President Donald Trump’s toxic performance in the first presidential debate against Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden highlights anti-Black racism’s stranglehold on American democracy.
Tuesday night’s spectacle, was easily the worst presidential debate since live television contests were first aired in 1960, with a debate between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and young Massachusetts Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Trump consistently steamrolled moderator Chris Wallace, a seasoned reporter many thought would have fared better. Trump’s falsehoods and outright whoppers about his administration’s inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his xenophobic pillorying of China and prevarications about his personal income taxes set the stage for direct appeals to America’s worst racial impulses.
Trump’s championing of “law and order” eliminated the dog whistles of which he and his administration have long been fond with more naked appeals to White voters’ racial fears. He has accused Biden of wanting to “destroy” the suburbs — which in his apocalyptic imagination are lily white — by not standing up to antifa and left-wing forces. Asked to publicly disavow white supremacist and military groups, Trump dodged the question. When pressed on a specific far-right group, he said he would tell them to “stand back and stand by.” These comments implied they should be ready to pounce and wreak havoc if — as Trump has repeatedly warned is possible (warnings he stunningly chose to reiterate from the debate stage) — the election results don’t favor him.
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