When Joe Biden talks, Donald Trump listens
Biden appealed directly to the American people during the debate, Trump couldn’t fathom why
There were three times when Vice President Joe Biden looked directly into the camera and spoke to the viewers of Tuesday night’s Presidential Debate. (Or shall we say, quasi-Presidential Debate?) During those brief moments, Biden’s eyes met the unseen voters’ eyes. He appealed to the sensibilities of the American people. He spoke directly to us.
And we listened. But amazingly, so did President Donald Trump. Well, maybe he didn’t listen but he actually “shut up, man.” He closed his incessant pie hole, if only for a few blessed moments.
He may have been too stunned to speak because Biden was doing something alien to Trump. Biden was talking to all Americans, all of US. This is something Trump has never done, nor does he even know how to do it.
Trump has always talked to his base. The mob. Trump speaks to those who like his appeal to the most base instincts, which lurk in us all, and to those, who may not like the base appeal, but who have sold their secular, patriotic soul for power and wealth. (I’m looking at you Mitch McConnell, Bill Barr, Lindsey Graham and the rest of your ilk.)
The first time Biden turned to the camera, was during an early scrimmage, started, of course, by the Mugger-in-Chief (mug-ger: a person who attacks and robs another in a public place). It was around the 24 minute mark. Two minutes earlier, Trump ambushed the economy, trade, China talk with an early Hunter Biden trap. The vice president tried to parry with his sword but the president had come with his chainsaw.
Then Biden did a Jedi move. He recognized the Force in the universe outside of himself and began to talk to the millions watching, listening, streaming the debate.
“This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said looking at Wallace. He turned his head, body and attention to the audience through the camera lens. “It’s about your family, the American people,” he said (24:27). Trump was silent for fives seconds before he interrupted.
Nevertheless, Biden persisted. “[He] doesn’t want to talk about what you need. You, the American people, it’s about you. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
For 10 whole seconds, Trump fell silent. He stared at Biden trying to figure out what he was doing. Biden held up both his hands pointing toward the camera to emphasize that it’s about us, the American people. Trump’s squinty eyes, trained on the vice president’s mouth, looked puzzled. “Who are these American people? It’s all about me!” his eyes, followed quickly by his mouth, seemed to say.
But for those 10 blessed seconds, Biden found the shatterpoint, Trump’s fault line, his Achilles Heel, his Kryptonite. The American people. Trump doesn’t want to govern over the American people. He wants to use his minority support, about 40 percent of the electorate, to ruthlessly rule over the majority. To use every power lever in government to suppress dissent, destroy checks and balances, and rollback hard-won democratic rights, from civil and environmental rights to labor and LGBTQ rights to voting and women’s rights.
After Chris Wallace moved the debate along, telling the president he is interrupting more than Biden, he opened the segment on “race” and asked both, why should Black voters trust them. Biden gave his entire almost two minute answer looking straight into the camera. Trump was silent for most — not all — but most of it. When it came to his two minutes, Trump did not look at the camera once. He looked at Biden and launched his Blitzkrieg of lies and distortions about “law and order” and the Crime Bill. He never once addressed anything his administration has done or plans to do regarding race and racism.
For his part, Biden was clear that the place he would start in addressing the injustice of police killings and racial inequities is by bringing people together. He pointed out the terrible toll Covid-19 has taken on Black communities with 1 in 1,000 dying from the disease, under Trump’s watch.
And what did Trump do when he was asked to condemn white supremacists and rightwing militias? He hemmed and hawed, deflected and misdirected. He called on the Proud Boys, a violent white nationalist, men-only group, which the FBI designated as “extremist,” to “stand back and stand by,” looking only at Biden and toward Wallace through the entire exchange.
Toward the end, Biden again turned to the camera and said:
Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. If you’re able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you’re able to vote in person, vote in person. Vote whatever way is the best way for you, because you will… He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.
Trump doesn’t address anything about voting, only a bizarre conspiracy about that his administration had no transition in 2016. He also called on his supporters to target Philadelphia as “poll watchers.” He must be very worried about Pennsylvania.
Biden promised to represent the entire country, not just his supporters. Trump does nothing of the sort. And as his base shrinks, he gets more extreme, appealing to the violent, racist, rightwing militias.
This debate was God awful, a “train wreck,” a “dumpster fire.” But not because Biden called Trump a “clown” or tried to defend his sons from immoral attacks. It was awful because Donald Trump is president and took the 90 minutes to abuse not just Biden, but the American people. Something he has been doing over the last three years and 10 months.
This election has a lot riding on it. Some say democracy is on the ballot; decency is the choice before voters; the soul of America is at stake. Others say if Trump wins, the country is headed toward neofascist or dictatorial authoritarian rule.
There is another dynamic at work. It is between the abusers and the abused, the bullies and the bullied, the extremists and the American people. Joe Biden stood up to the abuser. He stood up to the bully. He stood up to the extremist on our behalf. It’s time for us to stand up and vote the bully out.
But we have to do more than just get ourselves to the polls to vote. We have to commit to get friends, family and neighbors to vote. Volunteer for a Biden-Harris phone bank, or one of the close Senate or congressional races. There are many organizations running phone banks into these races and battleground states. Pledge to call 50 voters. It takes less than two hours to call. With all the volunteers together, it can take out a bully from the bully pulpit.