If you were smart, unlike me, and decided not to watch last night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and instead made a sensible dinner and went to bed at a reasonable hour, you’d be forgiven if you woke up this morning, saw the news headlines, and asked yourself: “What the fuck happened on stage?”
You might have seen a clip float across your feed in which CNN’s Jake Tapper declared that the debate “was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck” and “the worst debate I have ever seen.” His CNN colleague Dana Bash proclaimed, “That was a shitshow.” You might have gotten an alert on your phone from Vox, which quoted Biden telling Trump, who couldn’t help himself from constantly interrupting and talking over his opponent, to “shut up” and then described the debate as “not America’s finest hour.” The debate was “chaotic,” and “descended into name-calling and personal attacks,” according to a New York Times alert. The headline on the Times homepage this morning? “Trump’s Hectoring and Deceptions Upend Debate; Biden Calls Him a ‘Clown,’” as if the two are somehow equally horror-inducing. At the Washington Post, Trump “plunges debate into fiery squabbling,” somehow bringing to mind two fighting toddlers.
All of this might give the impression that there was no contrast between the two candidates on Tuesday night, that both were equally to blame for the ninety minutes of chaos. It’s a mode of news analysis, relying on equivocation, that strenuously attempts to be fair-minded and balanced and accurate but misses what’s true. And it needs to be thrown out the fucking window.
Because let’s be clear—it was Trump who was the utter shitshow during the debate, defending and encouraging white supremacists and telling the Proud Boys, much to their delight, to “stand back and stand by” and to “do something about Antifa and the left.” It was Trump who couldn’t hold himself back from personal attacks, whining about Biden’s kids and China and needling Biden on his academic background. It was Trump who continued to proclaim that the election results would be a fraud. It was Trump who got into petty fights with the (terrible) moderator, Fox News’s Chris Wallace.
It was Trump who was chaotic because that’s all he knows. Saying otherwise is not measured balance–it’s a lie.