EARTH SHAKING

It’s Wednesday, September 30, 2020. It’s 34 days until the Election Day and the final day of 2020’s third quarter.

On this day 79 years ago, Nazi forces wrapped up the Babi Yar massacre in what is now Ukraine.

All totaled, they managed to kill 33,771 people in two days – about 15 people a minute. Most of those killed were Jewish – pretty much every Jewish person living in Kyiv. But there were Ukrainian nationalists, Romas and Soviet military prisoners as well.

A good reminder, especially this morning, of the result of evil fully encouraged.

There were no significant seismic incidents in the United States last night.

Proving that turning over in the grave isn’t really a thing.

Because, if it was, every American who has advanced democracy for 244 years – from George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to John McCain and John Lewis – would have done so.

Some observations of the TV show most networks called “First Presidential Debate” – a grossly misnamed program that’s one of the lowest moments in American political history. (OK, I support Biden, so you can call BS if you want.)

  1. Stop with the “both sides” stuff!

Equating Joe Biden’s conduct last night with Trump’s in any way embarrasses the equater.

Biden might have been able to articulate his positions on the important issues facing Americans. He might have butchered his positions and gone into word salads that would have shown he might not have the stamina to serve as president.

We’ll never know. He never got a chance.

It’s easy to sit here this morning and say he shouldn’t have taken Trump’s bait. He should have channeled out the bluster and crap coming from what I hope was more than six feet away.

All I know is that if I were standing there – and Trump kept slandering my son in response to questions about his questionable policies – it would have taken some strong Secret Service agents to stop me from belting the son of a bitch in the mouth.

He did the best he could. If this debate was going on in your neighborhood, somebody would have called the cops. A Taser might have been the only thing that could have prevented Trump from disgracing the nation.

2.  Stop blaming Chris Wallace

I am not a big Chris Wallace fan. I understand that he is seen as a tough but fair questioner, but I think occasionally he tries to draw more attention to himself than the subject.

All that said, I don’t know what he could have done differently last night.

He’s getting pushback from people at Fox (they must give you body armor to protect you from knives in the back when you work at that place) that he was unfair to Trump when he chided him on his incessant interrupting. And, of course, he’s getting flak from Biden supporters for not stopping Trump sooner.

So what should he have done? Stopped the debate and told Trump it wouldn’t resume until he shut up? Walked off the stage? 

Journalists picked to moderate presidential and vice presidential debates consider it a high honor. They should. It means that people across the political and media spectrum believe you to be unbiased, fair and above reproach.

The dissonance must have been strong in Wallace for what must have been among the 90 worst minutes of his career. You expect deference and decorum to reflect the gravity of the moment.

Instead, you get a fool spewing crap. The temptation to get cops to come and use a Taser to subdue this guy must have been enormous.

3. Should there be more of these?

The good news for Biden is that a big chunk of the audience last night won’t be watching “Second Presidential Debate” or “Third Presidential Debate.” (Again, I won’t insult previous presidential and vice presidential contenders by think what they did was the same as what Trump did last night.)

That’s usually the case. But, after last night, if you’re not a political masochist, why would you watch?

The usually even-handed Frank Bruni is saying in The New York Times that Biden shouldn’t show up, that it’s beneath his dignity.

Biden can’t do that. It would open him to charges that he’s weak and unfit for the job. 

Yes, by standing there and taking it, he proved he is. So, by the way, did most of the rest of us.

His campaign says he welcomes the opportunity to tell the American people what he would do as president. It’s a quaint notion that is probably the reason he’s ahead in the polls.

My question is what Steve Scully and Kristen Welker are thinking this morning. Scully, the genial C-SPAN moderator, and Welker, the Weekend Today host, moderate the other debates. As I said, it’s an earned honor for both of them.

Will they insist on protection from Trump’s bombast? Do they think they can manage him? Could they threaten to withdraw or walk off if the situation isn’t different?

You have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on today at the debate commission and at the major news organizations.

4.  Even that’s too many

The CNN post-debate poll showed that 60% of those watching the debate thought Biden won it, while 28% thought Trump did. A CBS poll was closer, 48% for Biden, 41% for Trump.

Why does it offend me that even 28% think what they saw last night was acceptable?

That’s more than one out of four. If you’re waiting in line at McDonald’s for a Big Mac and there are three people ahead of you, one of them sees no problem in berating the workers to move their butts and bring that burger.

These are the people who are perfectly fine with personally insulting Biden and trying to use his son’s battle with drug addiction against him. These are people cool with accepting the idea of violence if Trump doesn’t win.

Most galling to me: These are people OK with the idea that Trump doesn’t need to condemn white supremacists – perhaps because that’s what many of them are.

The people who support Trump are like enablers to an alcoholic. They feed his addiction for attention and deference without showing any respect in return. They could give a damn about their neighbors, except for the ones who look and sound like them.

I know. Biden would tell me that he plans to be president of all the people. Even the ones with the “Trump 2020 Fuck Your Feelings” T-shirt I saw getting takeout one night earlier this month.

He’s a better man than I am. These people seem like a big problem to me.

5.  A long way down

In 1996, the vice presidential debate featured the incumbent, Al Gore, and the Republican challenger, former Rep. Jack Kemp.

Gore was four years away from losing the closest election in American history – when he would honorably protect democracy by ending his challenge once the Supreme Court issued its partisan ruling awarding the presidency to George W. Bush.

Kemp was a movement conservative, a former NFL quarterback who really believed in the free market philosophy and trickle-down economics. 

There was pressure on Kemp to go negative. He and his running mate, Bob Dole, trailed President Bill Clinton and Gore in the polls, and the really partisan Republicans wanted blood from Gore (so to speak) to shake things up.

It didn’t happen that way.

Kemp didn’t flinch in stating his positions and attacking the policies of the Democratic administration. Gore defended himself and his president, explaining what the administration and what it wanted to do.

In the end, Gore was declared the winner of the debate in the polls.

Kemp, who died not that many years later, won that day, too.

I didn’t agree with any of his political positions. But I saw a man who put civility above discord. Nation above self-interest. He argued his points and when he was done, he kept quiet and let Gore make his. And vice versa.

It was, as the Baltimore Sun said, “gentlemanly.” It was edifying. If you were watching that debate trying to decide who to vote for, you got the best representation of each side you could possibly get.

It took 24 years for the Republican Party and Trump to degrade our democracy to what we saw last night. To an unlistenable grievance bearer who pandered to white supremacists and threatened not to accept the results of a democratic election.

Add Jack Kemp to the list of patriots who would have turned over in his grave if that were a thing.

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