A Moral Debate
Last updated 10/7/2020 at 4:40pm
The first presidential debate left me deeply shaken and worried for the future of American democracy. Trump came in pumped up and agitated, and revealing a level of desperation I have never seen in a president. The topics presented by Fox News’ Chris Wallace hardly seemed to matter — what mattered to Trump was to bully and batter Joe Biden. He talked over and down to Biden in a kind of word salad of invective and blame. He not only continually interrupted Biden, but he repeatedly violated the time limits; and when Wallace tried to intervene, Trump fought with him.
Trump’s failure to adhere to the rules of the debate diagnoses his refusal to accept socially approved norms, agreements and laws. He seems to believe that he is above anybody’s laws — including those of science, as well as the counsel of our best scientists. Now that he has tested positive for COVID-19, perhaps he and his un-masked followers will be administered a dose of humility and compassion.
If he lost the election, Trump was planning to challenge the result by using a phalanx of attorneys. He has been organizing thousands of “poll watchers” whose real job would be to intimidate voters, particularly African-Americans. In refusing to denounce right-wing extremists, he hinted darkly that such groups might be useful instruments of violent intimidation.
Biden made a few mis-steps in the debate, but he was strong and forceful and revealed himself to be a kind of compassionate warrior — fighting for fairness, for justice, and for the needs of the American people. When Biden turned away from Trump’s bullying toward the audience and said, “This is not about him, or me, it is about you,” he revealed the open heart and the strength of character that I believe American needs in a president.
Perhaps it is Biden’s very strengths — his caring, his competence, his loyalty to his country, his having transcended immense family tragedy — that cause Trump to fear him. For Biden is in a different, and higher, moral universe, one for which many Americans hunger.