Debates and the Passing of RBG

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  • Here they come, those quadrennial presidential debates that galvanize the media and entice the public with the promise of political performance art. The first one is but days away with Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor, serving as the sole moderator.

A few thoughts on the process. No, we’re not returning to the rudimentary Kennedy-Nixon debates hosted by Howard K. Smith, but we can still cherry pick from that historic time. We now have a Commission on Presidential Debates making the important calls. No more than one moderator is a good start. We don’t need a team, for whom network branding is a given. Ideally, however, C-SPAN or PBS should be first among equals. Someone with journalistic bona fides and a commanding enough presence to stay in charge—including via fact check–is mandatory. And hold debates sans live audiences, who are primed to cheer and jeer gotcha lines. Let’s not encourage—and reward—inevitable performance art.

Substantive global and national issues must be debated—not reduced to cliches, punch lines and put downs. Forums of this magnitude can’t be reality TV, even if the incumbent is still an apprentice. No, we can’t do anything about who’s debating, but we can still do something to make it obvious who isn’t qualified for the most important job in the world.

  • Debate advice for Biden: Call the incumbent “Donald” not Mr. President. It matters to a narcissist. Then go on the offensive and call him out–and be ready for the fire hose of lies from an opponent who just wings it because debate prep is just for suckers. Bring the fact-check extinguisher—and hope the moderator has access to real-time fact-checking.
  • “We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19… If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe three million people (dead).” That was the misleader-in-chief riffing on his self-serving, parallel universe.
  • Unless you are the Palestinians, the deal the U.S. cut with some Gulf Arab countries is a qualified success. It results from Iran-driven geopolitics, a number of years in the making, and billion-dollar military hardware deals. But West Bank annexation is still unsettled and still festering, a two-state scenario still stillborn and an historic peace accord no less illusive–as the Palestinians well know.   
  • “Fill that seat!” The latest Trump-rally chant.
  • “Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real. It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.” That was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti—responding to President Trump’s clueless, climate-dismissing take on devastating, West Coast wildfires. The ones that killed dozens, forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, burned millions of acres and wiped out communities. The ones that Trump attributes to poor forest management.
  • It’s downright frightening—and unconscionable–that a number of doctors are increasingly worried that a lot of Americans just won’t trust a vaccine promoted as a possible October surprise by the president, one who has extolled the pandemic value of Clorox.
  • Trump got a grilling at an ABC/George Stephanopoulos-hosted town hall. The Bob Woodward-esque begged question (again): Why deal with those who are better informed and won’t accept your ongoing misinformation and generalizations—and, as a result, can put you in an embarrassing position? Because Trump is narcissistically Trump, and nobody can talk him out of anything that he wants to do, especially if it involves a microphone and a national forum. 
  • “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”—No that wasn’t some disgruntled, former Trump administration staffer. That was Dan Coats, Trump’s former director of national intelligence, who knows how critically important and sacrosanct truth is to national security.
  • During his (under oath) testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Chris Wray confirmed that Russia has been “very active” in trying to influence the November election by sowing divisiveness and trying to “denigrate” the candidacy of Joe Biden. Another reminder that Putin prefers Trump as the U.S. president. Still beyond disturbing as to why that would be.
  • Candor, whatever its context, has never been more welcome. Exhibit A: Michael Cohen’s response on why Republicans have continued to support Trump. “Because we’re stupid,” he admitted. “You know, we’re a bunch of sycophants. He’s very much like a cult leader.” Maybe we should have seen it coming. Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Donald Trump.
  • In the zero-sum, polarizing time of Trump–he’s a nativist cult leader or an existential threat–how is anyone an “undecided” voter?
  • There’s self-serving political exaggeration and then there’s the Trump-enabled new hyperbolic normal. Most recent example from someone other than Trump: AG William Barr and his characterization of the COVID lockdown. “The greatest intrusion on civil liberties (in U.S. history) other than slavery.” But, yes, slavery was worse.
  • Trump as we know, called the Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren, about playing football this fall. Interestingly, he didn’t contact the Pac-12. Hardly coincidental that the Big 10, where the culture of football is deep-rooted and rabid, includes a number of swing states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, most notably. The West Coast is notably politically blue—and at lethal odds with Trump over climate change and federal response to police-brutality protests. 
  • Ivanka Trump and Pam Bondi met up with invited local GOPsters at the Columbia Restaurant for what was called a “fireside chat.” It could also be called an Ybor City desecration.  

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