It Should Have Been a Zoom Call
The presidential debate last night was anything but presidential. Plainly put, it was an absolute shitshow. Jake Tapper said it best: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” The political turducken that the world was subjected to on that Cleveland stage was no less than a disgusting spectacle — one that left both left and right annoyed, upset, and downright embarrassed. It was clear by minute two that we have stopped exporting democracy to the world. We now export mayhem.
It is no surprise that the debates of 2020 feel just like the rest of this godawful year. But the obvious recap is still important. Trump was ready for a fight and knows only one way to debate: interrupt until you drive the other person so crazy that they lose their mind. His goal was singular: get Joe Biden to fumble and melt down. Joe did not. In fact, for the first half-hour, Biden barely even looked at Trump, preferring to talk directly to us at home. Trump was juvenile, insolent, and over-the-top — even for him.
Joe was not without his flaws, though. He missed major opportunities to hammer home very simple messages. What was not said: “Your rally killed Herman Cain.” “You didn’t cause the virus but you caused the recession.” “You are a liar.” (Instead, he opted for a less direct alt refrain: “That is simply not true.”) Absent, as well, was a message point about the Obama administration leaving behind a pandemic playbook and the fact that the Trump administration shut down global pandemic response teams. You and I have heard those points before, but they bear repeating on a national stage.
Beyond the unsatisfying content of the 90-minute yelling match, it is its form that also failed us. It was clear that the whole “debate” should have just been a Zoom call. I don’t mean that literally. The evening did, though, make painfully obvious just how antiquated the traditional debate format really is. I am a purist, at heart, and would love to believe that two people vying for the most important job in the world should be able to adhere to basic rules, but manners and etiquette were absent. There is not a single professional in the world who could have behaved similarly who…