Are You Not Entertained?

I have been trying to wrap my head around why so many people disliked the first presidential debate when I enjoyed it so thoroughly. What gives?

Maybe it’s that I wasn’t expecting much. I made a cocktail, got comfortable, and enjoyed the show. It was a brawl. A bloodbath. As the American Mind’s Matthew Peterson commented on social media, it was like a scene from “Gladiator.” That’s what I wanted. 

Maybe that’s it. Other people wanted something else—something like a sophisticated, polite, clear-eyed debate about policy. 

That seems silly to me at this point. It seems obvious we are in the midst of Revolution 2020. We are not arguing about policy. War is neither polite nor sophisticated. You get to the objective any way you can: over, under, or through. But that won’t help explain things to someone who doesn’t see this as war. 

So why should we embrace the entertainment of a fight and leave behind the hopes for polite political discourse? Because the debate of our dreams—the reasoned discourse, the lengthy responses, the political decorum—is not the alternative to the combat we saw. It’s either a fight in the open or an assassination. It was never going to be polite or about policy.

Sophisticated Assassination

Take this week’s debate in Ohio. The setup is entirely rigged for a murder. The moderator asks biased questions with ridiculous lies as predicates: “President Trump, the media reports you beat your wife. Have you stopped beating your wife?” Or the question goes to Biden: “here is a softball question. Now please spend two minutes lying about Trump.” 

Trump knows something we don’t want to admit: letting those lies go unchallenged or waiting to address them is a loser. So he doesn’t. He responds right then and there. He interrupts their lies. 

Trump’s critics see the interruption; they either don’t see or ignore the lies.

What is Trump supposed to do? Write down his objections and wait patiently to address them when it is his turn? If he were to wait, it would look like a slimy political deflection. “Thanks for that question, but I want to go back and talk about something from five minutes ago.”

We don’t care about those rebuttals minutes after the fact. We don’t have the attention span. They come off as petty. And anyway, the schoolmarm moderator will make sure to scold Trump back on track. This is a sophisticated debate, remember, and we have to cover lots of policy ground . . . 

That’s how the assassination works. It looks sophisticated and polite, but there is still plenty of blood. The problem for decent, fair-minded people who love their country is that the other side controls the apparatus and only one side will get killed. The media, the debate commission, the talking heads—all of it—are stacked against decent debate and polite politics. 

Wishing for something different than what happens is to wish for a chimera. It’s chasing gold at the end of the rainbow. To wish for it is to get what we got before Trump: losers. 

And losers beget more blood: the blood of thousands of American soldiers and foreigners killed in useless wars, the blood of millions of babies slaughtered in the womb, and now there is blood in the streets of people murdered by the violent wing of the Democratic Party. You don’t want a blood bath? You are drenched in it. We are all drowning in it.

A Cordial Exchange? Dream On

The enemy of polite discourse isn’t Trump, it’s the bloody establishment he is fighting. 

Yes, yes, we all yearn for some modern version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But that isn’t going to happen. There are powers today that can and will prevent it. Such debates are a dream. 

So the choice is watch an assassination or watch a fight. There will be blood. Romney and McCain chose to be murdered. They played the part of the polite loser. Trump doesn’t. He interrupts. He provokes. He sees their sneering and their scolding and their chuckling, and he sneers and laughs and scolds right back. He sees their lies and he fights.

Could Trump have fought better? Probably. Sometimes he should let Biden speak longer, since the more Biden talks, the more pathetic he looks. 

Trump missed some opportunities and minced some words. He could have been funnier (though I’m angry and l like that he is angry). He should train more for the next round, if Biden is willing to take another beating. Still, I’m not one to make the perfect the enemy of the good. 

The debate was awesome to watch—a master class in real statesmanship and prudence: the work of a man who sees his circumstances for what they actually are and who has the courage and the fire to take it on. Will it work? I don’t know. But who cares? If Trump loses, we will have no choice but to fight.

Remember, Trump’s approach is only imprudent if we aren’t “based” enough to recognize the need for it. But if we don’t recognize it, we need to be awakened. The only thing to wake us up from our stupor is the continued assault on the dreamworks—the bracing, biting “rudeness” of Trump mocking the whole circus. Consider it a “warrior aesthetic” if it makes you feel more educated. We are well past reasoned arguments. 

Embrace the Fight

Strategically, we all need to be reminded that we don’t need to win, we just need to fight. In Trump we see a man who knows the nobility of the fact that, win or lose, it is better to go down “guns blazing and flag flying” than to settle for the obnoxious rule of petty tyrants. 

The talking heads will say it was a tactical mistake and a turnoff to voters. Maybe, but it was red meat to Trump’s base, and one look at the leftist twits after the debate shows that they were clearly discouraged. Biden looked weak. He couldn’t handle Trump, even with Chris Wallace’s help. Now Trump’s voters are energized; Biden’s are suppressed. When everyone in the media wants you to believe the debate was just an overall disaster and orange man bad, it means the debate was a disaster for Biden and Trump’s strategy worked.

Forget the politics of yesteryear. It was all a dream anyway. While we slept our country marched to the brink. Plenty of conservative intellectuals will bow to the law of fashion and murmur a rebuke of the crudeness. They will unwittingly prop up the pretend world. The media surely will try to lull you back to bed with polls and focus groups of people who bemoan the boorishness of it all, as if there were a real alternative. They want to pull on that cowardly thread in your mind that yearns for the imaginary world where things are fair. 

But don’t be fooled. Wake up. Stay awake. Be sober-minded and take heart. Embrace the fight. Make a cocktail. Then sit back and enjoy the entertainment. 

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About Adam Selene

Adam Selene is the pseudonym of a writer who has studied American political thought and politics.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images