“Attempting to control Trump is not for the faint of heart”

By Michelle D. Bernard, for Politico Magazine

October 23, 2020

Hallelujah! The muting of each candidate during his opponent’s opening answers might have actually resurrected some sense of what a presidential debate should look like. We could actually hear the contenders speak. Going into the debate, I feared for Kristen Welker, the moderator, given Trump’s propensity for attacking and demeaning women, particularly Black women. Thankfully, he did not tell her she was “rude” or “hostile,” as he reportedly once said to veteran journalist April Ryan. He didn’t tell her to “be nice” and “not threatening,” as he once said to PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor. Nor did he call Welker a “monster,” as he has said of Senator Kamala Harris. NBC’s Welker had complete control, and, as we saw just a few weeks ago, attempting to control Trump is not for the faint of heart.

Thursday’s debate succeeded in doing exactly what our democracy demands. It gave the American public an opportunity to judge the content of the character of the men who wish to lead the greatest nation on earth. If you were unable to do so before Thursday night, you should now be able to answer the question of what you want our nation to stand for. Will we elect a man who sees the nation as red states and blue states, or a man who, as Biden said, would be an “American president”? Will we elect a man who seemingly has no remorse for the 223,000 Americans who have died of Covid-19, or the more than 44,000 children who were diagnosed with the virus in the past week alone? Will we elect a man who compares himself to Abraham Lincoln, and believes that he has done more for the African American community than any other president? Will we elect a man who is responsible for separating 545 children from their parents at the border and has no plan to reunite them? Will we elect a man who throws out terms meant to divide us—“the China virus,” “coyotes” “pigs in a blanket,” “AOC plus three”—and then declares that he’s the least racist person in the room?

Biden was superb; this was arguably the best debate performance he has ever had. He had the tone, tenor, demeanor and empathy of the president that so many Americans long for. He was almost “Obamaesque,” and succeeded in reminding the American public and the world what our nation stood for four very long years ago.

Trump’s behavior and the dizzying number of primary candidates this cycle have probably changed presidential debates forever, but we need debates, muting or not. When done well, they can reflect what the soul of our nation can and should be.

Michelle Bernard is a political analyst, lawyer, author, and president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.

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