Joe Biden Lost The Debate. America Is Losing What’s Left of Its Soul.

Last night was a night that may prove more consequential for the role of TV and politics in America than the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate.  That debate, the first televised, is widely considered a watershed moment in this country when visuals became an integral component of how we pick leaders.  And for 64 years that was the standard used to show the importance of television. I believe if Donald Trump wins re-election as a man who has been twice impeached, convicted of 34 felonies and never won a popular vote, this debate should replace the Kennedy-Nixon debate as the new standard for how a television debate can go wrong.

Donald Trump had his usual amount of thick make-up and face drooping like orange sherbet in the beginning process of melting. But President Biden came out looking shockingly pale. Almost deathly looking. And it was a visual harbinger of what was to come.  His voice was weak (illness, overpreparation or both?), his gaze was wandering and his answers were often jumbles of varying levels of coherence.  I did think, minus his terrible concluding statement, that Biden’s second half of the debate was better than his first (improving from a first half F to a second half C+), but there is no sugar coating how bad a performance it was, given what was needed (it was basically the exact opposite of his needed and delivered home run from his last Stat of the Union address).

Trump looked and sounded so much better than Biden that the stark difference in truth and substance was barely an afterthought for many

But I have been a very vocal supporter and endorser of a second term for Joe Biden and I need to at least point some things out before continuing:

  •  Trump never stopped lying. And his lies (on facts, his record, his administration) are getting bigger to the point of historical gaslighting.  He has now made some of talking points that Gen John Kelly is a liar and that he never said “very fine people on both sides” after Charlottesville.  We are one debate from Trump claiming 9/11 and the moon landing never happened. And this is such a  big fundamental problem in comparing the two candidates. The same way Americans seem to not even expect Republicans to govern and Democrats to deliver 100% of a wish list, Trump’s lying is so pervasive and expected that it no longer even registers as a negative.
  • The format of the debate was a disaster. Biden appeared not up to debating under normal, fact checking, moderator-pushback conditions, and he was forced into double duty – fact checking meekly on top of making the case for himself meekly.
  • The presidency ages everyone except for one person: Donald Trump. I would argue that his combination of makeup and not giving a shit about the weight of the duties and obligations of the office helped him look the same. The only time he looked haggard were after losing the election and losing his criminal case because those two things affect his ego and potentially his freedom. Joe Biden, by contrast, is a man who cares deeply for others so the office was going to age him for sure, perhaps more than most. And he entered office as the oldest man ever to hold it and has entered a phase of life where the chances of rapid degradation are more possible.  So we are witnessing an aging that literally pales in comparison to any other president we’ve seen.  It doesn’t mean he can’t do the job, but it certainly means he probably cannot make the case for himself in a televised debate

But after all of these things, the reality is that facts, data and legislative accomplishments have not moved the needle in Biden’s favor. So the idea that people will do anything but trust their eyes and ears after watching Joe Biden flop on television is an absurd hope. So what are we to do?

Many people want President Biden to step down, but I think that is unlikely (but not impossible).  The idea that that will suddenly unite the factions of the Left (get ready to hear every flaw and gaffe Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris have ever made as certain factions bend over backwards to be cynical non-participants in our democracy) is naive.  So, I ask again, what do we do?


Donald Trump’s past, present and future (Project 2025) all point to someone without the morals, intelligence, patience, character, knowledge and temperament to be anything but an awful leader.  He does not believe in America or democracy and cares for almost no one in his family, let alone the country.  In fact, the more focused and energetic he appears, the more that means he has the will and energy to sit in the Oval Office with a singlemindedness for revenge and self-gratification.  As much as this is a broken record, denying Trump the White House is fundamental to preserving America and democracy.

On the other hand, Biden’s record of accomplishment is impressive, his empathy almost legendary and the team surrounding him one of talent and values.  And that team is important. Presidents never act alone – they are largely decision makers basing those decisions on the more specialized experts they’ve selected for their team.  Donald Trump promises to fill his second administration with people of low talent and complete loyalty to whatever Trump deems important to him. Joe Biden has done the opposite and will continue to do so.

However, I fear that the Biden debate performance has given what the Right and the Complaining Left deeply wanted. The Right because it inches them closer to power and the Complaining Left finds further validation for their fantasy that Bernie Sanders or the Squad would be both electable and more productive under the conditions that President Biden labors under.

The truth is that America has a choice and it is both an incredibly difficult, and incredibly easy one to make.  The fact that Donald Trump is a nominee again is already evidence that we are at Stage 4 collapse of American Democracy. Social media, racism, abdication of both personal values and democratic principles by most elected Republicans have made a perfect storm to welcome Trump back to the cusp of leadership.  Joe Biden is old. He is aging poorly (speaking of visuals, not his ability to do the job) and he had a terrible debate performance.  But his record is strong and his values are rock solid.  I think it would have been better for him to have stepped down, but barring a miracle he will not.

Literally as I finished the last paragraph the Trump Supreme Court has just weakened the Chevron doctrine, which cedes a certain amount of rulemaking to executive agencies.  Now most voters will not know what that is. But the people who have used Trump’s vanity for their own greed and control certainly do. It will make their lives much more profitable and will make governing and legislating in this country more difficult. That will only increase cynicism  and lead to an increasing death spiral of governing and faith in governance.

Ben Franklin said “we have a Republic, if we can keep it.”  Joe Biden and his administration (we need to think of him and present him as a manager of a good group than as an all-powerful singular figure) may be our last chance to keep it. Trump has already impacted the country negatively for decades.  Voting for President Biden may be the only hope we have to stop Trump’s impact from becoming permanent.


  • Aaron Peterson

    Spot on!
    This is a great piece. I’ll be sharing it with friends.
    For democracy ,

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