The first presidential debate of the 2020 election this was a night of headache-inducing Trumpian nihilism, as our colleague Clara Jeffery wrote last night. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was visibly trying to stay calm, focus on the camera, and speak as directly as possible to the American people—while President Donald Trump attacked, interrupted, and talked over everyone, moderator Chris Wallace included, whose 11th hour recommitment to the rules of the debate came far too late to somehow contain the wreckage.
But, in the end, was this debate a good thing for voters? Trump’s careening performance rendered a debasing spectacle of American democracy, making the usual post-debate analysis feel practically pointless. Typically we ask: who won and who lost? But today, that question seems less relevant: This was about a stark choice, laid bare. “I understand why people wanted to rush to the shower afterwards. It was ugly. It was brutal. It was indeed debasing, but it was Trump revealing Trump,” says Washington D.C. Bureau Chief David Corn, on a new episode of the Mother Jones Podcast. And in that sense, Corn argues, “this was a great night for America.”
Trump, in essence, proved Biden’s point, Corn argues: “It’s out in the open. He sees saying the quiet part aloud. And when a political opponent does that, it makes your work—if you’re a Democrat, if you’re someone who wants to see Trump gone—easier.” (Check out his debate-night essay here.)
Podcast host Jamilah King also interviews DC-based reporter Nathalie Baptiste about her experience of the debate, and her main takeaways. They get into the mind-boggling contrast between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on the debate stage, the racism embedded in the debate topics, and whether voters might have any reason at all to feel hopeful as November 3 approaches.
Listen to their full conversations on the latest episode of the Mother Jones Podcast: