Democracy Derailed: A Sh*tshow for the Ages
On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure have a presidential-debate hangover that no amount of Gatorade or weed can cure. [Ed. note: This episode was recorded on the evening of Sept. 30, prior to the news of President Trump's COVID diagnosis on Oct. 2.]
The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a chaotic mess of the incumbent’s making.
Among the lowlights of Tuesday’s event: Trump refused to condemn white supremacists –– again. Instead, it seems he sent them a signal.
The Commission on Presidential Debates claims it will change the format for subsequent debates. But it’s doubtful any revisions to “format” can stop Trump’s lies and bullying. So why debate at all?
“I am still traumatized,” says Toure. “It was horrifying … the yelling, interrupting, lying, and just refusing to have a civil, adult conversation.”
From the outset, Danielle “wanted to throw the whole country in the trash.”
And she wasn’t the only one. Cable-news analysts roundly decried the debate as chaotic. International papers characterized it as a “street fight.”
CNN’s Dana Bash –– “of all people, a super classy, super-serious reporter,” Toure notes –– summed up those unfortunate 90 minutes as a “shitshow.” Her colleague Jake Tapper went further, calling it a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”
Danielle would have added: “wrapped up in vomit. It was literally the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” she says.
In lieu of a cogent argument about why he should be reelected, Trump’s debate strategy was to “sow chaos,” says Toure. “Talk the whole time, interrupt, never pay attention to decorum and the rules. Just attack.”
Let’s get this shitshow on the road.
Episode Highlights –– That Was a Shitshow
Should we cancel presidential debates entirely?
Aside from the debate being just “icky and gross,” Toure says, “It didn’t serve anyone. I don't know who could say, I’m more informed –– even one iota.”
Some of the blame should be placed on Chris Wallace, who has been relatively tough on Trump in interviews. But as moderator, he kowtowed to the president like a flustered parent bargaining with a toddler.
Reactions from the Twittersphere and beyond suggested future debates need something like a mute button –– anything to give moderators more control.
“That's impossible,” says Toure, noting that everything from the rules to where they'll stand on the risers are negotiated beforehand between the commission and the campaigns. The fact that Wallace, a Fox anchor, was tapped for the first debate is a testament to Trump’s incumbent leverage.
But the larger question, considering how little substance came from the first one, is: Should we have any more, at least in this cycle?
Format vs. dysfunction
The Commission on Presidential Debates claims it will enact changes to the format moving forward. But it’s doubtful anything it does will keep Trump from being an asshole.
“I can't imagine there will be different interactions in the next debate,” Toure says.
“I don't understand why the fuck we are continuing with this pageantry as if Trump is normal,” says Danielle. “It’s normalizing his dysfunction. We're in the midst of so many crises –– of his creation. We're treating him like any other president instead of the hostile fucking domestic terrorist he is.”
She thinks Biden performed well overall, but debating “a known, rabid, compulsive liar and sociopath –– who is that benefiting?”
Squawk and troll
The entire production was a panoply of low moments: Trump refusing yet again to condemn white supremacists. Trump’s absurd claim that insulin prices will soon be so low, “it’s like water.” Trump interrupting Biden as he talked about his son Beau, who honorably served in Iraq and later died of brain cancer, to smear his other son, Hunter.
But Biden spoke frankly and compassionately about Hunter’s substance abuse. And he showed incredible restraint as Trump slandered his children, Danielle says.
“You want to come for a member of my family who passed away? I would have walked across the stage and cold-cocked him.”
Toure feels the same: “The way Trump repeatedly attacked and trolled Joe –– in any normal human interaction, a person in Joe's position would punch Trump in the face, be it in a bar, a basketball court or a Thanksgiving dinner,” he says.
And it was particularly difficult to listen to Republicans attempt to defend the indefensible.
“One of them said Wallace tripped him up with his question about white supremacy. That Trump did denounce it,” Danielle adds. “I'm like, did he mime it and I blinked?”
Trump takes a ‘stand’
For those without the stomach –– or the luxury of staying up late to watch, here’s how it went down:
Wallace: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left-wing groups, but are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and Portland?
Trump: I am willing to do that.
Biden: Do it.
Trump: I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing.
Wallace: What are you saying?
Biden: Do it. say it.
Trump: What do you want to call them? Give me a name.
Wallace: White supremacists.
Trump: Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by.
“Is that Proud Boy language?” Toure asks. “Is he quoting something they say? It seemed he was giving us the three-finger salute or something.”
“You know exactly what that was,” says Danielle. “To watch a sitting president deliver a clear and direct message about white supremacy to his flock, unchecked, was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.”
[Ed note: The Proud Boys are classified as a violent, extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.]
Now that’s a denouncement
“The gaslighters on the right” tell us Trump doesn’t support these people, but “they support him,” says Toure.
And he just gave them a shoutout.
“We've talked about how Trump and Trump-ism is a clear and present danger to our humanity, not just an abstract notion of our humanity. It causes vulnerability and danger to our specific bodies: mine, yours, other Black and brown people, gay people.”
Trump also claimed the “Portland sheriff” supports him. Said sheriff (of Multnomah County, to be precise) clapped back:
“I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him."
“Talk about a definitive response,” says Danielle. “That's what Trump should’ve said –– about white supremacy.”
‘Race and violence’ isn’t a genre
Danielle thought the entire conversation between three white men about “race and violence in our cities” was “out-of-touch and ridiculous.”
She and Toure agree: even the framing of Wallace’s topic was flawed.
“Race and violence in the same fucking sentence as if it’s, like, a known genre,” says Danielle.
Toure found it “offensive and obnoxious. It put the whole conversation on the wrong foot.”
And it found Biden denouncing violence perpetrated by police in peaceful protests as if it’s equal to police brutality.
But nobody said: “What happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others is wrong,” Toure points out.
Rank hypocrisy on COVID and SCOTUS
On the topic of COVID, the president deflected his opponent’s (factual) claim that more than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus –– by criticizing Obama and Biden’s handling of the swine flu crisis, and arguing that the pandemic death toll would be worse in a Biden administration.
“I can't imagine how 200,000 dying in a couple of months is good, or why he brings up H1N1,” Toure adds.
But the modern right has been using this argumental style since Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh came to power, he adds.
“They see no need to rely on reality, logic, fact, science –– any of that.”
These are the same people who said Merrick Garland couldn’t be confirmed in an election year, though Obama nominated him in March of 2016. Now they’re arguing that Amy Coney Barrett should be confirmed just 30-ish days out, when more than a million voters have already cast ballots.
“They’re massive hypocrites,” says Toure.
Justice isn’t ‘gangster’
Even if they’re able to surmount the obstacles Trump throws their way, Danielle doesn’t have a lot of faith that Democrats will “do the right thing, which to me is absolutely going gangster on the Republican party –– fundamentally changing how all of these systems work.”
She thinks Democrats often operate by “playing not to lose, which is not the same thing as playing to fucking win.”
Toure agrees, but he points out that doing what’s necessary isn’t gangster at all.
“We’re just trying to create justice. Because the majority of us in blue states should not be tyrannized by the increasingly insane desires of the few in red states.”
We allow Republicans to spin the narrative that it’s progressives who are “trying to distort America, led by Antifa and all of this shit,” says Danielle.
“It’s not the truth. But I keep thinking about an activist in Atlanta who said, these folks are lucky Black people are out here looking for justice, and not revenge.”
The elusive ‘undecided voter’
There have been times in history when debates “may have moved the needle,” says Toure. “Whoever was perceived to have won would go up in the polls.”
But the polls in the current race have been virtually “resistant to news,” he adds. “They’re as steady as they have ever been.”
Over the last year, Biden has been ahead by eight to 10 points –– a significant margin that’s been unmoved –– whether it’s Kamala Harris entering the race or the news that Trump paid just $750 in taxes.
“There are really no undecideds,” Toure argues.
“But we love to interview them on cable news shows,” Danielle says.
“All five of the white people who are still like, gee, I really don't know. I can't decide between the racist Klan leader and Joe Biden,” says Toure. “Such a tough decision.”
‘Both sides’ = false equivalence
The majority of the news media lean left in their real lives, “because reality has a left-leaning bias,” says Toure. “But they feel guilty if they don’t appear to give equal time and energy to both sides.”
However, allowing both sides to “debate” climate change or the need for racial justice “makes no sense,” he adds.
There’s no other side to whether or not George Floyd should’ve been killed, or whether the planet is warming at an alarming rate. But journalists are trained to be neutral, even when it seems impossible. And the media remembers its mistakes in 2016. It was caught off guard by just how many people voted for Trump.
Now there’s the notion that they need to be given airtime, otherwise “we’re not reflecting a significant portion of America,” he adds.
That argument is like saying the country is on fire, “and we want to interview both the arsonist and the firefighter,” says Danielle. “Are there two perspectives to the fucking fire? No: One started it and one is trying to put it out. Which one deserves the fucking airtime –– as the fire is raging?”
The shitshow must go on
Danielle sums up our current situation with an unfortunate diagnosis: “America is sick, and in this election, we're either going to decide to pull the fucking plug or find a way of healing.”
She prays for the latter, and that “it begins with electing Biden and Harris.”
Which brings us to the upcoming vice presidential debate.
“It will be a nice piece of theater and that's no disrespect to the people in it, especially Kamala Harris, who I believe in immensely,” says Toure. “But it won't change a single voter’s opinion. It's for the super-political junkies, like preseason baseball is for those who really, really love baseball. It doesn't really matter.”
Meanwhile, we’ll be back next week, if we still have a shithole country. Put on your mask, and keep praying about it.
Get your weekly rundown of the presidential election from a Black progressive point of view on democracy-ish. Consider Danielle Moodie and Toure as your tour guides, flight attendants and/or therapists as we move through this dumpster fire of an election cycle — together!