Trump Agrees to a Virtual Debate with Himself

R. Eric Thomas
·4 mins read
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

From ELLE

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Photo credit: .

I hate to bring up ancient history but do you remember last week? Days after testing positive for COVID-19 and hours after leaving the hospital after being treated for COVID-19, Trump made a big stink about not wanting to make the debate scheduled for this week a virtual encounter. He and his camp insisted that Joe Biden willingly put himself and a moderator in a room with a man actively spreading a virus like Pigpen from Peanuts for their town hall-style event. Not satisfied to keep racking up superspreader points from the Rose Garden party for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump set his eyes on Biden like a Pokemon played going after a Pikachu. Trump refused to attend virtually, claiming that's not how the presidential debates are done.

Not to sound like an originalist (I believe Black people are people so that disqualifies me) but the historical spirit of presidential debates doesn't hinge on breathing the same air, refusing to answer the questions asked, or pretending to not know anything about white supremacist groups. In the first ever debates, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas used a format where one spoke for an hour uninterrupted! And then the other spoke for an hour and a half. And then the first candidate rebutted for half an hour. This happened seven times. Impressive, but, let's be honest, that sounds terrible. You want me to watch 21 hours of talking that doesn't involve Meryl Streep being rude to the residents of Monterey, CA? Indubitably not, my good chap!

Trump, however, was insistent that the only way to debate was 1) live, 2) on-camera, 3) in the same room, 4) annoying me. This, in spite of the fact that JFK and Nixon's once had a televised debate from two separate studios on opposite coasts. They didn't even have a Zoom connection. No idea if they were on mute or not. Totally dependent on a technology that had been invented in the very recent past. Just Richard Nixon sitting alone, sweating, muttering to the camera, "Well, go on Teletubby. Beam me up to Mars." Trump held his position, which was, as usual, indefensible and absurd. The Committee on Presidential Debates eventually cancelled the debate altogether. ABC agreed to host Joe Biden, who only asked to not be in the same room as a man who grows more obviously dangerous by the minute, in a town hall event on the same night. All that happened last week. It's OK if you don't remember; it actually works out to 900 Earth years ago.

Well, you're never gonna believe this, but Donald Trump is now going to be appearing on television, in a town hall, at the same time as the debate was going to occur. What a weird coincidence! NBC announced that it would host the president in its own town hall during the same slot that Joe Biden will be in a separate studio, answering questions from American voters who are undecided because they've just returned from spending four years trapped in space like Matt Damon in The Martian. The poor patriots expected to come back to a ticker tape parade and maybe a guest appearance on Ellen and instead they have to ask the president about racial equality and watch him immediately start talking about crime before pivoting to overt racism. Come on Teletubby; take me back to Mars!

The only difference, it seems, between the proposed virtual debate and these two separate town hall events is that now Trump doesn't have to even engage with Joe Biden and he can focus on taking down his true enemy: his own words, actions, thoughts, and impulses. Honestly, it's silly that any of us thought this would go any other way. A man who has returned to holding rallies in the middle of a pandemic doesn't have the slightest familiarity with reality, so even if the candidates were in the same room, it was always going to be basically virtual. Our modern system of debate-by-sound bite and debate-by-GIF is not in any way a debate. I'm not saying I want to go back to the Lincoln-Douglas miniseries, but at least back in the day, stenographers transcribed the debates and ran the full text in newspapers. Have you ever tried to transcribe anything Donald Trump has said? Can't be done! Modern science is stumped! If they tried to transcribe Trump, the newspapers would end up just printing a Rorschach test that drove everyone to madness. Not great for public health and consciousness.

But one wonders what good having two competing stump speeches is going to do for those poor undecided voters who just want to change out of the space suit they've been wearing for the last four years as they farmed potatoes on Mars. How does watching Donald Trump say whatever comes to mind without the benefit of counterpoints, fact-checks, rebuttals, or his cheering audiences of acolytes create a more informed electorate? Is it really a debate when the only person yelling back at Trump is me, sitting in the cockpit of my spaceship, waiting to be blasted out of here? I guess we don't have any choice but to find out!

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