Just Shut Up Already

Don’t go, Joe! Like the sunburnt, spacefaring squid said, IT’S A TRAP!

But wait! Don’t do it, Donnie! IT’S ALSO A TRAP! Poor Admiral Ackbar isn’t around to issue his iconic warning, seeing as how Disney killed him off along with the rest of our childhood.

President Biden officially accepted Donald Trump’s taunt-challenge for a debate. And it was just in time, as both campaigns up their ad budgets heading into the summer. Now, voters will have the opportunity to watch both leading candidates for the country’s highest office discuss in detail the thorniest and most pressing issues facing America.

Almost had you going with the idealist civics 101 twaddle, didn’t I? “Two candidates vying for the presidency by addressing voters’ deepest concerns!” is the kind of eye-rolling journo-talk Anderson Cooper placidly mouths behind a thick layer of plastic surgery. The hype commercials write themselves: two aging, barely coherent guys split-screen-spliced logorrheically yelling about—among other things—gas prices, illegal migrants, corrupt judges, titling podiums, dead congresswomen, and what flavor ice cream is best for dessert.

In our modern media era of flashy serotonin boosts, politics is less about balancing the commonweal and more about scoring meta-points in roundabout “gotcha” arguments. You know the type: “Democrats are the real racists” because they turn a blind eye to rampant black-on-black murders; “Republicans are fascists” because the Electoral College isn’t a prom queen plebiscite.

The logistics of the agreed-to debates are drawing as much attention as the events surely will. It started when Trump, the obvious Republican frontrunner, pulled a Ben Shapiro, bellowing, “Debate me, coward!” Biden napped on the demand for months. Then, in a multi-sequential 15-second response, accepted the bid while acting like he was issuing the challenge. “Make my day, Pal,” Biden stuttered with more vocal fry than grit, evoking the mean, ol’ racist Clint Eastwood. If his college campus base wasn’t too busy demanding Jewish heads roll, they may turn on their president for embracing toxic masculinity.

There was a catch, of course. Since Biden can’t give a public address without going through a Mr. Burns-like series of medical treatments to cheat death for another week, including intravenous amphetamine injections, an adamantine spine transplant, podiatrist-prescribed HOKAs that contain hidden knee braces, and a generous dose of Prevagen so the President doesn’t forget it’s Tuesday, there were stipulations. For the sake of saving the reader’s retina, I’ll forgo the bullet-pointed details. The potted version of the President’s prerequisites: a friendly hosting network, along with two Trumpian silver bullets, no live-studio audience and muting of mics to stem interruption. The latter stipulation deprives Trump of his most potent elixir: raucous feedback from the swinish multitude braying for blood. How will the entertainer-turned-politician react without an audience to guide his gibes? Not well, which is what Team Biden is counting on. No peanut gallery means no boos, hisses, cheers, groans, claps, hoots, “USA!” tri-chants, or any such mood gauges. By agreeing to titled terms, Trump willingly disarms himself.

But—and this is where homo politicus can’t help but pop his pea-brained pate out—Trump also ensnared the president in his own trap: bullied into showing up and not reading directly off a script. With enough coffee and uppers, Biden can bang on for a good while about marching Orange Mussolinis and how American blacks are no better off than antebellum slaves in 2024. In an extemporaneous setting, without his staff barking orders in his ear? His mind trails. Even the most generous moderators won’t be able to feed him enough lines so as to not come across as Grandpa Simpson at a Metallica concert.

So while Trump and Biden simultaneously pulled a lever to trapdoor one another, both plop down in the same slop pit, ready to vocally wrangle. The primetime spectacle promises to be more WWE than Demosthenesian. John McWhorter, a linguist and the only New York Times contributor who doesn’t deserve to be forcibly parachuted into a decrepit Kentucky holler, asks the propriety-defending question: Why do we put up with this quadrennial degradation? In our digitally saturated age, is anyone really at a loss to know a candidate’s position on, well, everything, from the proper capital gains tax rate to whether pineapple should ever fruitily flavor a pizza?

“Today,” McWhorter writes, “the candidates can speak to us at length via assorted forms of media, always available to us in our pockets.” Biden’s been running for or occupying public office since, roughly, the Millard Fillmore-era. And Trump’s preening need for ubiquity has ensured no American goes without a heaping clump of tweet/Truth rants every day, for nine years running.

No voter can claim ignorance on the candidates’ stated positions. An oracular sparring match won’t change one mind.

But for the sake of civics, wouldn’t it be edifying for first-time voters, or even young people, to see a proper political discourse? To that question, I ask another: Would it enhance our nation’s vitality to subject the TikTok generation to two old guys arguing over whether the other can Velcro his own shoes?

Here’s my standard-maker: Would it benefit my young daughters to watch a Trumpo e Bido debate? Would they grasp the higher points of politics with Trump riposting each Biden attack with a blunt, “Wrong”? Would their takeaway from the talkfest be anything other than the grim determination that their parents are morons who pay too much attention to even more moronic loudmouths?

The reader can provide his or her own answer.

The American civil body politic is no longer served by presidential debates, nor do our children get a decent lesson in politeia in watching them. I’m partial to traditions as much as the next reactionary, but the green-roomed jabber joust isn’t a long-fabled rite of passage for Oval Office aspirants. The present-day debate arrangement began the year I was born—the same year “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” dropped. And nobody argued, or has argued since, that the Hyrulean adventure should have kept the clunky side-scrolling battle scenes. The same goes for a cable TV forum that has outlived its usefulness.

Election Day is already a hyped-up enough contest. Give America the pregame it really wants: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jasmine Crockett settling their differences with an acrylic-nailed slap brawl. George “Kitara” Santos can be ring girl. The winner’s party gets control of the White House. YES SHE CAN rip off her opponent’s falsies for a few more electoral votes! For democracy!

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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