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‘Debate’ all crosstalk and confusion

Donald Trump and Joe Biden talk at each other, over each other, everything but to each other.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, center, at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

“This is not going to end well,” President Donald Trump said toward the end of Tuesday night’s debate — or should that be “debate,” since it was more of an exercise in crosstalk and confusion, the first of three.

He was referring to the election he insists will be “a disaster” with “30, 40%” of the mail-in ballots lost.

But after 90 minutes of his free-for-all with former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump might be talking about the American experiment itself. It’s hard to have watched the mud wrestle in Cleveland and not come away with a certain despair for our country, based on the low state of anything resembling discussion of the issues.

I suppose I should point to parts as significant.

Once again, Trump was pressed to condemn white supremacy. And again, he did the opposite, telling violent groups such as the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Stand by for what, he didn’t say. Dog-whistled orders, perhaps.

At points, the president flashed the sense of victimization that informs so much of his presidency. He got rid of racial sensitivity training in the federal government because it undermined white vanity or, as he put it, “if you were a certain person you had no status in life.”

Nobody cries like a bully.

Biden held his own, despite Republican predictions that he was too old or out of it to function. If anything he was more forceful in his insults.

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said, early on.

They talked past each other and over each other. Trump could hardly stop talking, even as the moderator, FOX News’ Chris Wallace, begged “Stop! Stop!” Perhaps Wallace had an impossible task, but he often lost control and could hardly have done worse.

When it came to COVID-19, Trump continued his strategy of blaming China, the source of the virus —”It’s China’s fault”— and crediting himself for saving millions of lives by his partial shut-down of travel from China.

“We’ve done a great job,” Trump said, blaming the media for not giving him credit. “They give you good press,” he told Biden. “They give me bad press.”

He also claimed, ludicrously, that his medical advisers said, “the masks are not good” and the economic constraint caused by trying to control the virus, found around the world, is some kind of Democratic plot to make him look bad.

“They wanna keep it shut down until after the election,” Trump said.

The president’s lies were too numerous to list. You could actually see the Trump multiplier effect. When he first mentioned his rallies, they were attended by 20 to 25,000 supporters. Moments later it was “35 to 40,000.”

I can’t imagine supporters of either candidate found reason for disillusionment. But a moment of pride for our battered country this certainly is not.