Jumbler-in-Chief Versus the Demagogue


Donald Trump spread falsehoods and grievances in an unprecedented early presidential debate, confronting a hoary-voiced and hesitant President Joe Biden.

Biden recovered later in the debate, but not before viewers were given ample reason to worry about an 81-year incumbent. They were given more reason for concern about Trump as well, given his ferocity and self-absorption. Trump got “Trumpier” as the night went on, which is to say unhinged.

In a country built by immigrants, Trump had this to say of those seeking the American dream and doing America’s grunt work: “He (Biden) allowed millions to come in here from prisons, jails, and mental institutions into our country and to destroy our country”

How do you marshal facts against a demagogue? Biden recentered politics out of revulsion at a 2017 fascist rally in a Virginia college town. He sought last night to represent our better angels, but Trump dominated the stage. 

The debate was personal and vicious, in a manner of dispensing of hate that was deliberate. Trump charged that Biden, whose late son Beau served in Iraq, “doesn’t care about veterans.” “His (other) son is a criminal,” Trump added. 

Biden is the product of a collegial and civil U.S. Senate, in which he served for 36 years. Trump is a New York developer schooled in buying politicians, ripping off contractors, and buying off participants in his one night stands.

It showed last night. Trump plays by his own rules. He described the debate as a waste of time. Asked how he’d curb climate change, he boasted about getting backing from police unions. Queried about his own age, the 77-year-old Trump boasted of his proficiency on the golf course. Glaring at Biden, Trump added: “He couldn’t hit a ball 50 yards”

The debate is sure to cause massive handwringing among Democrats, and exotic suggestions of how the party can ease aside an over-the-hill President. Canadian realtors can expect an uptick in business. One question lingers here. If Biden couldn’t catch up with Trump, what about the listening audience?

Trump ended the debate with another dose of self-praise, saying the Biden administration has given America “three and a half years of living in hell.” A living hell with 16 million new jobs? With stock markets at record highs? With childhood poverty reduced? With the U.S. recovering from the COVID pandemic more rapidly than anyplace else?

Donald Trump dominated last night’s debate. But the race is still close, and is the electorate ready for a leader who tramples the Constitution? As Ben Franklin put it, we have a republic “if you can keep it.” We can’t count on Joe to do the job.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Joel, this was great. “Biden is the product of a collegial and civil U.S. Senate, in which he served for 36 years. Trump is a New York developer schooled in buying politicians, ripping off contractors, and buying off participants in his one night stands.”

    I wish that somehow you could have channeled your eloquence into Joe Biden tonight. Gotta feel sorry for Jill, who must have been in tears watching Joe mumble and stumble. Not his best night. I hope she can talk to him about the need to pass the torch and take a well-deserved retirement.

    • A good suggestion about Jill Biden. I think she’s a better prospect to talk seriously with Pres. Biden about being sensible, about a chance to ‘save the republic,’ high-flown as that sounds, than establishment Democrats are. The latter are so insular, so out-of-touch with American voters, especially those who consider the former president a viable candidate, that I barely have words to describe them. The former president is an excellent demagogue. Back to Jill — I think she’s angry enough to be willing to face the facts about her husband, the president, and his supporters. Any tears she may have shed would’ve been out of anger, not out of pity; she’s stronger than that, I think.

  2. Thank you, Joel, for a much needed note of sanity in the cacophony of panic I’m seeing around the blogosphere this morning. I hope people stop to reflect on the sheer phoniness of the whole debate setup, and how it rewards “gotcha points” that entertain the rubes and the gomers, over the actual hard work of day-to-day governing at the nation’s highest level.

    Let’s be clear. Biden was horseshit last night. Six days of “debate prep” at Camp David, and this is what we got? But pinning the future of the republic and its democracy on one bad performance is not wise. The purpose of governing is to benefit us, not necessarily to entertain us. I recommend Heather Cox Richardson’s substack for a more rational view.

    And a note to Anthony Robinson: Dean Phillips isn’t right about anything, and I don’t need to read past the headline. I invite you to use any such line of reasoning for a suppository.

  3. This is a Woodrow Wilson moment in the 21st century. But the limitations of a sitting U.S. President last night were not hidden, they were on full public display. The world is watching.

  4. Now we see what the close Biden staff and family have been hiding from us. Even NYT columnist Thomas L. Friedman, a good friend of Joe’s, confessed to weeping as last night’s debacle unforlded. Liberal Friedman, as good a bellwether of the Democratic moderate middle as anyone, calls for Joe to go.

    The heartbreak is evident in Friedman’s NYT column this morning: “The Biden family and political team must gather quickly and have the hardest of conversations with the president, a conversation of love and clarity and resolve.” Biden saved us from a second Trump term in 2020. He may now be offering Trump a cakewalk to it in 2024. Joe is a good and decent man, anchored in the give and take and compromise politics of a previous century.

    For you kiddies who were too young or not-yet born to remember, learn about how the old-timers Republican Everett Dirksen and Democrat Tip O’Neill used to work things out and, really, helped make America great.

    • You think that Democrats can unite on two candidates?
      POTUS and VP?
      The logical one is Newsom — a Wasp White Het Male?
      Not likely.

        • Sorry, Dick, if Biden steps down (he won’t), there is only one alternative, and her name is Kamala Harris. Otherwise, why even have a Vice President? Yet she doesn’t appear to fit into your scenario at all. As nicely as I can put it, do you think it would be wise for the Democratic Party to write off the Black woman? I don’t. And the party won’t.

          As for your buddy Thomas Friedman, did he call for Trump to step down after he was convicted on 34 counts? You know and I know, he did not. He’s gutless, he has no credibility, and neither does the entire NY Times ed board. We all can justly bemoan the decline of newspaper journalism, especially those of us who spent most of our working lives in it, but like a fish, it has rotted from the head down.

  5. Let’s not ignore CNN’s role.
    The CNN “moderators” were criminally negligent. Only once did they press Trump to actually answer the question asked, and then only toward the end when he was asked if he would respect the result of the election and even there he didn’t give a strait answer, saying only if he agreed it was fair. Other times, the CNN “journalists” let Trump say anything he wanted, without any challenge whatsoever, letting him riff on his own lies to create a cloud around the last thing Pres. Biden said. CNN played right into Trump’s hands and did the public no service.

  6. Finally. Somebody with the guts to call out CNN’s pathetic playing into Trump’s hands, by not making him answer the questions. Instead, they let hit him pivot and distort Joe Biden’s answers.
    I can’t understand why journalists, even seasoned ones, fall dumb when Trump goes on the offense.


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