The Tuesday night travesty: Three things media experts are getting wrong

In sum, there was no debate on Tuesday night because Donald Trump willed it to be a brawl instead. In a battle of wits, he is unarmed.


It’s a few mornings after and the nation has a bad hangover. It’s the direct result of having had one mind-bending Trump too many. 

Let’s start with something many commentators and media analysts on radio and TV are getting right: Chris Wallace did not establish control over last night’s political slugfest. He tried. In his defense, it’s likely that nobody can make Donald Trump behave like anything but a bad-tempered bully having a bad hair day.

Here then are the three things I’m hearing and reading that are simply dead wrong.

1. This was the worst presidential debate in history.  

Stop calling it a “debate” okay? What happened Tuesday night was not a debate. There was almost no substance. No point-counterpoint. Few if any facts put forward in defense of any policy or proposition. No programs or problems discussed in a manner that can be criticized and analyzed. No position clarified.

As voters, we learned almost nothing we didn’t already know. And, critically important, nothing positive was put on the record for purposes of holding a future president accountable. It was all one big negative.

2. The candidates came with the intention of making it impossible for the moderator to enforce the rules. 

Do not blame “the candidates”. It’s true that Joe Biden did not engage in a proper debate with Donald Trump Tuesday night, but that had nothing to do with Biden or the moderator. The blame for the disgraceful spectacle we witnessed was the Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump.

This president is utterly incapable of participating in a real debate. Mentally or temperamentally. He will not tolerate being questioned, challenged, or corrected. He hates facts and science because they do not bend to his will. And he hates rules he doesn’t make.

A real debate is a rule-based contest of wits, not of will. That is why he has no intention of debating Joe Biden. Why he turns a would-be debate into a battle of wills, not wits. His intent is to demonstrate his iron will, his power to dominate, full stop. He makes the rules or he doesn’t play.

And it is why Donald Trump can only debase, belittle, and dissemble. Why his approach is to create chaos because he thrives in that environment. He understands that if there is no opportunity for an exchange of ideas or information, he will not be exposed as the charlatan he has always been and always will be.  

3. There was no winner or loser in Tuesday night’s presidential so-called debate.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The nation was the loser. Two anecdotes will illustrate this point.

Pretty pathetic display last night. Embarrassing.

The morning after the debate, a longtime friend who lives in Idaho sent me the text message above. He’s an accomplished nature photographer and loves the West. He’s also a Vietnam veteran who loves his country. He’s definitely not a sucker or a loser. He does not have bone spurs.

A former student sent me this message from Tokyo:

Back in Japan

I heard about the historic debate…

I made the right decision leaving the U.S.

Until two weeks ago, the sender, now in his early 30s,  lived in the United States. He had come here in his mid-teens to study. After graduating from the University of Kansas he earned his M.A. from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies located in Washington, D.C. He then moved to Chicago and worked for a French-based company as a stock trader.

“I made the right decision leaving the U.S.” Understand that this highly educated individual who speaks several Slavic languages as well as English and, of course, his native Japanese, NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE AMERICA. 

Until now. Until Trump. Until the race-baiting. The anti-immigrant xenophobia. 

Japan’s gain was America’s loss. It’s one more example of the cost of Trump’s excesses—his narcissism, his pandering to white supremacists at home and dictators abroad, his vendetta against immigrants, his tendency to provoke trade wars and curry favor with adversaries while alienating allies—has resulted in a massive loss of soft power and prestige in the world. At the same time, it has polarized American society, weakened our resolve as a people, and made us more vulnerable economically and militarily.

In sum, there was no debate on Tuesday night because Donald Trump willed it to be a brawl instead. In a battle of wits, he is unarmed.

This is why Trump was so set on single-handedly disrupting the proceedings, obstructing any and all efforts to maintain decorum, and turning what was billed as a debate into a brawl. He did it with malice aforethought, did it despite his oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” And, in an act of supreme cynicism to true to form, he used the biggest stage in American politics to inflict the greatest damage on a society with the highest death toll in the worst public health crisis this country has faced in more than a century.

It’s high time to stop beating around the bush, stop pretending that this president is anything but a sick self-regarding liar, cheat, and crook. What you see is what you get.


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