A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 154

After the Trump-Biden debate, TV watchers’ expectations are low.

Wednesday, September 30

One thing that was missing from last night’s Presidential debate: guys with inflated red noses whacking each other with rubber truncheons.

It wasn’t just a clown show. It was a bad clown show.

And talk about your three stooges: Trump was, as expected, over-the-top disruptive and unspeakably horrible. Biden was hardly a worthy foil: For the most part, he could only smile wistfully and shake his head. And moderator Chris Wallace? He was like a ringmaster without a whip. He could neither curb nor calm MAGA-man. The Guardian said Wallace was like a schoolteacher “hopelessly out of his depth as unruly children run riot.”

And the winner: the media, who will sorely miss Trump should he exit the stage.

One image keeps coming to mind: that of the gobsmacked, bug-eyed, and jaw-dropped audience in the Mel Brooks film The Producers. They respond to the opening production number of “Springtime for Hitler” as if they’d been simultaneously run over by a truck and called filthy names by the truck driver. Surely that was the response of many Americans who witnessed the Trump-Biden-Wallace spectacle.

But who can tell? In these woeful days, people ache for distraction and entertainment. Maybe some large segment of viewers adored MAGA-man’s playful and irreverent antics. You could even bet on the debate via FanDuel or DraftKings.

Did anyone predict that U.S. politics would become a subsidiary of the reality-TV freak show, where Trump hosted The Apprentice? Sure, American politics have been awful for years—until now, the 1950s seem to have been a low-water mark, featuring Nixon’s sappy encomium to his dog, the “Checkers speech”; Joe McCarthy’s fictitious “lists” of hundreds of Communists in the State Dept.; the “pumpkin papers” episode in which House Un-American Activities Committee staff retrieved microfilm, allegedly purloined by Alger Hiss, from a hollowed-out pumpkin on Whittaker Chambers’ farm; and the melodramatic capers of such professional anti-Communists as Herb Philbrick (of I Led Three Lives fame). 

But if television—which most of today’s hip people would say is passé— is to play such a bigly role in U.S. politics, what’s next? Some stud from The Bachelor nominated to the Federal Reserve Board? Judge Judy getting a Supreme Court slot?

It’s time for a calmer America. Maybe Pat Sajak could make himself available for a 2024 White House run.

Dinner: Given that we’re scheduled to receive a Stop-and-Shop food delivery after 8 p.m. tonight,  and they have a habit of showing up when least expected, we’ll have to settle for an unexciting repast…perhaps a repeat of the roasted red peppers and goat cheese pasta.

Entertainment: no more sleep-disturbing debates, please. How about the relatively rational political drama Borgen on Netflix.