The principal discussion in the aftermath of the September 29 Presidential Debate is less about who won and more about whether there should be any further debates this Election season.
Though there are some people who believe that Biden did not do well, such a concern misses the importance of what actually happened that night. We witnessed an exchange – one cannot call it a debate – unlike anything that any of us have seen at the Presidential stage in our lifetimes. There was no discussion of views. There was madness elaborated by the sitting President of the United States of America.
As I watched the debate I speculated on Trump’s objectives. There seemed to have been several. These included:
One, to create and demonstrate chaos. This is characteristic of his entire administration whereby he goes about generating a crisis and then offers himself as the only means of resolving the self-made crisis. By using the debate to suggest that everything is up in the air and impossible to understand, he then stands there as the alleged solution.
Two, he aimed to disrupt Biden’s arguments. There is a tactic that I learned years ago that is often employed in collective bargaining negotiations. When one side is talking, the other side interrupts. The aim is to disrupt the train of thought of one’s opponent and thereby disrupt their negotiation strategy. Trump attempted that Tuesday night, though with little success.
Three, making his attacks personal in order to force Biden to reply in kind. This was attempted several times and largely failed. When Biden could have tripped, he turned to the camera and spoke to the audience.
Four, to signal to fascist and quasi-fascist groups that he had their backs and would refuse to condemn them but would flip the script and make the Left out to be the problem. The most dangerous component of this was his continued suggestion that his supporters should turn out on Election Day to ensure that the vote is legitimate. Under certain circumstances this could have appeared neutral, but this was clearly aimed at voter intimidation.
Aiming to restore the “White republic”
There was something deeper about Trump’s performance. There was a madness in his eyes as he aimed to convince the people that the world is flat. The facts are so irrelevant to Trump’s discourse, as they are to most of his base. What he demonstrated, perhaps more than anything else, is that he is the President who wishes to herald the re-emergence of the “white republic,” the construct around which the USA was originally founded. In failing to distance himself from white supremacy (and white supremacists); in defending quasi-fascist groupings; in proposing a mobilization that will intimidate anti-Trump voters, Trump made it clear that political democracy is an inconvenience in his efforts to both save himself financially and to advance the political and economic agenda of the now hard right-wing Republican Party.
There will be those Republicans and Independents who realize that Trump is out of touch with reality; indeed, is maniacal. But they will convince themselves that despite all his failings, Trump will advance the agenda that they wish to see materialize. Similar such thinking influenced segments of the ruling circles in Italy and Germany to side with their respective fascist movements. In those two cases, and others, the capitalists have thought that they could ultimately control the actions of these despots. History played out in a more complicated fashion. While these circles largely thrived through authoritarianism, the arbitrary and criminal nature of fascist and quasi-fascist regimes created an unpredictability or instability in the system, contributing to varying levels of crisis.
Much of this can be forgotten or denied, but it is done at great risk.
What we are up against
The debate should settle the question of what liberals, progressives and leftists should do on November 3. There is no room for abstract intellectualism regarding whether Biden is the best candidate that the Democrats could have chosen. He may not have been the candidate that many of us would have wanted, but he is the only alternative to Trump at this very moment. Keep in mind, however, that what we are up against is not simply the candidacy of one individual. This is not a situation where a loss by Biden would result in a conservative, though fairly normal, administration. We are looking at something hugely different whereby a Trump administration has already made a de facto alliance with armed fascists.
Should we successfully defeat Trump in the Election, we then face two new questions. One, how (not when) to push the Biden administration out of their comfort zone in order to create greater space for the deep and profound reforms that must be introduced in order to address the economic, political and environmental crises of this era.
Two, how do we crush the right-wing populist movement in the USA that has Trump as its principal – though not only – spokesperson. Even if Trump is defeated, the right-wing populist movement is not vanishing anytime soon because, after all, this is the United States of America, a nation-state founded on settler colonialism, genocide, and the slave trade.