As people of sound mind try to shake off the shell-shock of last night’s “debate” and process what this all means for the election, and for America, the Toteboard would like to pose (and answer) a few key questions.
Question 1: What was the most disturbing thing about Trump’s behavior?
Answer: That a sizable portion of Americans were not even slightly disturbed by it. Trump’s most enduring legacy may not lie in his usurpation of the republican party, his corruption of the American courts, or even his bungling of the covid crisis, as much as his normalization of the despicable. Stop and think about this for a minute. The president of the United States completely subverted an event that is crucial for the democratic process. He spent an hour-and-a-half lying, abusing, and threatening, all while cozying up to white supremacists and inciting his supporters to commit voter intimidation and violence. And yet, a third of the viewers surveyed reported that they found the events “entertaining.” It is now de rigueur that political discourse is in the gutter, that republicans flout democratic norms, that ad hominem attacks have replaced civilized ideological debate, and that a sizable chunk of the population actually seems to be ok with this. It’s hard not to feel that our country will be a very inhospitable place for the next generation or so.
Question 2: What is necessary in order to restore integrity to future debates?
Answer: Structure them so that the moderator, or the video crew, or whoever has a finger on the button, can turn off the fucking microphone of whichever candidate does not have the floor. Of course, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs that the only way to keep the president from acting on his sociopathic playground-bully impulses is to put him in time-out – simply giving him a pacifier or something else to suck on probably wouldn’t do the trick – but it’s certainly consonant with what we have come to expect from Trump over the last four years. And yet, while the Commission on Presidential Debates is promising changes in format before the next food fight, they appear (at the moment) to be stopping well short of exercising the most obvious option. The Toteboard therefore feels compelled to ask, as would any good post-modernist, whose interests are being served by a live-mike free-for-all? Clearly, the existing format is corrosive for the American public, but someone really wants to keep it.
Question 3: Is it worth watching future debates?
Answer: It was quite evident that despite being behind in the polls, Trump made little effort to score specific points on policy, to reach out systematically to undecided voters, or to demonstrate that he was even remotely likeable as a human being. So what could he possibly be hoping to accomplish through his unhinged, borderline-deranged performance? Perhaps it is simply his nature, and he just can’t help himself. Perhaps he embodies aggrieved entitlement and flips out when anyone dares to challenge his feral narcissism. But perhaps he is intent on creating so toxic an environment, that people will become overwhelmed by their disgust at the whole election process, recoil in the interest of self-preservation, and throw up their hands in frustration . . . without actually casting a ballot. And that would be catastrophic. And so the Toteboard suggests that it doesn’t really matter whether we watch the remaining debates or not – what matters is that we stay in touch with exactly how much is at stake in this election, that we do everything one can to combat the evil that has oozed into power, and that we all continually seek out warmth and support from those who help us stay sane during such extraordinarily difficult times.