Not again

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.


That was how many times President Trump interrupted Joe Biden during the 90-minute first presidential debate on Sept. 29. That’s close to an interruption per minute, and that tally counts only Trump’s initial interruptions of Biden or the moderator–it doesn’t even consider interruptions raised by Trump in the ensuing back-and-forth where he would repeatedly talk over the other two onstage.

Many around the country called the debate “unwatchable,” “embarrassing” and even “the worst in recent memory.” There were questions immediately afterwards about whether the two already-scheduled debates the following weeks would proceed. After such a debacle, few were eager for round two.

The next debate between the two candidates was scheduled to occur about two weeks later, on Oct. 15. Trump’s struggles with COVID-19 and his refusal to move to a virtual format, however, caused the event to be canceled. The final debate between Biden and Trump is currently scheduled to occur on Thursday, Oct.  22.

Biden should not attend.

The first debate was doomed from the outset based on the president’s interruptions and unwillingness to abide by the rules — rules set by a neutral party, the Commision on Presidential Debates (CPD); rules he and his campaign agreed to. But his refusal to let others speak was hardly the only reason the debate turned into the horrifying spectacle it did. 

Trump, when asked to denounce white supremacy, told white supremacist group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” He encouraged supporters to engage in voter intimidation, prodding them to flood polling places and “watch very carefully.” When pressed on whether he would accept the results of the election, he declined to answer and repeated his baseless claim that mail-in voting will lead to “a fraud like you’ve never seen.” 

Since the debate, there has been no sign of remorse from the president. No apologies for the insults, the dog whistles, the inflammatory remarks. There has been no indication that he won’t continue to spew misinformation and dangerous rhetoric at the next debate on Thursday.

So why give him the megaphone, the attention he seeks to spread his propaganda? Why validate his lies by giving them the prestige of a once-distinguished event?

Beyond the dangers of giving Trump such a platform, there are other more immediate issues. Just two weeks ago, Trump tested positive for COVID-19 after a “superspreader” event at the announcement of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, where COVID-19 guidelines were disregarded for maskless hugs and indoor receptions. With many around Trump having tested positive in the days since then, there is a possibility that someone in his circle attending the Thursday debate will have COVID-19 — and be contagious. 

Biden should not risk his health by being in a room with a group who have consistently disregarded public health guidelines. The Cleveland Clinic, who handles COVID-19 protocols for the CPD, has released rules that candidates must get tested before debates and the limited spectators must wear masks. But this is simply not enough. 

When asked whether he fulfilled requirements and was tested before the first debate, Trump has claimed ignorance, saying “possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.” At the first debate, where the audience was required to wear masks, many of the people on the Trump side — including his four children — went unmasked, going so far as to refuse masks offered by staffers. In both cases, they were not forced to comply with guidelines.

Finally, there is just no good reason for Biden to attend the debate. The CPD was formed, according to their website, to “ensure that the voting public has the opportunity to see the leading candidates debate during the general election campaign.” The voting public has had ample opportunity to do so, and polls have indicated over 95% of voters have already made up their minds. The reality is that there are few indications that another debate will shift public opinion in any significant way. 

Trump, substantially down in most polls and hoping for any possibility of an electoral boost, might still want a debate. But Biden should not subject himself to 90 more minutes of lies and abuse because of Trump’s desperation. Besides, mail-in and early voting has already begun. Over 41 million ballots are estimated to have already been cast. “The general election campaign,” for all intents and purposes, is over.

Biden, who preaches a return to normalcy, may hesitate to take the unusual step of canceling a debate. But there is nothing requiring his presence, and ample reasons for both the safety of himself and the country that suggest he recuse himself. Allowing Trump to pontificate and lie on a national stage again will do nothing but deepen divides, inflame wounds, and embolden the worst elements in our country. Trump should not be given the coverage his ego craves. He does not deserve it.