to the camera and the American people, rather than trying to parse Trump’s endless avalanche of word-vomit. In line with his campaign as a whole, all Biden needed was steadiness, fortitude, and decency. Trump’s kryptonite. In that, he was largely successful.
The only story here is Trump, though. It’s not a revelation that he lied about so much: he doesn’t have a healthcare plan, climate change is real science, he’s not reducing drug prices by himself, crime has gone up everywhere on his watch, the vaccine (if it even exists and is safe) is not going to be delivered to everyone this year, he didn’t pay “millions” in federal income tax, and there is nothing fraudulent about mail-in voting. These are all standard, baseless, tired old lies. The real revelation was that even on the biggest stage of his life, with the whole world watching, trying to defend his record produced only rudeness, ignorance, and cruelty.
Biden spoke with pride about his late son Beau, who served honorably in the military and died of brain cancer, chastising Trump for calling soldiers losers and suckers. Rather than deny he would say such horrible things about our servicemen, he dismissed Beau and attacked Joe’s other son. You have to watch it to believe it:
While the discussion was supposed to be on COVID, Trump took some time out to just straight-up call Biden dumb. The vitriol in Trump’s voice shows Biden really hit a nerve and Trump couldn’t resist being petty and cruel. It’s a sight to see and only reinforces the universal truth that there is no high road in Trumpland and he can give no good answer as to why so many people are dead from COVID on his watch.
Trump’s worst single moment came with the easiest, most softball question a moderator could ask: “are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and say that they need to stand down…?” It sounded for a moment like Trump would do it and give the easiest answer in politics…but he chose not to. Biden challenged him to actually say it out loud, condemn one group as an example, the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist militia responsible for quite a bit of violence, hate, and intimidation. Trump proceeded to tell the Proud Boys to “stand back and standby,” which was widely interpreted by the group as marching orders. I’ve watched this clip a few times because at first I thought Trump just messed up his words trying to tell them to “stand down.” It was not that. While it may not have been an intentional and overt call to arms, it was certainly a glaring choice to yet again fail to denounce and condemn white supremacists and right-wing extremism. For a question that should be so easy, his answer was appalling, repugnant, and utterly disqualifying. It was not, however, unexpected — which tells you all you need to know.
With one collective voice, America needs to tell Trump to shut up, man. This is so un-presidential.
If you haven’t been paying attention up to now, this debate should have caught you up to speed. It was a thoroughly disheartening microcosm that leads to a difficult conclusion: The President of the United States is a terrible person. He stands for things that no American should, peddles in pettiness, chaos, and cruelty, and has no remorse for (or understanding of) anything he says or does. He doesn’t care about you, your family, your safety, your rights, or your country. He cares about saving himself and nobody else. Even if he loses the election, he’s shown that he will not accept the results and he will not leave peacefully. He reaffirmed that tonight with perhaps his only insightful comment of the evening: “this is not going to end well.”
Once we’ve reached that point, there is one option remaining. Vote. Vote like your life depends on it — it just might. Tell everyone you know to vote for the only viable alternative to Trump, however imperfect Biden may be. Vote in any way you can. A landslide is the only thing between us and more destructive chaos from this un-American President.