The Rationalist Papers (7): What did we learn from the debate?

(Photo by JIM WATSON,SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

What did we learn? Not very much. Undecided and third-party voters — and those planning not to vote — certainly won’t have much clarity after last night’s “debate.”

It was more of a rock fight.

Just a reminder: these Rationalist Papers posts are for the group I call the deciders: conservative, moderate, undecided, and third-party voters considering their choices in the 2020 US Presidential election.

Flooding the zone with shit

If you saw last night’s episode of WWE Presidential Debate Edition, my sympathies. If not, here’s what you missed: Two old white guys shouting and talking over each other for more than 90 minutes, while a third old white guy attempted to create some sort measure of order. Chris Wallace’s questions were fine, but the format was unwatchable.

President Trump persisted in speaking during Joe Biden’s answers and rebuttals, making it impossible to hear much of what Biden was attempting to say. In a Michael Lewis interview with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, Bannon said that the Trump media strategy is to “flood the zone with shit.” Last night’s demolition derby disguised as a political event was the live broadcast version of that strategy.

If you learned anything about policy from last night’s event, you are more perceptive than I am. There was no discourse.

But you may have learned something about character.

  • Trump demonstrated that he was able to stay on topic and deliver packaged bits at appropriate times. In this way, he exceeded very low expectations.
  • Biden demonstrated that he was able to assemble mostly coherent descriptions of what he planned to do, and to respond to accusations. By remaining relatively calm and cogent despite repeated harassment, he also exceeded very low expectations.
  • Trump showed he’s willing to go as low as is necessary. This is not news.
  • Biden demonstrated that he has plans to fix problems. This is not news.
  • Trump dodged questions about his taxes and his never-actually-seen health-care plan. Unsurprising.
  • Biden dodged questions about adding Supreme Court Justices. Unsurprising.
  • Biden spoke directly to the audience at home about what he would do for them. Trump spoke mostly about himself.
  • Trump lied about lots of things. Biden lied about a few things too. Shocking.

You may have heard that when moderator Chris Wallace invited him to denounce white supremacists, Trump didn’t do so — and he volunteered that the violent anti-immigrant “Western chauvinist” organization known as Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by.” This could be a new low, if we hadn’t long ago stopped keeping track of new lows.

You may have heard that Joe Biden called the president a clown and said “Will you shut up, man?” in his attempts to be heard. I doubt that this tells anyone anything about either man.

Got policy?

These debates have always been dubious exercises. Each candidate’s supporters want to cheer what he says and denigrate the other. The media is on watch for “gotchas” — mistakes or outrageous things candidates say. Everything is scored relative to “expectations” — as if it matters whether a candidate does better than what somebody expected, rather than how they did overall.

Really, who gives a fuck about any of that.

Will gotchas inform you at all as to whether the candidate will be a good president?

Does performance relative to expectations matter when a president needs to make a decision, shepherd legislation, or demonstrate leadership?

Is the ability to articulate a memorized message while the other guy is shouting really a skill that’s important in a chief executive?

That’s why this debate was useless and we learned nothing. And Trump’s rudeness made it impossible to learn even the minimal amount such debates usually convey.

What to do if you are disgusted by what you saw

You might look at what you saw last night and decide to give up on these two candidates. I certainly don’t think last night would persuade you to vote for either of them.

I urge you not to give up. Despite the stupidity of this format and the way it came off, it is not relevant for the election. Your choice is every bit as important as it was before the debate.

You have seen what four years of Donald Trump was like. Do you want more?

You have seen what eight years of Obama and Biden was like. Might that be better?

You need to choose. Because if you give up, you lose a voice in where America is going, at a critical moment in the nation’s history.

Feel free to post comments about salient parts of the debate. However, I will delete comments that insult or demean me, other commenters, or groups, or state supposed facts without evidence. Vacuous cheerleading and catcalling is also prohibited; this is not a sporting event. No one persuades anyone by creating a hostile environment.

For the origin of the Rationalist Papers, see this. All Rationalist Papers posts available here.

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    1. Perhaps. Her poll numbers are too low to matter right now, and there has to be some cutoff.

      But given the stupidity of last night’s display, I can’t believe that adding a third candidate would make things much better.

  1. WHO are these people that are undecided at this point in the campaign?… Unless you just woke up from a coma you made up your mind by now… Next debate, shut off the mike of the guy who is supposed to be listening… As others have said, that thing last night was a “shitshow”.

    1. I agree – it’s hard to imagine how anyone would be genuinely undecided at this point. Have they been living under a rock?

  2. In the absence of any trace of intelligible discourse, people will do what they always do: Vote for party ideology, or vote 3rd party out of protest. Nothing that either one of these clowns says will change that.

  3. a) I gave up watching candidate’s debate about 5 elections ago. They’re manufactured drama and a form of reality tv. There’s no substance, so why bother?

    b) Trump’s rudeness is nothing more than pandering to his base. He showed that he has no ability to control his emotions, but that’s nothing new.

    c) I don’t like that Biden took the bait and called Trump a clown and asked him to shut up (a request that the Trumpster fire would never honor, in any case). But who can blame Biden? “Debating” Ill Douche’ is like reasoning with a toddler. Or, to put it as I learned as a youth, just getting dirty and the pig likes to wrestle anyway.