All posts by John Of Late

Let’s Not Do This Again

A week before the presidential debate, I said to a friend: “I am not sure you can ‘win’ a debate with a liar.” The atrocity that occurred on September 29 in Cleveland proved my point. Not only did the president predictably and automatically lie, distort and demean, he refused to abide by the simple rules of the debate, rules which he or his minions agreed to beforehand. So he is both a liar and a person who cannot be trusted to keep his word.

He constantly interrupted with a relentless drone of jibes and inquisition, blocking his opponent, Joe Biden, from effectively communicating with the audience. Chris Wallace, the hapless and impotent moderator, tried valiantly to have the candidates give a full response on the issues he presented to them. The president, who never stopped talking, managed to avoid or derail Wallace’s questions. The resulting spectacle was 90 minutes of frequently unintelligible crosstalk. The president succeeded in keeping attention focused on himself, which may lead his defenders to conclude that he won the debate.

My first thought when it was all over was dismay. This man—a boorish, crude and dishonest person—is the President of the United States! He is the representative of the United States. People around the world form their opinions of all Americans based on how the president behaves. He embarrasses us all.

This thought was followed soon by wondering how the next two presidential debates can avoid being like this one was, what CNN’s Dana Bash cogently described as a shit show. If the next two are going to be more of the same, what is the point of holding them and why would people want to watch? Of course, that is precisely the president’s game plan: make more people disgusted by the process, disengaged from the details and discouraged from voting. Joe Biden would be justified in refusing to participate in such a charade again—although the president would inevitably call him a coward.

The next debate, scheduled for October 15, would be a “town hall” format, which can only be worse because the president would have a live audience to play to. The Commission on Presidential Debates should have a re-think about the format. Merely giving the moderator the power to mute the mics would not be of much use because the muted candidate would move closer to his opponent’s live mic or talk ever louder.

My suggestion would be to put each of the candidates in a separate studio where they could hear their opponent but would be unable to interrupt. Each man would be allowed alternating , uninterrupted two-minute segments in which to respond to the moderator’s question or to respond to the opponent’s statements, and they would be given a verbal warning when their time period was about to expire.  

But not only can you not win a debate with a liar, the Cleveland spectacle showed us that you cannot even have a debate in any real sense of the word with a fabricator. A presidential debate should be about comparing and contrasting the ideas and policy prescriptions of the candidates for dealing with the major issues of the day. It should be an organized discussion that provides a format for equal-time presentation of the candidates’ views and rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments. Ideally, the result is a clarification of each candidate’s vision for the future of our nation. Ideally, the public learns something they did not already know about the candidates.

The spectacle in Cleveland was not a debate. It was an extended infomercial for the president’s vision of himself playing presidential. In 2016 he said: “I can be more presidential than any president that this country has ever had except for Abraham Lincoln.” Tellingly, his words reveal that he lacks the character or even the interest to be president, but he believes he can play the role. And that is what he’s done.

To play at being presidential demonstrates a certain contempt for the office of the presidency and for the American people themselves. He leads by example—but bad example. The example he set this week in Cleveland was shameless contempt for the rules of the debate and for his opponent and, worse, contempt for the election process and the voters’ intelligence. He modeled the contempt that he wants people to feel: contempt for Joe Biden and Democrats in general and contempt for an election process that will of necessity rely on mail-in ballots. He wants people to believe that for him to lose, the election must be rigged. He is prepared to take that fabrication all the way to the Supreme Court where he is counting on five justices, at least, also to follow his example.

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A Rape of the White House

The misappropriation of Fort McHenry by the Republican National Convention was the warm-up act for the desecration of the White House and Washington Monument. In the first few paragraphs of his speech, VP Nominee Mike Pence rolled out the central strategy of the re-election campaign: portray Democrats as unpatriotic and dangerous.

The symbolism was scarcely clothed. Pence reminded us that 206 years ago “our young republic withstood a ferocious naval bombardment,” an attack by foreign forces intent “to crush our revolution, to divide our nation, and to end the American experiment.” In the next breath, Pence sounded the alarm: Democrats, at their convention, “spent four days attacking America.”

After this stirring overture, Pence said he would “humbly accept” the nomination.

The speech was chock full of adulation for what the president has done over the last four years. Many of the claims of greatness were repeated the next night by the president himself. The falsehoods and distortions of the truth have been fact-checked, but most voters will never hear those details.

Everything was going great, according to Pence, until “the coronavirus struck from China” (in fact, the dominant strain of the virus in the United States is a mutated, more infectious strain that spread from Europe). Pence described “unprecedented” action by a president who directed “the greatest national mobilization since World War II” and a “seamless partnership with governors across America” (the president who griped that the federal government was “not a shipping clerk” and left governors to compete for medical equipment while calling for the “liberation” of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia).

There were 1,239 deaths from covid-19 in our country on the day of the speech, but Pence said nothing of the need for every American to wear a mask, to practice social distancing and to avoid gathering in large groups to reduce the contagion. Instead, he said “we are saving lives” and credited the “courage and compassion of the American people,” as if that were enough.

The crescendo began with new alarm about “violence and chaos engulfing cities across America.” Joe Biden, he said, “would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities,” but he failed to identify those “policies” or to explain why Joe Biden was to blame for anarchists creating havoc in the streets under President Trump’s watch.

Pence climaxed: “Joe Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for the radical left” who would “set America on a path of socialism and decline.” But that would not happen because “President Donald Trump believes in America and in the goodness of the American people,” and “if you look through the fog of these challenging times, you will see our flag is still there today.”

Oh boy.

The next night, Trump gave his acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House in front of a not-socially-distanced audience of 1,500 or so. It was the same speech Pence gave—only twice as long and delivered in a cloying cadence of faux wistfulness.

Trump “profoundly” accepted the nomination (the prepared text said “proudly”).

Following the game plan, Trump warned “despite all of our greatness as a nation, everything we have achieved is now in danger.” The choice in this election is “whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” Joe Biden was, he said, “the destroyer of American greatness.”

Most of the speech was a self-glorifying recitation of breathless promises and claimed accomplishments, coming from a president whose credibility must fairly be doubted due to 20,000 documented false or misleading pronouncements he has made since taking office.

He touted his “policy of pro-American immigration,” but as far as I can tell, his “pro-American” policy is as little immigration as possible coupled with inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers to stop “asylum fraud.”

At several times during his speech, he had trouble reading the teleprompter, as when he confusingly promised to “end our resilience for bad things,” straying from the prepared text, which promised to “end our reliance on China once and for all.”

He promised to “very strongly protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” but he did not mention that he is asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, which provides that protection, or that his administration has not proposed a replacement, despite his recent (July 19) promise of a “full and complete health-care plan” within two weeks.

His big closer was: “If you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund police departments all across America” and “No one will be safe in Biden’s America.” Calling the Republican Party “the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe,” he said that Democrats “stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners.”

Democrats, he said, defend rioters and looters. “They call them peaceful protestors.” Warning of what would happen if Biden were elected, “Just imagine,” he said “if the so-called peaceful demonstrators in the streets were in charge of every lever of power in the U.S. government.”

He gestured toward the White House, saying “The fact is we’re here and they’re not.” He then ad-libbed: “it’s a home, as far as I’m concerned.”

Wrapping up his speech at last, Trump praised America’s (White) legends—Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crocket and Buffalo Bill—and waxed nostalgic for that little house on the prairie or, rather, “beautiful homesteads on the open range.” His point was that Americans “don’t tear down the past,” a veiled reference to the removal of statues celebrating the Confederacy. The crowd of potential virus-spreaders cheered. “Over the next four years,” he said, “we will prove worthy of this magnificent legacy.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest and William J. Simmons would be so proud.

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