Why the debates were always doomed — Trump's a madman

D.C. elites in denial

I don’t normally write four times a week, but during this chaotic campaign sometimes it’s called for. Today’s another one of those times.

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The plug is thankfully being pulled on the 2020 presidential debates. For now at least, it appears that next week's forum won't take place with Trump present, since he went on Fox News Business and unleashed a temper tantrum, announcing he wouldn't show up if the debate were done remotely. It's a change organizers made in order to protect participants, given the GOP Covid-19 outbreak that has gripped the White House. (There's always a chance Trump will change his mind before next week.)

Four years ago it would have been unimaginable for a United States presidential campaign to not feature a series of nationally televised debates. But in the Trump era, the cancellation is not only welcome news, it's entirely predictable. Presidential debates cannot be staged when one of the two participants is a madman. When one of the two candidates opts out of the real world and occupies an alternative universe where the Covid-19 virus will soon "disappear" from America, at that point, the debates no longer serve any real purpose.

The simple, obvious truth is that Trump is not a stable individual — and that was true before he contracted the Covid-19 virus and was treated with a high dosage of powerful drugs known to induce dramatic side effects. His fevered, Covid state certainly isn't helping. On Fox News Business, he called Kamala Harris a "communist" "monster" and raged about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama needing to be "indicted."

All of this while Trump needlessly puts the entire White House staff in danger by refusing to self-quarantine. "The White House has repeatedly refused to disclose when President Donald Trump last tested negative for COVID-19 before he announced his infection -- information that could help determine who he exposed to the virus and the severity of his illness," ABC News reported on Thursday.  

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Any further debates this year now seem unlikely, and I wish the first presidential debate — the worst one in American history — hadn't taken place. Yes, it was a political disaster for Trump, as polls show his national support took an even bigger dip after he spent the night childishly insulting and interrupting Joe Biden. Trump arrived with one goal — to make sure the debate was incomprehensible and that viewers learned as little as possible. But Trump didn't deserve to have a Biden debate. He didn't deserve to be on the national stage with an audience of 70 million viewers and given a chance to lie relentlessly for 90 minutes.

Bullying and hectoring not only Biden but also moderator Chris Wallace, Trump turned the once-serious forum into a circus, shredding yet another tradition of civic discourse in this country. In retrospect, what was the Commission on Presidential Debates thinking? Did organizers honestly think Trump would show up and politely abide by the rules and engage in a civilized debate?

Like so many other Beltway institutions, the debate Commission thought they could manage Trump. They thought if they prepared common sense rules that both campaign agreed to, that Trump would abide by them. This, despite the fact Trump has ignored every conceivable rule and protocol for decent behavior for the last four years. Given that proud track record, why on earth do D.C. elites still cling to the idea that this time Trump will behave; this time Trump will act like a sane, healthy adult.

He won't. He never does. And yes, his behavior has become more erratic since the 2016 debates when, in retrospect, Trump at least pretended to occasionally follow some of the norms of public behavior. Now wallowing in full-on authoritarian grandiosity, Trump refuses to be questioned in person.

That failure to deal with the reality of Trump continues to be the media's defining blind spot — refusing to be aggressively honest about him. There's not a reporter, producer or editor in the mainstream media who watches Trump and thinks, 'He seems stable. There's nothing wrong here.' Everyone knows he's unbalanced and dangerous. And everyone makes the same pledge not to discuss it in news coverage.  Everyone agrees not to run front-page stories and evening newscasts quoting mental health experts, detailing Trump's likely disorders and what that means for America to have a madman in the Oval Office. That same ritual of denial just played out with the truncated debate season.

Prior to the first forum, Commission officials specifically said they didn't want moderators fact-checking participants and that they should merely act as "facilitators." The clear indication being that Biden and Trump would be trusted to engage each other respectfully, which was a fantasy given Trump's nihilistic streak.

The presidential debate format isn't designed to host a candidate who categorically refuses to be honest. It was never going to work with Trump.

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🩺 GOOD STUFF:

The New England Journal of Medicine has seen enough.

The staunchly nonpartisan publication just posted a scathing condemnation of the Trump administration’s criminal response to the pandemic. From its editorial, “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum”:

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

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🎙FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Wynonna, “Angel from Montgomery”

If you tabulated the best 100 songs from the last 50 years, John Prine’s simple, contemplative “Angel from Montgomery” would need to find a spot. We lost Prine to Covid-19 this year. Here, the incomparable Wynonna pays tribute with a new, loose, front-porch rendition.

Highlight: When she announces “favorite verse” before singing this hallmark portion:

There's flies in the kitchen I can hear 'em there buzzing
And I ain't done nothing since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say