Trump Sinks to New Depths of Deceit and Depravity


Donald Trump speaks at the second and final presidential debate on October 22, 2020. (Morry Gash-Pool / Getty Images)

The Noise from last night’s debate was, on a decibel level, far below the horror show that passed for a debate three weeks back.

But the Signal really didn’t change: Trump’s mendacity was through the roof, and his lack of empathy was if anything even more on display, by virtue of the fact that he was speaking quietly enough for people to actually take in the words as much as the bluster.

There were so many lies and distortions that it’s something of a crapshoot as to which ones to highlight. But for sheer vileness, let’s focus on the smears against Joe Biden’s family; the incapacity to show the slightest iota of empathy for the parents and children separated from each other at the southern border as a result of the Trump administration’s deliberate policy of child-snatching; and the extraordinary rhetoric he deployed against Biden’s climate policies.

On the family smears front: In Trump’s telling, Biden’s son Hunter was milking China, Ukraine, and several other countries for millions of dollars, while Biden himself, during his time as vice president, was “getting a lot of money from Russia.” On certain phone calls, Joe Biden may or may not have been cryptically referred to as “the big man” who would take a 10 percent cut in all the unsavory deals supposedly being worked out. And other correspondence shows that Biden, his brothers, and his sons were a crime syndicate colluding in a nefarious plot to walk away from the political stage with millions in illicit moneys.

This is the stuff of paranoid Internet chat-rooms; the “big man” smear is cartoonish, a takeoff on “the fat man,” a larger-than-life ne’er-do-well in the novel and film noir The Maltese Falcon. It ought to have no business in a presidential debate. But it’s also the tell of the grifter who has long sought to deflect from his own moral and legal failings by charging his opponents with doing the sorts of things that he does on a regular basis. When Trump does this, he slouches his shoulders and moves his neck forward and down slightly; his face deflates just a tad; his eyebrows seem to arch; his hands, fingers splayed, get more active; and his lips purse, tightening his cheeks just that extra bit as he stresses each syllable. It is the hustler’s package, the look of a used-car salesman desperate to convince a mark to buy a 20-year-old clunker with a leaky radiator and a collapsed suspension system.

Trump’s fantasy cum demagoguery soared to new heights in Tennessee as he ranted, in his own stream-of-consciousness way, about his opponent. The self-proclaimed billionaire said that Biden was able to stay “in the basement” rather than get out and hold large rallies because he was somehow unfathomably wealthy—a claim that is both untrue and a non sequitur. Trump—whom The New York Times recently exposed for claiming wildly different valuations on his upstate New York mansion—then impugned Biden for living in “very nice houses.”

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