I would like to take this opportunity to dissociate myself from one of my own tweets.
As I was watching President Donald Trump’s town hall Tuesday night on ABC, which was ably moderated by George Stephanopoulos and had the president answering questions from an audience of undecided voters in Pennsylvania, the whole thing struck me as a political train wreck.
There were some notable gaffes, such as when the president spoke of “herd mentality,” rather than “herd immunity,” as the ultimate solution to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of his tangents—such as a disquisition on why he thought it was dangerous for waiters in restaurants to wear masks—were bizarre. And he spouted a familiar litany of falsehoods.
So, unable to resist the siren call of snark that inveigles so much of us on social media, I tweeted the following:
“Would love to know who in the White House thought that Trump doing this town hall was a good idea.”
Apparently, many other people agreed. As I type these words, that tweet has been retweeted 4,000 times and liked more than 36,000 times.
But guess what? We were all wrong.
It was actually a healthy development for Trump to face skeptical voters on live television. He should do it more often. And presidents in the future should make it a practice as well. Our chief executives, and particularly this one, tend to live in a bubble of adulation and sycophancy.
Trump, to his credit, stepped outside his comfort zone and put himself in a situation where he had to refrain from insulting or belittling those who challenged him. These were questions from swing-state voters, after all, and not one of his everyday clashes with reporters or the Democratic opposition.
And while we are at it, I would like to see former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, in this setting as well. It’s not a bad venue for him.
One of the things that made Tuesday’s event worthwhile was that the voters in the live audience showed up well-prepared and unintimidated.
For instance, Carl Day, a Black pastor from Philadelphia who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016, challenged the president on his signature slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“When has America been great for African Americans in the ghetto of America?” Day asked. “Are you aware of how tone deaf that comes off [to] the African American community?”
Trump went into his usual riff about how the robust economy that existed before the coronavirus epidemic brought record low levels of Black unemployment, but Day wasn’t having It.
“Your statement is, though, make it great again,” Day said, and recited a litany of problems that Black Americans have faced for generations.
“We have not been seeing a change, quite frankly, under your administration. Under the Obama administration, under the Bush, under the Clinton, the very same things happening, the very same systems, the cycles continue to ensue,” he continued. “When was that great? … You have yet to address and acknowledge that there’s been a race problem in America.”
We have rarely seen this kind of moment during the 2020 presidential campaign, and I’m hoping there will be more like it. Did it help Trump’s re-election prospects? In the narrowest sense, probably not. I doubt that he made the sale with many undecided voters in that audience or many of the ones who were watching across the country.
But the exchange Tuesday elevated and clarified what is at stake in this election, something that rarely happens in the tribal skirmishes that have gone on every day. That is why I am looking forward to the presidential debates.
So thank you, President Trump. And I mean that sincerely. More of this, please.