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There's No Debating Donald Trump. This Is What Joe Biden Should Do Instead

In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP)
In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP)

The first presidential debate of the 2020 presidential election is Tuesday night, which means your average American voter has already been subjected to 3,442 television promos designed to make the event sound like a heavyweight title bout.

Media companies love marketing presidential debates in this manner, as the “long-awaited showdown” between the warlords of opposing camps. Because, hey, who really cares about policy? When your country is battling a lethal plague, mass unemployment, the tolls of climate change, systemic racism, viral corruption, and the growing threat of extremist violence, what we really need is … another inflammatory television event! (To which some 100 million people may tune in.)

To make sure you get just that, the Presidential Debate Commission, along with the moderator, have no intention of fact-checking either of the candidates in real-time. Nor will the rest of the media. Call it the Facebook approach to truth: if lies sell advertising, go for it.

A camera operator waits for a rehearsal ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Cleveland. (Julio Cortez/AP)
A camera operator waits for a rehearsal ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Cleveland. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Obviously, this favors the candidate most eager to spout whatever vile propaganda will generate the most gasps.

I wonder who that could be?

Some pundits have suggested scrapping the debates altogether. Others have advised Joe Biden not to waste time responding to the president, or to make jokes at his expense, which will pierce the fragile ego beneath his pathetic dominance displays.

"... there’s no angle in arguing with Trump’s word salads or engaging with his tabloid slander. The way to beat Trump is simply to quote Trump, over and over."

My own hope is that Biden hired an ex-Fox News bloviator for debate prep, and will come prepared to shut the president down when he inevitably tries to filibuster, interrupt and incite.

I also hope Biden’s team has been reviewing Trump’s astonishing catalog of tweets and public outbursts. Because there’s no angle in arguing with Trump’s word salads or engaging with his tabloid slander. The way to beat Trump is simply to quote Trump, over and over.

You know, little gems of wisdom like this one, from back in 2013: "Leadership: Whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible.”

This isn’t going to sound good coming from a president who smugly declared in March that he doesn’t "take any responsibility at all” for his inept response to a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and sent our economy reeling.

And how about this whopper from February of 2016? “We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare - and nobody can do that like me. We will save $’s and have much better healthcare!

Biden need only note the obvious: Trump has failed miserably at health care. He has spent four years attempting to kick millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions off their insurance plans by repealing the Affordable Care Act, and has failed to come up with an alternative. He just makes the same fake promise over and over.

Which brings us to this old chestnut, from way back in 2012, when Trump was just a failed businessman turned TV host: “You can’t con people, at least not for long. If you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

Yes they will.

Indeed, Biden would be wise to ignore Trump’s desperate riffing for long stretches, so that he can set out his own positive vision for recovering from COVID, providing health care and addressing the other real crises that Trump is constantly ignoring or making worse.

The message is simple: Most Americans are tired of the corruption and chaos, the race-baiting and fear-mongering. Biden has to cut through the perpetual noise of misinformation and speak, simply and directly, for the Fed Up Majority. That's the 60% to 70% of us who don’t approve of throwing kids in cages or praising neo-Nazis or kissing up to dictators or bragging about sexually assaulting women or handing billionaires tax breaks or dodging our tax bills.

Trump and his enablers are incapable of expressing shame. Shamelessness is their only real play. But most Americans live daily with the shame of seeing our most sacred values defiled. We may not regard Joe Biden as the hero we’ve been yearning for, but we are itching to cancel the Trump Show and take our democracy back.

This debate will simply be another reminder why.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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