A spate of news stories regarding the upcoming debates report that in anticipation of withering personal attacks and ridicule Joe Biden is being prepped to not lose his temper, use humor to deflect attacks, and keep the focus on the economy, the pandemic and health care.
We have a President who repeatedly asserts, without evidence, that a Democratic victory proves a rigged election and refuses to say that he will leave office peacefully; who has weaponized the Department of Justice, removed national security officials who won’t suppress evidence of Russian election interference and domestic terror groups, engaged in Soviet style purges of those who put fealty to the law above personal loyalty to him, used his office to enrich himself and his family, and openly encourages dangerous extremists, militia groups, and conspiracy theorists.
And the planned response from the opposition party is to stay calm and get wonky on policy issues like it’s the 1980’s (a tack that didn’t even work then). If this is what we see on Tuesday it will be more than a strategic blunder (the time when the President could have had a major impact on COVID was 9 months ago and restructuring the economy and the health care system requires a campaign that helps destroy the Trump brand and Democratic majorities for at least a decade) it will constitute a huge moral failure. In the face of this unprecedented attack on American institutions and civic culture, the only responsible course is calling out the President as unfit for office, a congenital liar, a fraud, and an imminent threat to American democracy.
None of this requires “sinking to the President’s level” or “getting into a street fight he can’t win” (current tropes of the nation’s punditry). There are hundreds, at this point thousands, of examples of lies and baseless fantasies and fictions to, as the context demands, greet with derisive laughter, mock disbelief, ridicule, and yes flashes of anger. Similarly, there are almost limitless examples of personal corruption, malfeasance, and abuses of power to calmly recite or pose as questions.
The Democratic base, suburban voters in swing states, and Republicans with misgivings all need a full-frontal exposure to Trump as a pathetic insecure con man—a mob boss occupying the White House. You do this not by “name calling” but by stating facts, quoting Trump’s own words, asking a lot of questions, and conducting yourself in a way that goads Trump into his petty, nasty, make things up on the spot “rally mode.” This is not so difficult. A few examples in responding to attacks.
In response to attacks on Hunter Biden: (Looking at audience with a derisive glance at Trump) “This from a man who put members of his family in sensitive White House positions and pressured our intelligence experts to give them security clearances!” This from a man who has used the Oval Office to earn millions for himself and his family and has appointed the most corrupt set of cabinet officials in modern history! (Looking at Trump) You have abused your power to pressure foreign governments and the Attorney General of the United States to dig dirt on my son and family and you have come up empty. And, as you well know, my son stepped down from his position to avoid even in the appearance of impropriety.”
In response to attacks on Biden as a tool of the “radical left” “Antifa” and those who want to destroy the American way of life. (Looking at Trump) I cannot think of anyone who knows less about the American way of life than you. You have spent your life leveraging your inheritance, running companies into the ground, short-changing employees, and chasing foreign capital when American banks would not lend you any more money to squander. And your conduct in office makes a mockery of American values, from your “love affair” with Kim Un Jong to siding with Russia over US intelligence agencies, to using the Department of Justice to go after your political opponents.
(Looking at Trump) Oh, please, it is the Republican party, under your leadership, that has embraced extremism. Your late-night tweets spread hate, misinformation and conspiracy theories from white supremacists and militias and you repeatedly encourage lawless vigilantism. (Looking at audience) I am absolutely committed to combatting lawlessness whether on the right or the left but this President has suppressed and ignored evidence by the Department of Homeland Security that white supremacists and right wing militias constitute a far greater danger than AntiFa, he has purged his party of moderates interested in solving America’s problems and encouraged conspiracy theorists and Q Anon followers. (Could begin to describe the craziest wack jobs holding or seeking office as Republicans until the moderator stops you)
In response to attacks on his alertness, sleepiness, and his campaign “lid.” (Looking at Trump) I am glad you brought that up. (Looking at audience) I have a confession to make tonight. I hesitate to share such personal information with you, but the American people have a right to know…… at night, I like to sleep. In the evenings, I like to consult with staff, prepare for the next day, and spend some time with my family. And at night, I like to sleep. I do not feel the need to watch hours and hours of cable news to see what people are saying about me. I do not stay up until 2 or 3 am sending tweets and messages that ridicule those I disagree with, or threaten them with jail, or distribute conspiracy theories. If that is what you think a President should do, I am not your guy.
My worry is that we will get little if any of this and lots of talk about Scranton and his family, emotional (“weak” in 2020 terms) outpourings of empathy for others, recitations of how much he and Obama accomplished, and diving into policy details even though no one is listening.
I hope he proves me wrong.