Even with mute, the final presidential debate could be more hostile than the first
This is an election like no other; and the final big presidential debate set for Thursday night is fraught with far more expectations for something dramatic, possibly game-changing, to happen than anyone could have anticipated.
Like everything else about the Trump era, every previous precedent and convention has been shattered. In virtually every case, that's been the work of the President himself, a man for whom the word rules is always a verb, not a noun.
The debates are now a victim of his incorrigibly disruptive proclivities. The idea that the candidates can't be expected to conduct a civil discussion without the use of a mute button seems like something out of a skit on 'Saturday Night Live'; but after the first chaotic, cacophonic debate, that's where we are, folks. The candidates have to be — figuratively at least — muzzled.
The debate commission has had to label the need for a mute button as an issue for both sides, but nobody really questions that it was Trump who blew up the very concept of a debate, making it much more a gamecock fight than a battle of words — or wits. It was apparent throughout that first grating debate that his intention was to spill political blood, not unspool political arguments.
How will the show Thursday night be any different? It likely won't be, unless the President decides, as he hinted (barely) earlier this week, that he may change his debate strategy by interrupting less.
Would that mean a more reasoned, considered Trump? Perhaps there have been more head-snapping political shifts in recent history, but that would certainly be a contender for the top spot.
The prevailing expectation is that Trump will break out of any restraints — self-imposed or otherwise — at the first hint of being challenged on his version of events. Muting him will not work if he decides to bellow his outrage; Biden's mic, as well as the moderator's, will certainly be within bellowing range.
The debate commissioners could roll Trump out on a hand cart, trussed up like Hannibal Lecter at the airplane hangar in "The Silence of the Lambs," and he'd still find a way to torpedo the proceedings, if he had a mind to.
辩论委员们可以把特朗普推上手推车，就像“沉默的羔羊”(The Silence Of The Lambs)中的机库里的汉尼拔·莱克特(Hannibal Lecter)那样，如果他愿意的话，他仍然会找到破坏程序的方法。
The debate commission's leaders — or anyone else — can't be confident that this debate will provide illumination instead of detonation. After all, the President has already demonstrated that, for him, aggressive questions are always a pique experience. Tuesday he abruptly ended the "60 Minutes" interview he had agreed to, according to multiple sources. And then slammed the interviewer, of course, Lesley Stahl.
The job of managing this powder keg during the debate will fall to the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News. She's a thoroughly professional journalist who happens to be a person of color — and a woman. To absolutely no one's surprise, she has been denigrated by Trump and his like-minded followers as a Democrat stooge, and thus, the enemy.
It's a precarious position to be in. Among the hardest of characters to handle is the wounded narcissist. They don't like to lose, and they will resist accepting defeat at all costs.
Trump will seize on any tough questions Welker asks as a sign of unfairness, and the blowback may be intense. She can't wilt though and accept, for example, a flood of ugly, bogus charges hurled at Joe Biden and his son Hunter as fair play. She has to push back.
She can and likely will call out Biden on some of his positions, inevitably pressing on the now much-bruited question of expanding the Supreme Court. But for Trumpists, that might not comep across as quite equal to questions about owning a Chinese bank account.
The main reason this debate may carry far more resonance for voters than any previous last-gasp debate has virtually nothing to do with the state of the contest, as indicated in the polls. It's much more about where we are in the plot. You don't easily change minds about the main characters at this stage of an epic saga. This year you won't have as much opportunity to anyway, because a record number of those minds will have already declared their preference, thanks to early and mail-in voting.
Television drama thrives on conflict. That's why the real draw Thursday night is the prospect of even more hostility than the first debate; and one other thing: the possibility of seeing what might turn out to be the last meaningful stand of President Donald Trump — cornered, threatened, but still voracious and dangerous.