Opinion: Michael Ian Black: We Know the Debate Is Total Bullshit, but We’ll Watch Anyway

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Let’s get one thing straight. It’s not a debate.

It’s a television show featuring two old dudes bragging about themselves and putting down the other guy. It’s Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show. From this pointless staged spectacle, we’re supposed to… what, exactly? Whose mind is getting changed by watching 90 minutes of this bullshit? It’s a rhetorical question but I’ll answer, anyway: nobody.

The fact is, if you don’t know who you’re voting for at this point, you’re a moron. These two white guys may share platinum AARP status, but that’s about all they share. I’m not going to spell out the differences between them for you because you already know them, but just in case you need a refresher: Joe Biden is the one interested in preserving democracy, institutions, our alliances, and our nation. Donald Trump is the other guy.

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Don’t get me wrong, presidential debates have their place. Obama/McCain, for example, gave Americans a chance to measure two senators side by side, hear their contrasting policy proscriptions, and walk away feeling like they’d learned a thing or two about where the two men stood.

What the hell are we gonna learn this week? Again, it’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer, anyway: nothing.

Is it going to be entertaining, at least? Possibly. The gaffe police will certainly be out in full force. Trump may talk about getting eaten by sharks. Biden may say “malarkey.” Maybe a fly will land on one of their heads and we can talk about that for the next six months. But its actual value for Americans is next to nil.

Hopefully, the current president will take Trump’s advice and rail some blow before the show to get himself amped up. I’d like to see a coked-out Biden entering the debate by reeling off a couple dozen back handsprings, ending with a full roundoff, and then peace-ing the fuck out without taking a single question. It wouldn’t be substantive, but it’d be spectacular.

That’s what the people want, no? Spectacle and circus. We want to see geezers trading body blows. We want blood and viscera. Maybe that could be another UFC league, in addition to the migrant league Trump proposed to Dana White. Throw some old dudes into The Octagon and have them slug it out until one of them breaks a hip.

Look, I understand that both candidates are trying to reach the idiots in swing states who haven’t made up their minds. I have no idea who these voters are: maybe pro-choice voters who are also pro-corruption? Maybe Mike Flynn fans who have a soft spot for Pete Buttigieg? Whoever these unicorns are, do you really think they’re going to watch a freaking debate on CNN? Hell, no. They’re too busy chewing their own feet.

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Why are the candidates even doing this? Neither seems to know, exactly, except that it would appear “weak” not to debate, so they’re debating. Afterwards, both teams will rush out and declare their dude the winner regardless of what actually transpired on the stage, and we’ll all be a little stupider for the experience.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to watch every goddamned minute of the thing, but I’m going to be watching the way a parent watches their child’s piano recital, just hoping that my preferred candidate gets through the thing without plunking too many wrong notes. I’m not optimistic.

Not because I think Biden doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He clearly does. But because he’s too nuanced for the format. He’s going to want to talk about his administration’s accomplishments while Trump is going to want to bully and demean.

That’s not a debate, but we’re supposed to treat it like some high-minded rhetorical parley upon whose outcome the fate of the nation rests? To quote the great political thinkers Wayne and Garth: “Not.”

It's bullshit, and I wish folks on the news would acknowledge that it’s bullshit. But also, why would they? The debate is going to drive their coverage for the next week, so they’ve got to sit there and pretend the meaningless is meaningful.

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My mind is made up. Your mind is made up. One of these guys is going to be president next year, but this debate isn’t going to be determinative unless one of them does something really stupid or dies. Other than that, this election—again—isn’t about the specific issues so much as it is about your vision for the nation.

Do you believe in a pluralistic America or a white Christian America? Do you want an engaged America or an isolationist America? Do you want to return to the Trump administration’s four years of chaos, crassness, incompetence, and lies? Or do you want what we have now—an unglamorous, plodding president trying to navigate this battered nation through a challenging time??

This time the question wasn’t rhetorical. You already know the answer. It might not be my answer, but if you don’t know—do me a favor, stay home on Election Day. Not because I don’t want you to vote, but because you’re too stupid to trust behind the wheel of a car.

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