What's Tony Thinking

A Few Thoughts on Tonight’s “Debate”


The temptation will be to play “both-siderism.” To declare that both former Vice-President Biden and President Trump were equally at fault for this depressing spectacle.

It is a comfortable out. It allows those who take it to appear to occupy the high ground. “They’re both at fault.” “They both did it.”

But they didn’t. It wasn’t equal. Both men did not behave like an ill-mannered and petulant child. Trump did. The President of the United States did.  As Chris Wallace, of Fox News, pointed out when Trump told him to chasten Biden too, “Mr. President, you are doing most of the interrupting.” Time and again — though not often enough — Wallace tried to get President to play by the rules to which he had agreed.

But Trump didn’t do that because he doesn’t do that. The rules are for chumps. He interrupted. He talked over. He goaded. He delivered personal attacks. He invented unverified and unverifiable stories and accusations . . . “just today I heard about . . .” He used his favorite technique of anonymous attribution. “Lots of people are saying . . .” He tossed around labels like “radical” “left” “socialist” as if playing pin the tail on the donkey, trying to get one to stick.

Biden was mostly playing defense. When he said to the President, “Will you shut up, man!” it was, sadly, the best line of the night. But he actually meant it; he was just trying to speak in his allotted time.

We may want to cast blame equally, but honestly I don’t know how anyone could hold anything resembling a decent debate with Trump.

Was this a good strategy for Trump? I can’t see how it would have appealed to anyone except his cast-iron base.

A second thought: Ironically, this was a gaffe-free debate. But not because each person was so articulate or acute. There was so much cross-talk and over-talk and outright blather that you wouldn’t have noticed a gaffe if one had occurred.

Gaffes require a certain focus, deliberation and attention. You have to have one person talking and the others paying attention. That almost never happened. Hence, no gaffes — or the whole thing was a gaffe.

Third thought . . . there are two more of these? Really? Isn’t there some international group that can intervene to shut down this national embarrassment? Should more happen? How can they happen when the ground-rules are ignored and the moderator is in a position that makes lion-taming or teaching middle school look enviable by comparison.

Despite it all, this debate was in its way revealing. If you want four more years of chaos, confusion and self-congratulation re-elect Trump. If you would like to calm down and be slightly bored, elect Biden.

Still, they aren’t both the same. This embarrassing disaster had Trump’s name all over it.

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