The debate commission muted his microphone. President Trump’s own advisers told him to pipe down. Heck, maybe somebody slipped some Ambien into his Diet Coke.

And it worked, sort of. Trump saved most of his hectoring and his over-talking of the moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker, for the second half of Thursday night’s final presidential debate. The more subdued Trump at least made the debate watchable, unlike the first encounter.

But there was something Trump’s advisers apparently hadn’t considered when they told him, in more polite words, to “shut up, man,” as Joe Biden requested during the last debate: The only thing worse for Trump than having an unwatchable debate is having a watchable debate.

It wasn’t a battle between Biden and Trump. It was a battle between reality and fantasy. In front of tens of millions, Trump played the fantasist — utterly removed from Americans’ suffering and from the most obvious truths.

In Trump’s world, “we’re rounding the corner” in the pandemic and “it’s going away, okay?”


In Trump’s imagination, Biden “doesn’t come from Scranton,” the Democrat’s Pennsylvania hometown.

In Trump’s magical retelling, Anthony Fauci said of the coronavirus, “exact words, this is no problem, this is going to go away soon.”

Trump, in front of an African American moderator, proclaimed himself “the least racist person in the room” and the best president for Black people with “the possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln.

The most stunning part, even after four years of this, is that Trump seems to believe his own rearrangement of facts. With a straight face, he announced that it was Biden who, in eight years as vice president, “did nothing except build cages to keep children in.” In this novel version, Trump is the one who “changed the policy” of family separation (and, besides, the facilities where he warehoused the children were “so clean”).

In Trump’s epistemological recreation, he’s not the guy who said “I don’t take responsibility at all” in regard to the pandemic but the guy who says “I take full responsibility.”

In Trump’s imagination, his idea about injecting bleach into people was “kidding.”

In Trump’s telling, “we have so many cases” of the virus only because “we have the best testing.”

Trump conjured the notion that Michigan is “like a prison,” that “there’s been nobody tougher than me on Russia,” that he had a secret bank account in China because “I was thinking about doing a deal in China, like millions of other people.”

If not for Trump, “millions of people would be dead right now” on the Korean Peninsula. Oh, and Republicans are “going to win the House” in 10 days. Yup, and something about windmill “fumes” and killing “all the birds.”

Never mind that unfortunate bit about Trump paying only $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017? It’s because Trump “prepaid” his taxes in previous years.

The Democrat needed only to answer Trump with reason.

Trump said of Biden: “All he talks about is shutdown.” Biden replied that “we ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

As Trump hammered away about Rudy Giuliani’s latest drop of dubious dirt on Hunter Biden from Ukraine, Biden suggested: “Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”

On national security, Biden observed that Trump “is unwilling to take on Putin when he’s actually paying bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.”

To Trump’s claims that he’s in Abraham Lincoln’s league in his service to African Americans, Biden dryly rejoined: “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.” To Trump’s implausible claims about his taxes, Biden turned to the television audience to share the joke: “Come on, folks.”

Biden spoke emotionally about the Trump administration’s “criminal” behavior in which “kids were ripped from their [parents’] arms and separated and now they cannot find over 500 of sets of those parents and those kids are alone, nowhere to go.”

And, after Trump’s incessant yammering about Hunter Biden, the elder Biden reminded viewers, “It’s not about his family and my family, it’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly.” The Democrat made an emotional appeal to raise the minimum wage to help “families like I grew up in.”

Biden’s compassion accentuated Trump’s soullessness. Biden’s common sense put Trump’s fever dreams in sharp relief. Trump ranted and raved about Hillary Clinton, about “the horrible emails,” about his (currently latent) fundraising prowess, about the IRS and the tea party, about the “phony witch hunt” (“they spied on my campaign!”), about “socialized medicine” and Hunter’s laptop.

As the evening wore on, whatever inner control temporarily restraining Trump wore off. “Excuse me!” “I will say this! “I have to respond!” “No, but wait a minute!”

Welker calmly and capably weathered Trump’s hectoring. “We need to move on,” she told him.

So do we all.

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