ABC News, Stan Grant: “This will end badly.”
Donald Trump left the American people with those words after 90 minutes of insult and interjection posing as a presidential debate.
There was little presidential from either Trump or his rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
Biden called Trump a liar, a racist and at one point told him to “shut up”, while Trump insulted Biden’s intelligence, and raised historical drug addiction of Biden’s son Hunter.
It took just minutes for the two nominees to get down in the mud.
This debate told us everything about America: a broken, divided, angry society.
The scene has been set
It has been heading this way for decades. The Republicans refused to accept the election of Barack Obama and Trump rode to prominence on the back of the “birther” controversy questioning whether Obama was even an American.
The Republican Congress sought to block Obama’s legislative agenda at each turn.
Then the Democrats took a similar approach to Trump, questioning the legitimacy of his election victory.
The anti-Trump protests began almost from day one. Then we have seen the investigations and impeachment trials.
All of this has further polarised this fractured nation.
America is lacerated with racial tension, inequality and seething resentment that has spilled onto the streets in a year of protest.
None of this arrived with Donald Trump, but this fury has fuelled his presidency.
The Obama years, which were meant to be about hope and ushering in what some foolishly proclaimed a “post-racial” society, only widened the cracks.
Black Lives Matter started on his watch.
The white working class felt left out. At times, Obama himself dismissed them and their plight — mocking them for clinging to “their god and their guns” — while factories were closed, jobs sent offshore and people lost their homes and livelihoods in the financial collapse of 2008.
Hillary Clinton then added further injury to insult in the 2016 presidential campaign, describing those poor whites who backed Trump as “deplorables”.
Lack of vision from both leaders
Little wonder Trump’s message to make America great again and drain the swamp of Washington elites resonated.
But not even that vision was evident in this debate.
There was no plan for the country. No healing or attempts at unifying the nation.
Despite Biden saying he wanted to govern for all Americans, there was nothing from him that would speak to those left-behind, rusted-on Trump supporters.
Is this how America ends? This nation was hailed as the “shining city on the hill”, a beacon of freedom that offered to the “tired, poor, huddled masses”.
We may think democracy can’t die, yet it is already in retreat. Freedom House, which measures the health of democracy throughout the world, now counts 13 straight years of declining freedom.
It says the world is seeing the return of the strongman.
British political scientist David Runciman has warned of the crisis of democracy, writing that “we don’t know what failure looks like anymore and we have no idea how much danger we are in”.
Harvard University professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book How Democracies Die, worry about Trump’s attacks on the judiciary and the media and fear that America no longer has the energy or inclination to champion democracy.
But they stress the rot started well before Trump, as they write: “The soft guard-rails of American democracy have been weakening for decades.”
Do we need another debate?
Coronavirus has only further revealed the extent of America’s crisis and potentially accelerated decline.
That’s what the debate should have been about: how to renew the nation. Instead, it became a bar room shouting match.
Believe it or not, there are two more debates to come. On this evidence, why bother?
We can only hope that the moderators can bring more order that somehow the two nominees find it in themselves to bring a debate their country deserves.
But right now, the election itself appears tainted.
Trump now questions the integrity of the ballot, pointing to what he sees as corrupt postal voting. He even accused postal workers of throwing away the voting forms.
There is every chance there will be no result on election night and a long wait for an eventual winner. Some analysts already fear the void will be filled with protest, even violence.
As Donald Trump said, “this will end badly”.
“At the same time anarchy is seeking to sweep away all law, not only divine, but human. The centralizing of wealth and power; the vast combinations for the enriching of the few at the expense of the many; the combinations of the poorer classes for the defense of their interests and claims; the spirit of unrest, of riot and bloodshed; the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution—all are tending to involve the whole world in a struggle similar to that which convulsed France.” Education, 228.2