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By Julianne Malveaux —

Could the “historic debate” between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump possibly live up to the hype? CNN promoted it nonstop, and had analysis days before, and for hours before and after the actual 90-minute debate. Despite the hype, neither candidate knocked the ball out of the park. President Biden offered an uneven performance, with a slow and mumbling start, some strong and animated answers, and some garbled answers. Folks like me desperately hoped to see the Biden the March 2024 State of the Union Address; instead, we got the Biden of the Trump commercials. He didn’t fall up the stairs or off his bike, but he truly toppled off his game. This was a high-stakes game for Biden, and unfortunately, he lost. Should one debate performance determine the outcome of the election? Probably not, but with millions watching, President Biden did not strengthen his campaign. Indeed, the debate was painful to watch. In fairness, Biden handlers said he was suffering from a cold, which may have impaired his performance.

Watching Biden was painful, and Trump was infuriating. That man is a blatant liar, he repeats himself incessantly, he is rude, and he refused to answer questions repeatedly. He kept talking about our “ruined” country, accused President Bident of “destroying” the country, lied about the open borders and immigrants, took credit for Biden policies (such as $35 insulin), sand stirred up racial animus. “They are taking Black jobs”, Trump railed, speaking of immigrants. (By the way, what are “Black” jobs)? He also claimed he never said “there are good people on both sides” when racists marched on Charlottesville. He dithered in response to questions about abortion and rained negative comments on the President. IF I had a dollar for every time he said “worst”, I’d have enough for a nice lunch.

Flash polls say Trump won the debate by a wide margin; I disagree. Trump won on style; Biden won on substance. Trump got his zingers in with his lies, calling Biden “the Manchurian candidate”, accusing him of taking money from China, and repeatedly calling him the “worst” President ever. He also predictably called out Hunter Biden’s three felony convictions, but Biden had snappy clapback, calling out Trump’s convictions, the money he must pay E. Jean Carroll for sexual assault, and the Stormy Daniels relationship. Biden says Mr. Trump has the morals of an alley cat (that was funny), and generally comported himself decently, if feebly. Those who think Trump won this debate are looking at the undeniable optics. Trump was a vigorous liar, while Biden was the less vigorous, even mumbling, policy expert.

Donald Trump is a worst liar than Lillian Helman, the early twentieth century writer whose rival wrote that “every word she writes is a lie including “and” and “the”. He lied about January 6. He would not confirm that he would accept the results of the 2024 election. As Biden cleverly pointed out, he has lied about his height and weight, and probably also about his golf handicap. But Biden didn’t check all his lies, as he might have. Sometimes he had time and the moderators had to say he had a few more seconds to make a point. In contrast, while many did not expect Trump to keep his cool, the fact is that he mostly did, often speaking in calmer tones than he usually does. I am among those who was surprised at Trump’s demeanor, but unsurprised his lies.

Tens of millions of people watched the debacle that CNN described as an “historic” debate. I walked away infuriated about the Trump lies and concerned about President Biden’s well-being. And I walked away with questions. Will there be a rematch? Will Trump’s lies be fact checked and widely circulated? Vice-President Kamala Harris did a great job by saying the President, “had a weak start but ended strong”. Nice save. But the raw truth is that for all his preparation, President Biden dropped several balls during this debate and missed opportunity to make important points. Still, if we have the choice between a Liar-in-Chief and a Mumbler-in-Chief, I’ll take the mumbler every time.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a member of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), an economist, author and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University at Los Angeles.