"Will you shut up, man," Joe Biden asked President Donald Trump, not while he was in a hospital bed, but at their earlier shock-and-awe altercation advertised as a debate, and he should have shut up. Biden should have, too. If they both had stood silently for an hour and a half, the nation would probably have been less agitated than by the confusion of often incoherent, tirade attempts crisscrossing each other at the same time.
It is not as simple as some have made it seem, but let's not too quickly forget that Trump was definitely the loud-voiced, interrupting master, especially scoring points against himself with one self-denunciation standing out. That was when the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, asked him whether he would condemn white supremacists and tell them to "stand down" in violence across the country. He said sure and kept asking what group Wallace had in mind.
Biden interjected, "Proud Boys," and Trump, while insisting it was left-wing groups such as Antifa causing the moment's problems, said, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," implying they might be needed soon.
That's awful and there was no excuse for it and he has since backed up. The Proud Boys do say they are not white supremacists, but pro-Western civilization. They are definitely violent, anti-Muslim and anti-female, some reply as it is also said Trump has previously refused to condemn white supremacists, as in protests at Charlottesville. That is not true. He condemned them and neo-Nazis while saying there were also some nice protesters there. He also said there were bad people on the other side, and there were, including members of Antifa.
Biden was asked about the left-wing Antifa fascists, young men who dress in black and beat other people, set fires, throw rocks at you and maybe kill you, as is alleged about a suspect in Lacy, Wash., who was himself killed by police. Biden said Antifa was "just an idea," meaning Antifa self-identifiers are divided into lots of different groups thinking the same. The same could be said of violent white supremacists. Biden is as bad as Trump.
Biden did not play Mr. Nice Guy during the debate, calling Trump a "Putin puppet" and "a clown." A big issue for him was Trump being responsible for deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic that has lately been assaulting Trump himself. Trump replied that Biden and President Barack Obama handled the swine flu worse and Biden disagreed, probably wishing he did not have a VP chief of staff who said it could have been "one of the great mass casualty events in America." What saved us, he said, was "luck," not "doing anything right." Trump has scarcely been a prize leader on the virus, but it is the governors who have dictated the policies.
Because of the emphasis on Trump the bully, Biden is not taking the hit he should be receiving on his debate refusal to say whether he would pack the Supreme Court or take away the Senate filibuster, both attacks on American democracy. He wants to tax the rich and corporations a lot more, though not enough, economists say, to pay for what he wants to spend. He said he would get rid of the Trump tax cut without apparently knowing how much it has helped the middle class.
Biden's debate vigor may have eased the minds of some worried about his mental fragility. That fear is not entirely gone, however, and one might worry about the mental fragility of Democrats who have been absolutely insistent on mail-in ballots nationwide that are not necessarily safer than going to the polls under careful schemes and are going to deliver mass confusion on Election Day. Haven't we had enough of that, but no, there's more to come. Hang in there.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.