Wallace, Biden Entered Trump’s Event Horizon. They Didn’t Make It Out

In the hours ahead of the first presidential debate on Tuesday evening in the US, Joe Biden released his tax returns in a bid to capitalize on The New York Times‘s revelation that Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

The Biden family, by contrast, paid around $300,000 in 2019, or 400 times more than Trump paid during his first two years as president, if you’re keeping score at home.

As the Times not-so-gently wrote ahead of the debate, “what makes the tax story especially dangerous for Trump is that it feeds the larger narrative hammered out metronomically by the Biden campaign: that of a ‘Scranton vs. Park Avenue’ race between a middle-class regular guy and a selfish oligarch who failed to address a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans”.

The Trump camp, meanwhile, attempted to play up a groundless viral story about Biden wearing a secret earpiece. And that wasn’t the only conspiracy theory floating around on Tuesday.

Ultimately, none of that mattered. And neither did anything else, including and especially the issues, which were drowned out by what turned into an hour-and-a-half-long, three-way shouting match between Trump, Biden, and Chris Wallace.

In the simplest possible terms, the debate wasn’t a debate. There was no substantive discussion of COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, election integrity, climate change, or anything else. Rather, those topics served as mere jumping off points for a series of sometimes totally unrelated exchanges between three men battling each other for control of a runaway steam locomotive barreling at high speed down the tracks to nowhere.

Biden called Trump a “clown” at one point, and repeatedly implored the president to “shut up”. Wallace attempted to shout Trump down at various intervals, going so far as to remind the president that his campaign agreed to the debate rules ahead of time. “Mr. President, please…”, was a near constant refrain from the moderator’s chair.


Trump was undaunted, unapologetic, unrelenting, and totally unrepentant. Deflecting facts and statistics as though shooing away flies, the president regaled a sparse in-person crowd and what one can only imagine was a flabbergasted home audience, with a deliberately indecipherable and sometimes wholly incoherent harangue that, if nothing else, proved that debating him is an exercise in abject futility.

There’s a very real sense in which Trump was on top of his game. Of course, that’s not a good thing. At least not for the country or for the world. His “game” is precisely what has America teetering on the brink of societal meltdown.

But there is no sense in which one could suggest, based on his Tuesday night performance anyway, that Trump has “lost a step”. He was every bit the abrasive carnival barker, every ounce the unabashed showman, and every moment the insufferable cartoon demagogue, that millions of Americans either love or loathe, with almost no one falling in-between the two extremes.

Trump almost seemed to revel in various allegations (from Biden), including the former vice president’s matter-of-fact contention that “You’re the worst president America has ever had”. Anyone else would chafe at the notion that they’ve been an absolute failure. Not Trump. One might have mistaken his smirk for a grin, even.

Wallace confronted the president with indisputable statistics, including the reality of the pre-pandemic labor market. “It turns out that in Obama’s final three years as president, more jobs were created — 1.5 million more jobs — than in the first three years of your presidency”, Wallace told Trump. Trump simply ignored him. Without missing a beat, he accused Biden of presiding over the slowest recovery in history, before quickly pivoting to the stock market.

That was indicative of the whole night. It wasn’t so much that Trump was “deflecting”. Instead, the president spent most of the debate simply pretending as though responding directly to Biden and Wallace wasn’t an imperative, but rather an option — one which he eschewed repeatedly.

Towards the end of what was, by every account, an unfortunate spectacle, Wallace asked Trump directly if he would “urge his supporters to stay calm” until the votes are counted and the election is certified. Trump did not commit to that. Not at all, in fact.


“Im urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully”, Trump began, before positing a conspiracy in which unspecified “bad things are happening”.

“This is not going to end well. This is not going to end well”, Trump said, of the election.

For lack of a better way to describe the proceedings, the first (and, if there’s any justice, the last) presidential debate of 2020 was an unmitigated disaster.

To be sure, everyone knew it would be a circus. And most expected it would rapidly descend into farce. But a country that’s been through as much as America has in the past nine months surely didn’t deserve this.

Or maybe it did. After all, every nation gets the government it deserves.


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13 thoughts on “Wallace, Biden Entered Trump’s Event Horizon. They Didn’t Make It Out

  1. Every country gets the government it elects. Not for three-and-a-half years, but for four years. This vis-a-vis the justification in nominating a SCOTUS justice.
    The president has previously been alluded to as a charlatan on these pages, Prof. H, and now as a carney barker. Not inaccurate.And after tonights spectacle, hardly disrespectful.

    1. Maybe. But Biden seemed… old. Where as Trump did seem like TRUMP. I did like that Biden told Trump to shut up. Take the gloves off. Call it what it is.
      No more debates?
      Hold the next two. Tell him to shut up every time. Allow him the forum to rally his base? Perhaps. But shame the rest of the electorate with a public display on the world stage. And yes, if Trump wins, we deserve it.

  2. No one is going to come out of a debate that includes Trump and look good if they play by the rules and are nice. All told, Biden and Wallace supporters, of which there is a majority in the U.S., at least for Biden, have to be pretty solid with the dirt and slinging. The Democratic contender is one of the few who can dish toe-to-toe with Trump and not come out looking weak. The guy dished. Kudos where kudos are deserved.

    We know what we’re dealing with and what the choice is. Two more debates of this nature are unwarranted. Let’s hope the parties mutually agree to call them off.

    Re countries get the government they deserve, I also like the corollary: countries get the architecture they deserve.

  3. The cognitive dissonance of people watching that with their own two eyes, taking everything else going on around now, and simultaneously deciding to be long the system (short vol) in any sense is truly a remarkable thing to behold. There are thousands of rationalizations out there, but all of them struggle to pass a basic smell test.

    I’m not sure why we haven’t figured it out by now, but there is no such thing as debating with fascism. There are no shared premises. There is no basis of reciprocity or respect, no social contract, no language for it. Language itself is intentionally abused, words are used incorrectly and contradictorily.

    Democrats appear to still be in denial. They want to blame everything on one or a few bad actors, and refuse to accept any responsibility for where we find ourselves. They still haven’t posed the important question: how is something like tonight even remotely possible?

    I’ve resisted mentioning this before as I know it isn’t a focus of this forum and I am not interested in evangelism, but nevertheless I consider it a PSA at the current moment: watching this debate, does one still need another reason to spend some time and understand what Bitcoin is all about?

    Yes it is complicated and yes there are risks, but the risk/reward set up right now is very compelling, all the more so given the ‘uncompensated’ risks of being long the current system.

  4. I clocked out at 15 minutes because life is too short for such chaotic nonsense. Through no fault of his own, Chris Wallace achieved his goal of invisibility.

    Joe Biden should not waste time or energy on more such “debates.”

  5. You end the post with the perfect sentence/thought. I kept thinking last night that we collectively failed as a nation, our parties, institutions, leaders and the citizens as a whole, there is no returning back to a civic and intelectual debate of ideas. American exceptionalism is defunct.

  6. I’ve heard a lot of “why don’t they just turn off their mics when it’s not their turn” today. The reason is two-fold. 1 – It wouldn’t make for very good TV and these broadcasters need to bring in those sweet, sweet advertising dollars. 2 – These chumps don’t actually have anything to say. Who among us really thinks either of these clowns could speak intelligently for 15 minutes about….anything? When they cut each other off neither has to say anything. I have no doubt in my mind that every reader of this site personally knows a dozen people who are more intelligent and well-reasoned than these schmucks. It’s embarrassing. I suggest that instead of watching the next debate everybody just does a YouTube search for Andrew Yang and listens to him be smart for a while.

  7. 2 Fox print articles and 2 National Review articles first thing this morning told me it did not go well for Trump.
    Even the N.Y. Post was unkind to him.
    Who would want to defend/debate, a have and have not economy and a bungled Covid response.
    Besides a tax cut for those that do not need it, aTrade War with no allies and an enforcement of anti-science world view what does 4 years have to show us?
    He is a desperate man. His family, creditors and the Tax Man are something anyone would want at bay by any means possible.
    He needs 4 years far more than the world does of him.
    But I am from N.Y., every time I think I heard the last of that trust fund kid from the wrong side of the river he has a new act. Always an act, an angle, something bright and shiny. Roy Cohn died as the wolves were scratching through the door. He did not have to care. Donald was deprived of the full lesson. Or he becomes a despot. Now that would be something. I hope the young hot-heads do not ruin their own lives for this man. He evidently reached out to them.

  8. I bailed after two minutes. It was so painful. Should have stuck it out. Happy to read you take. It is going to be a wild ride. I live in the heart of Trump country PA. There is nothing anyone can say to sway the true believers. I respect their option, but … I hope our country’s institutions can take the beating. If it gets tied up in the courts, then hello President Pelosi in January. Not that I want that either, but I would take it.

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