After Joe Biden’s altercation with President Trump on Tuesday night, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced it will change the format of the next two debates.
But I have a different proposal for the former vice president: Cancel them.
As all Americans know by now, what happened on Tuesday was not a debate. It was a national humiliation, a vehicle for disinformation, and, worst of all, a platform from which President Trump appeared to deliver instructions to hate groups. And there’s no reason to think any future debates would be different.
I don’t blame you for the fracas, Joe. You were heckled, abused, and endlessly interrupted by a bully intent on throwing you off your game. Some fault you for losing your cool and telling him to “shut up.” I don’t. Judging by the post-debate polls, most Americans don’t either.
But once is enough. A debate is supposed to be an educational, informative event that helps voters get to know the candidates. Clearly, as long as one of those candidates is Donald Trump, we’re not going to get that. No matter how many new rules or formats or structures the CPD introduces, he will never follow them.
As a result, the experience of watching each debate — a spectacle somewhere between the Jerry Springer Show and professional wrestling — is embarrassing for the whole country, in a year already so full of embarrassments. We already have the worst coronavirus response of any modern nation, we already have the highest death count, and, of course, we already have Donald Trump as president. Must we add to this list a series of shouting matches that we present to the world as “debates”?
Trump is using the debates to undermine the democratic process. At Tuesday’s event, he repeatedly claimed that mail-in ballots are somehow inherently fraudulent — a charge that has been debunked many, many times. To Biden’s credit, he spoke past him to exhort Americans to vote however they can. Wouldn’t that message be better heard if Trump’s voice wasn’t drowning his out?
At the debate’s rock-bottom low point, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to denounce white supremacists. The president refused. Instead, he addressed the Proud Boys, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and told them to “stand back and stand by.” That sounds a lot like “wait for my signal.”
This is not just disgraceful. It’s dangerous. Fomenting this kind of division will inevitably lead to violence, especially if Trump is democratically voted out in November. How many Proud Boys now believe that they are eagerly awaiting their president’s go-ahead to attack voters or poll workers? One debate has clearly ended up putting Americans’ lives at risk. Going ahead with the next two would be irresponsible.
It’s time to admit that this institution called the presidential debate — which until now had seemed like it might come out more or less unscathed from the last four years — does not and cannot serve its purpose as long as Donald Trump is involved. Like everything else he touches, it is now broken and dangerous.
Mr Vice President, this is a chance to show your leadership. Your opponent is using these debates to sabotage an election and incite violence. The most presidential thing you can do is call them off.