First Presidential Debate
Case Western Reserve University
September 29, 2020
9:03 PM: Moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace opens the debate by welcoming the at-home audience in a calm cadence, blissfully and perhaps recklessly unaware of what is to come. He notes that this debate is sponsored by the Commission On Debates and is being conducted under the health and safety protocols of Trump’s America where, just like in Hollywood, being old — over 68 for men, and over 27 and a half for women — counts as an incurable preexisting condition, and anyone the audience sees coughing is likely going to die.
9:05 PM: The candidates enter the debate stage. President Donald Trump, debuting a fall-inspired bright new shade of sweet-potato skin tone, ambles to his podium like a lightly concussed gorilla. Former Vice President Biden walks out to put his arm around his opponent but stops when he remembers the social-distance protocols. So instead, he gets a little too handsy with his lectern.
9:07 PM: Wallace begins by asking Donald Trump about his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Trump says that she’s highly respected and that he won the election, so he has the right to elect her, and the Democrats would do the same thing in reverse if the ridiculous, clearly unprecedented scenario where a sitting Democratic president might happen to have the opportunity to nominate a justice right before a national election, if that were ever to happen, they’d clearly push through their nominee, whichever Tom, Dick, or Merrick that might be. Biden responds by politely chuckling.
9:09 PM: Biden praises Coney Barrett as a “very nice person” but adds that she would overturn the Affordable Care Act. Trump rolls his eyes and scoffs. Biden attempts to continue his answer. Trump sneers. Biden tries again. Trump chants, “You don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know.” Biden throws his hands in the air, pulls his lectern to the side of the road, and looks back at the president. “Donald, will you just be quiet!?!” He takes a Ziploc bag of Cheerios from his pocket and hands them one by one to Trump, who immediately starts tossing them back at Biden. Also, the Cheerios are now inexplicably covered in mashed potatoes. Trump continues to whine: “Socialism, you’re a socialist — I saw you kissing Bernie Sanders in the Socialism Tree because you love it and you just lost the radical left because you don’t know and I know because I’m the smart one, I put smarties up my nose so they could go to my brain and make me extra smarts, you idiot dum dum SOCIALISM HAHA I WIN.” Chris Wallace coughs politely, then nervously glances at his production team for guidance, only to find they’ve already abandoned this shitshow and locked the doors behind them.
9:13 PM: Seeing no other alternatives, Wallace attempts to assert himself by puffing out his chest and saying in his best indoor voice, “Mr. President, I am the moderator of this debate, and I’d like you to answer my question, sir, please. You have had four years and have never come up with a comprehensive healthcare plan. What is your healthcare plan, sir, Mr., sir?” Trump pulls out a slingshot and nails Wallace directly in the forehead with a Cheerio. “I’m the best at healthcare,” he brags. “It’s because of me, insulin is so cheap, it’s like water, and the water’s so polluted it’s got all the drugs you need right in it, the fish, you know the fish don’t have any cancer anymore because of the drugs in the water, that’s because of me. See, don’t you like this water?” Trump casually pours a pitcher of water over Wallace’s head. Wallace, dripping but dignified, again says, “Sir,” in a voice just loud enough to momentarily panic a mother of a newborn but not actually forceful enough to wake a baby. The president puts Wallace in a headlock and gives him a noogie. “See, here’s my healthcare plan, it’s good, everyone says how good it is.” Wallace pleads, “You’ll be happy about this next question, I promise, you’ll like it — I’ll ask what you want, sir!” Trump releases him, smiling softly and shaking his head in the world-weary way of someone who just can’t stop giving of himself to others.
9:16 PM: Wallace turns to the former vice president. “Just answer how he wants you to answer,” he sighs. Before Biden can speak, Trump takes an air horn out of the cotton candy pompadour on his head and gives it a blast. Biden tries again, but then Trump pulls a pair of cymbals from the butt of his pants and clangs them together. Biden, beyond exasperated, says, “Look, this is—” but is interrupted by Trump riding a parade of elephants across the stage, whacking them with his little lunchmeat hands to get them to trumpet. “FOLKS!” Biden yells as Trump starts doing a brain-addled version of an Andrew Dice Clay routine through a megaphone. Finally, grabbing a micro-second pause, Biden says, “Would you shut up man. This is so unpresidential.” Seeing the opening, Wallace jumps in to say, “Okay, that’s over, next topic.”
9:23 PM: “Let’s turn to COVID,” Wallace says, but Trump already has him back in a headlock. “Goddamnit,” Wallace mutters. “Anything you didn’t like that I said? That was me being sarcastic,” Trump says. “Next topic,” Wallace whimpers.
9:38 PM: Trump, having been asked about the economic downturn, speaks for several minutes as though he’s just arrived on Earth and his only exposure to English was watching two hours of Fox News: “Violence and Democratic governors siege cities are seeing, like being in prison, close the whole country they heard there was a guy and the Democrats run these look at destroy economy will it with anti-Christian take your guns.” Wallace whispers, “What the fuck is happening?” Offstage, Jill Biden holds up a large portrait of Trump. The president wanders towards it, mesmerized by his own image. Biden quickly tries to take advantage of the lull: “Millionaires and billionaires like Trump have been doing well during this economic downturn, while everyone else suffers,” he says. “Trump couldn’t even be bothered to give school children masks.” Unable to hold it up any longer, Jill drops the portrait, and Trump saunters back to his lectern, declaring, “I get to speak!” Wallace reminds him he already spoke and that each candidate had equal time. “Not fair! Not fair — NOT FAIR!” Trump screams, ripping the microphone from its stand and throwing it into the crowd. It hits Melania in the face and spins her head 180 degrees. Without reacting, she calmly reaches up and repositions her head forward. Don Jr. scrambles to return Trump’s microphone to his podium.
9:45 PM: “Let’s talk about the tax returns, President Trump. How much did you pay in taxes in 2016?” Wallace asks. Trump answers that he paid “millions.” Biden says, “Show us your tax returns.” Trump responds, “I will as soon as I’m done fabricating them.” Biden says that when he’s president, he’ll eliminate the Trump tax cuts. “Oh, really?” Trump asks. “Why didn’t you do that before?” Biden is baffled. “Why didn’t I repeal the tax cuts you passed before you passed them?” he asks. Trump nods. Biden shakes head and says, “You’re the worst president we’ve ever had.” Trump replies, “No, you are!” Biden says, “I’ve never been president.” Trump nods, “Exactly!”
10:08 PM: As the debate turns towards issues of racism and violence, Wallace asks Trump if he is willing to condemn white supremacist militia groups. Trump answers that all of the violence he sees is from the left. Wallace asks him again if he would condemn white supremacists. Trump flippantly says he’d be willing, sure, and says, “Proud boys? Stand back and stand by.” Wallace moves on because that certainly isn’t a statement that would lead one to ask many more questions of a sitting president, and clearly requires no follow-up at all.
10:17 PM: “I’d like to talk about climate change,” Wallace announces, before taking out a match and lighting the stage on fire. “What do you believe about the science of climate change, and do you think your suit is flammable because this is all fucking going up. Let’s just recreate global warming right here. I’m fucking done.” Biden takes a swig of coffee and remarks, “This is fine.” Trump responds, “I want crystal clean water. For myself. There’s water in puddles for everyone else, which I gave them because I control the rain and no one ever gives me credit for that.” Trump then shouts that Biden “Wants socialism, the Green New Deal, and to take out all the cows!” Biden replies that he won’t be taking anyone out because he is married and that he absolutely does NOT want the Green New Deal. Trump smirks again, “See, ha, there: you just lost the radical left!” Biden retorts, “Can’t lose what you never even tried to have, pal!”
10:30 PM: Wallace is now walking around the smoking, smoldering room, trying every door. He has fastened a makeshift skeleton key out of his earpiece and a ballpoint pen and scans the room for any possible exit. Unfortunately, he asks one final question: “Voting, democracy, all that stuff: you for it or against it, or what?” Biden replies, “Voting matters, make sure you’re registered, we can all come together and make this country better,” as though he still thinks he’s in a presidential debate and not trapped inside a live horror show. Trump answers, “I’m not for it, this democracy thing, not going to happen, it’s all rigged, there’s no way to know who is gonna win, so let’s just assume I did because Joe’s obviously a loser.” “Mhm,” Wallace mumbles as the lock in the door in the back of the room finally gives way and he pushes it open. Running out the door with far more speed than you’d think his frail body could summon, he shouts something that sounds like, “AND THAT’S THE DEBATE, THANK YOU ALL AND SEE YOU IN HELL.”
I wrote this because I promised you all I would. I did my best to make it funny because sometimes only through humor can we have the strength to look directly at horrible things. But I want to be clear, the debate last night was not funny. It was terrifying. The President of the United States of America refused to condemn white supremacists and, in fact, told them to “stand by.” He cast doubt on the fairness of the elections and scoffed at the notion of a peaceful transfer of power. If you took the minute to read this piece, please take another minute to double-check that you’re registered to vote and haven’t been removed from voter rolls. If you can, volunteer to be a poll-watcher. Call your local party affiliates and help with get-out-the-vote efforts. Help a college kid get a voting plan. Give a family member a ride to the polls. Do what you can, however you can — please take action. Thank you.