Ever since former Vice President Joe Biden became the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, America has anticipated the first debate between him and President Donald J. Trump. Admittedly, voters imagined the verbal contest would be at the very least “interesting,” given Trump’s tenuous relationship with the truth and Biden’s penchant for spewing gaffes. Yet no American voter quite expected the universal shit show last night’s debate proved to be.
As all major news media outlets have repeatedly noted, current political stakes are off the charts with COVID-19, the ailing economy, America’s racial reckoning, and the newly vacated Supreme Court seat occupying voter minds. As has been the case since the first televised presidential debate in 1960, the nation’s electorate tuned into last night’s debacle to gain more insight on what the future may hold under each nominee’s leadership. Instead, viewers received 90 excruciating minutes of anything and everything but. Therefore, what’s the point of two more of these tragedies?
First, look at the matchup. Despite the American population being made up of an impressive diversity of cultures, ethnicities, viewpoints and experiences, both political parties trotted out two old white men as leadership material. Trump looks and behaves like a creepy Claymation cartoon on bath salts while Joe Biden has successfully achieved tenacious grandpa status. Neither are as alluring to watch as a rerun of Grace and Frankie. Two old harrumphing white guys in the age of Mi Pan Su Su Sum, WAP, and Ghanaian pallbearer memes will never be great prime time material.
Come to think of it, Trump and Biden harrumphing back and forth at each other might have been more comforting. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a light-hearted barbershop-style tit for tat between the two old heads playing chess in the corner? But Trump and Biden couldn’t even provide that. Viewers instead received a hearty helping of yelling, below-the-belt jabs, and name-calling. It was like future divorcees going at it as their hapless children hugged their knees in a corner. Neither substance, nor direction, nor hope came out of it—only the promise of a protracted legal battle and a totally effed Christmas. No American viewer needed or wanted that additional weight on their frazzled psyche.
Even with the lack of civility and mutual respect the nominees should have afforded each other, it was up to moderator Chris Wallace to keep the debate train on its tracks. It was his job to keep the debaters on task and on topic. It was his job to quell interruptions. It was his job not to get into an argument with Trump. However, Wallace seemed every bit as shocked and awed as the rest of the audience—despite his reputation for being a tough, rigorous journalist who doesn’t back down. His performance had all the fortitude of a single square of soiled toilet paper.
Are debate-watchers seriously supposed to expect more from C-SPAN’s Steve Scully during the next debate on October 15 in Miami? Has anyone witnessed Steve Scully on C-SPAN? He is an even toned, soft-spoken man (not Harry Reid soft-spoken but soft-spoken just the same) who does a great mannequin impression while fielding viewer phone calls and interviewing big wigs. While Scully has an impressive knack for surreptitious slights and swiftly hanging up on belligerent C-SPAN callers, the town hall style debate he is slated to moderate will be a completely different monster with even more opportunities to lose control.
As for Weekend Today’s newest co-anchor and former White House correspondent Kristin Welker, her NBC colleagues have all said that she will be a great moderator. If she can maneuver about the projected fray during the October 22 Nashville-based debate the way she ducked falling equipment during an MSNBC report, she may have a better shot. Then again, Fox News colleagues said the same of Chris Wallace’s abilities and look how that played out. As one of the few women in recent history designated to moderate a presidential debate—and the second Black woman after Carole Simpson—there’s no way of knowing whether she’ll rock like Martha Raddatz or struggle like Candy Crowley.
In either case, the moderator’s skills won’t even matter. For more than a million Americans, Wallace’s moderation certainly did not because they’d already voted. As early and absentee ballot voting marches on with record numbers of the constituents opting to do one or the other, many more minds will have been made up by the time the second and third debates have come and gone. While some may argue that the remaining 10% of undecided voters need more facetime with the candidates to make their choice, they can just as easily spend those Thursday nights visiting the candidate websites and doing a little independent studying. That is unless they need more of Trump dog-whistling to extremist groups or Biden calling Trump a “clown” a few more times. No one needs that really. So once again, what is the point of two more of these sad displays of the state of American political discourse?
The answer is clear: there is no point.
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