So, that debate was a lot… and that’s saying something after nearly four years of Trump.
Here we are, less than five weeks to Election Day, and not one word that I’ve heard or read quite captures the disaster of the first presidential debate.
Well, maybe one word does, courtesy of CNN’s Dana Bash, but I’m not allowed to use it here, because some people are still pretending that civility and decorum haven’t died in Trump’s America.
Biden tried to be civil. He did. But sometimes you just have to call a clown a clown. And while I was more than OK with his saying the words many politicians and pundits still can’t when talking about Trump – wrong, liar, racist – Biden was his best when he looked straight into the camera and spoke directly to Americans watching in horror.
Those Americans, by the way, don’t include members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a visible presence in Philadelphia, who celebrated Tuesday night after Trump mentioned them.
Asked if he would instruct members of the neo-fascist terrorist group to “stand down” and cease the violence they have committed during protests. Trump twisted the phrase and did the opposite, telling the group: “Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by,” while also refusing to condemn white supremacy.
And then he gave them marching orders: “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
The group wasted no time cropping the words “Stand Back, Stand By” onto their logo. The Philadelphia chapter edited a photo of Trump to be wearing a Proud Boys polo shirt, captioned with, “Stand by boys...”
I’ve said this before, but I will keep saying it.
And so are his supporters, especially if they’re still sticking by him after what New York Times opinion writer Peter Wehner called a bonfire of hate. And spare me your incredulous cries. You don’t get to insist you’re not a racist while supporting one.
It’s a package deal with Trump, who is both a racist and a liar.
“Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” Trump said, repeating on national television his lie that poll watchers had been blocked from observing the first day of in-person early voting in Philadelphia. But as my Inquirer colleagues quickly corrected, official poll watchers haven’t yet been approved, and no polling places are open in the city.
Trump was right in one respect. Bad things do happen in Philadelphia: gun violence, homelessness, poverty and so many other things that Trump has said and done nothing much about — unless you count stoking the fire.
He empowered white supremacists on national television.
Just ask Gwen Snyder, a community organizer who tracks the Proud Boys movements and says she’s been repeatedly targeted by the group. Last summer members made a late-night visit to her home. She wasn’t there, but a group of men who showed up talked to her neighbor, she told police, and warned that Snyder needed to stop posting the names of members and other information on Twitter.
Before leaving her street, two of the men put Proud Boys stickers on poles on the block, and another on her front door. Snyder said police who investigated told her that they couldn’t prove they’d done anything illegal.
I wondered what it felt like to hear the president legitimize them on national television.
“It was surreal, but it was a confirmation of what I suspected his game plan has been,” she told me Wednesday. "He told us exactly who he is and what he’ll do. It’s terrifying, and it’s what anti-fascists have been saying for a long time. "
But then, as Phillip Bump noted in his Washington Post article, it wasn’t just the Proud Boys: Trump also refused to dissuade supporters from a violent response to the election.
“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump said. “I am urging them to do it.”
Meanwhile, in homes across the country, Americans watched our country become an even bigger disgrace at the hands of a man who shows us and tells us time and time again that he is willing to destroy everything around him to “win.”
Because this is all a game, right? And politicians and pundits enthusiastically line up to play along.
Treating these debates and this election as sport is going to be the death of us.
It already has been for the more than 200,000 Americans who have died from a pandemic that Trump continues to mismanage and downplay.
On Tuesday, he downplayed masks and mocked Biden for wearing one.
“Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump taunted. “He could be speaking 200 feet away from it. And he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Americans continue to die at record numbers, and the president of the United States jokes.
There was a clear loser on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t anyone on stage.
It is us, fellow Americans.
We are the losers here, and we’re going to continue to lose unless we do everything in our power to change course. Now.