Prepare Your Brain and Your Heart for Tonight’s Debate
This is going to hurt
In less than six hours, President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden will take to the stage for the first of three presidential debates. It is likely to look different because of the pandemic. It is likely to have no winner. It is likely to enrage all of us — both left and right. Get ready.
From the current president, we are about to see a three-act play of cartoonish facial expressions, 137 mentions of “fake news” related to the Times story on his taxes, and a doubling-down on his law-and-order message. He will do what the RNC did last month: try to make you fear a Biden America in which the suburbs are invaded by anarchists (Black people! Liberals! Professors!) and try to make you believe that cities and states controlled by Democratic leaders are not his responsibility. He will defend his pandemic response and claim that we had the “best ” pandemic in the world. He’ll also claim that the economy has come roaring back. Throughout, he’ll use one simple word repeatedly — “Wrong!” — to interrupt and disrupt Biden. The more he can fluster “Sleepy Joe,” the more he proves his message that Biden is somehow mentally incapacitated.
At home, the left will have audible meltdowns across the country. (I am one of them; I know.) We will scream at our flat-screens and rant about how neither the moderators nor Biden are calling Trump out on his lies. We will throw our chopsticks at the TV. Fuck this sushi! The far right will laugh at his smug faces and cheer at how flustered Biden gets when he gets all worked up. They’ll pet their “Fuck Your Feelings” flag. The rest, those, um, “remainder-right” (they exist; I have friends in this group) will mentally catalogue how and why they agree on gun rights or abortion or the economy. They don’t like Trump, but they’ll say they’re not about to cross over to a party that supports mayhem in the streets. The progressives will shake their heads at just how Bernie would have wiped the floor with him (they wouldn’t be wrong). That’s if they’re even watching. The second the cameras are off, Trump will declare victory on Twitter. He may even tweet it during the debate.
From the former vice president, we are about to see as much vibrancy as Joe can muster. He knows all eyes are on his energy. He will tell a lot of stories about middle-class people and factory workers and all those harmed by the economic fallout from the pandemic. He will tell us how he is empathetic. He will tell us that he knows pain. He will lapse into “Story Time with Uncle Joe” before remembering that he needs to appear spry. He will call the president “xenophobic,” believing wholeheartedly that most Americans can define the word. He will say that “Black Lives Matter” and that the economy Trump inherited was created by him and Barack Obama. At some point, he will turn to the president and say, “C’mon, man. Are you serious?”
At home, the left will grab the arm of a loved one and admit, “I am so nervous.” We will find what goes well and celebrate it loudly. And secretly we’ll wish that Kamala was on that stage debating Trump instead. The far right will point at every stutter, every fluster as evidence that he really is sleepy! Look at this guy! If he’s not flubbing, he’s definitely on drugs. And the reasonable right will quietly wonder how a vote for Biden will make them feel on the morning of Nov 4. They’ll say they need more information, more debates — as if any of us can stand any more information. The progressives will text their Biden-loving friends with simple messages of disgust: “Seeeee. This is electable?!” And once the cameras cut, Biden will declare in our inboxes that we are going to win this thing! But only if we do it together! Please send $1.50.
Debate Night #1 is about to begin in a divided, polarized, and exhausted America. Team Blue and Team Red are ready for the football game it is sure to feel like. Make sure you eat before and not during so you don’t miss a beat. Get a good drink ready. It may help. I prefer bourbon. And commit to a time to go to bed so you’re not sucked into The Matrix all night. Brace yourself for arguments that defy logic, for sentences that do not resolve, and for jokes written by other people. Get ready for insults and nicknames and dog whistles and a full national brain drain. Prepare to be excited, happy, sad, provoked, disappointed, depressed, annoyed, enraged — and ultimately unsatisfied. Prepare to finally have one thing in common: thinking, “Jesus, what has our country come to?”
Breathe, my friends. It will be okay.
And then tomorrow, get up and register to volunteer for the campaign you support. We have 35 days left to make a real difference in the life of our nation. Tonight is about two people. But tomorrow is about the other 328,199,998.
(Check back later tonight for a debate recap.)*
*There will be no official recap tonight. That was, by far, the most disgusting and embarrassing 90 minutes in modern American history. Instead, I will offer three ways to revolutionize our debates. Writing now, my friends.