Only Donald J. Trump could turn a presidential election debate into a middle school food fight, and that's exactly what he did in Cleveland last Tuesday. It was a disgraceful performance by the president of the United States, and he should be ashamed of himself… but he isn't because he always plays by his own self-serving rules.
Trump undoubtedly helped himself with his hard core, right-wing constituency, but didn't help himself with the more moderate independent voters — including your favorite Appeal columnist — he'll need in order to win a second term in the White House. The president's opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, probably helped himself by surviving the president's verbal onslaught and launching a few attacks of his own. Biden exceeded expectations by not babbling incoherently, as he does on occasion.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, the nation's premier broadcast journalist, did his best to control the unruly proceedings, but the president repeatedly shouted him down. Trump, a rude, crude bully, tried to control the debate, but failed, so no one was in control. Moderators of the next two presidential debates on Oct. 15 and 22 should come equipped with "kill" buttons so they can turn off Trump's microphone when he starts interrupting and/or shouting.
But let's be clear, nobody "won" this chaotic debate. What we saw were two old white guys slinging buckets full of mud and trying to provoke each other into fatal gaffes or missteps on national TV. With all due respect to old white guys, both of them failed miserably and revealed themselves to be unfit for the high office they seek. At this point, I don't think I can vote for either one of these fatally flawed candidates — Trump because he's such an awful, hateful person and Biden because he favors Far Left/Socialist policies like "open borders" and fanciful Green New Deal proposals that would destroy our country as we know it and bankrupt the U.S. Treasury.
How bad was it last Tuesday? Offered an opportunity to denounce white supremacists, Trump waffled and told the Proud Boys, a white supremacy group, to "stand back and stand by," whatever that means. For his part, Biden, when offered an opportunity to denounce Antifa, whose heavily armed thugs are organizing riots in the streets of major American cities, said Antifa is an "idea," not an organization. Oh really? If I was Joe Biden, I wouldn't be making excuses for violent rioters.
Everyone with eyes can see who's provoking destructive riots in Chicago, Louisville, New York City, Portland and my beleaguered hometown, Seattle. It's usually violent Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists, not the obnoxious Proud Boys. Although most BLM protesters are peaceful, some aren't, and that's when the trouble starts.
When it comes to law and order, one of the foundations of a stable, democratic society, President Trump wins that argument because while Biden doesn't advocate defunding the police, he does want to "re-imagine" the police. That's where they send you a friendly social worker, not a trained law enforcement officer, when you call 911. Think about it.
Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Karl Rove called it "the debate from hell (and) the least enlightening, edifying or elevating presidential debate in U.S. history," while the London Times commented that "the clearest loser from the first presidential debate … was America."
CNN's Jake Tapper described the debate as "a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck," but it was even worse than that. America deserves better. Let's hope for something much better when the candidates clash again on Tuesday the 15th.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.