Biden-Trump Debate Review: Depressing and Distressing 5

By any official measure, the debate between Biden and Trump lasted a little more than 90 minutes. So why do I feel like I aged five years watching it?

Possibly because Joe Biden seemed to age that much as well. Prior to the event, the conventional wisdom was that President Biden had to project enough vigor and forcefulness to counter the arguments that he’s too old to serve another four years. The other generally agreed-upon idea was that Trump had to show restraint and not behave in his typical unhinged fashion.

Well, one of them succeeded.

And much to the dismay of Democrats who probably tore out much of their hair during the evening, it wasn’t Biden. The president has been locked away at Camp David engaging in strenuous preparations for the last week, but you wouldn’t know it from his rambling, unfocused performance. From the very beginning, he spoke too quickly, failing to form coherent sentences and frequently losing his train of thought. And why, oh why, did no one think of giving him a lozenge? He didn’t just have a frog in his throat — he had the entire amphibian kingdom.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed calm, cool and collected, staring straight ahead during Biden’s answers and somehow stifling his normal gleeful impulse for chaos. His advisers must have wired him to a machine guaranteed to induce electric shocks if he spoke out of turn. It didn’t matter that virtually everything that came out of his mouth was a lie. If you watched with the sound off, he looked composed, and sometimes bemused during Biden’s answers. Biden, on the other hand, alternately looked horrified and confused, as if desperately searching for the TV remote.

To say that Trump indulges in revisionist history is like saying the South won the Civil War (okay, probably a bad example). By his reckoning, his presidency was a time of moonbeams and puppy dogs, when we all lived in prosperity, harmony, and sang campfire songs together. “Everything was rocking good,” he said nostalgically about his time in office, sounding like late-period Elvis.

When asked about Jan. 6, he ignored the violent insurrection that occurred that day and instead rhapsodized that it was a high point in human history. At another point, he declared, “I have the biggest heart on this stage,” which is true in the sense that it’s probably enlarged.

By Trump’s account, the world will be restored to order the minute he returns to the presidency. The war between Israel and Hamas will end, Putin will withdraw all his troops from Ukraine, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich will be immediately released from prison, and liquid bacon will pour freely from public fountains.

One assumes that Biden was coached before the event, so it’s baffling that it took him 43 minutes to mention that he was debating a convicted felon. (You’d think he might have brought that little detail up first.) Eventually he got the wind in his sails, even if his insults made him sound like the proverbial old man telling you to get off his lawn. He told Trump, “You have the morals of an alley cat,” which is an insult to alley cats. He also referred to the former president as a “loser” and a “whiner.”   

At least his digs made sense. Trump, on the other hand, engaged in bizarre free association, calling Biden everything from a “Manchurian candidate” to “a very bad Palestinian…he’s a weak one,” whatever that means. When Biden mentioned that a poll of historians had rated Trump as the worst president ever to hold office, Trump responded that he has his own team of historians who rated him the best. At another point, he proclaimed, “I didn’t have sex with a porn star,” for those looking to mark it on their bingo card.

By the time the two alter cockers were bickering about their respective golf handicaps, it had become evident that the event, for all the careful guardrail rules put in place, had gone horribly wrong. Biden has one of the most substantive records of any presidential term, and yet he came across exactly how the Republicans have been portraying him, as a doddering old man. Trump’s presidency was a disaster on every moral and rational level, and threatens to be an even bigger one if he’s reelected. And he somehow came across as a relatively normal politician and not an emissary from Satan.

CNN, which had previewed the event 24/7 for what seems like the last millennium, didn’t exactly distinguish themselves with this strenuous effort to trademark presidential debates now and in the future. Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash were more like game show hosts, barely bothering to do even the barest of fact checking and letting Trump’s litany of lies go unchallenged.

It’s no wonder that by the end of the evening Trump looked like the Cheshire Cat grinning over the impending end of democracy as we know it.

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