It’s hard to pick the most damning part of Chris Wallace’s interview with President Trump on Fox News. The split screen showing Trump’s exaggeration of the mental acuity test and the actual test — with Wallace counting backward from 100 by seven — was a highlight/lowlight. Trump’s dismissive attitude that he’ll eventually be proved right on covid-19’s disappearance (after nearly 140,000 deaths?) reminds us that he is indifferent to human suffering and incapable of acknowledging error. In that same vein — with coronavirus hospitalizations rising — he callously insisted some cases are nothing but the sniffles. (Tell that to about 140,000 families.) In the empathy department, Trump still cannot acknowledge that the Confederate battle flag does not merely “represent the South” but the traitorous white nationalists who took up arms against the United States.

His resort to flat-out falsehoods — the U.S. mortality rate for the coronavirus, Joe Biden’s stance on defunding the police — vividly revealed the degree to which Trump, with enabling by aides and the evening Fox News lineup, operates in a fact-free world. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) He refused, frighteningly, to say he would accept the election results in November. One cannot help but come away with the impression that Trump is not all there. (Biden spokesman Andrew Bates tersely said, “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”)

Even as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases passes 3 million, President Trump has repeatedly played down covid-19’s toll on the country. (The Washington Post)

My two immediate reactions were that both Sarah Cooper (the master of comic lip-syncing who mocks Trump on TikTok) and the ad makers for the anti-Trump Republicans of the Lincoln Project will have a field day, and it is almost unfathomable that Trump could survive a debate that has a mainstream moderator.

The first is no joke, as Biden would say. Trump remains his own worst enemy, providing endless fodder for his critics. (A new Washington Post-ABC News poll is only the latest example of Biden’s advantage regarding almost all individual qualities: the ability to unite the country, an understanding of “people like [me],” honesty and personal values. And more than three-quarters of the public think Trump “crosses the line” in criticizing his opponents). Given that Trump believes he is fantastic, wonderful, amazing and so on, he is almost certainly not going to hide from the media or stop talking to his cult followers.

The issue of debates is interesting. For starters, Biden may have trouble getting Trump to agree to any legitimate moderator. Trump despises CNN. Fox News has lost its charm for Trump (and Wallace in all likelihood wouldn’t get a second chance to humiliate him). It is possible Trump’s aides might persuade him not to participate (e.g., lying to him that he’s ahead and therefore shouldn’t help Biden “catch up”). However, if Trump does agree to moderators not thoroughly in his camp, the results may be spectacularly awful if Biden and the moderators both expend effort fact-checking him (or the networks insist on fact-checking him in real time). Trump gives off the aura of a man who cannot cope with reality because reality says he’s a failure. The prospect that tens of millions of Americans might recognize that might be enough to chase Trump away from debating at all.

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