“Mr. Rogers Versus Your Crazy Uncle”

Second Non-Debate Roundup

October 16, 2020

Welcome to another day of “Trump-bashing.” I still get complaints from some readers about this. I’m glad you’ve stuck around this long, I hope I offer enough non-election-related material to make it worth keeping your subscription, and you can take comfort in the fact that it’s only going to be for another three weeks.

After that, if things go anything like how they’re going now, there will be a brief period of “I told you so” (because I really did). Then I will be quickly switching to Biden-bashing, which you will enjoy much more.

But I still have to add the disclaimer that I’m confused why anybody thinks I wouldn’t or shouldn’t be taking shots at Trump, because I’ve spent many years criticizing less important people for less egregious offenses, and I don’t see why anyone would expect me to hold my fire now.

So let’s turn to the second non-debate between the two presidential candidates. After Donald Trump’s disastrous performance at the first presidential debate, which helped Joe Biden expand his already considerable lead in the polls, Trump ditched the second debate, which was replaced by competing “town hall” events

How did those go? By the end of the night, people had pretty much decided on how to sum it up: Mr. Rogers Versus Your Crazy Uncle.

Both of those description were provided from the Trump side of things. Trump as the “crazy uncle” comes from this exchange with Savannah Guthrie, the moderator of his town hall, who asked him about his use of Twitter to broadcast QAnon and other conspiracy theories.

Guthrie: Why would you send a lie like that to your followers?

Trump: I know nothing about it.

Guthrie: You retweeted it.

Trump: That was a retweet, that was an opinion of somebody, and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there, people can decide for themselves, I don’t take a position.

Guthrie: I don’t get that. You’re the president, you’re not, like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.

Fact check: Partially true. Donald Trump is, in fact, someone’s crazy uncle. But he’s not just someone’s crazy uncle. He is the president and we expect him to communicate things he actually has reason to believe are true.

As Charlie Sykes points out, Trump’s wider answer on QAnon was even worse.

Guthrie: All right, while we’re denouncing, let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior, of that. Now can you just, once and for all, state that that is completely not true, and—

Trump: I know nothing about QAnon.

Guthrie: I just told you.

Trump: I know very little. You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it. If you’d like me to—

Guthrie: They believe that it is a Satanic cult run by the deep state.

Trump: —study the subject. I’ll tell you what I do know about. I know about Antifa.”

Charlie sums it up:

You’ll notice the usual Trumpian dodges: (1) He claims he knows nothing, (2) he throws out a token disavowal, (3) but then he circles back to praise the movement’s goals. And then, of course, he immediately changes the subject. And QAnon? Trump’s answer had to exceed their wildest and craziest expectations.

At this late date, do we really need a national debate over why it is profoundly abnormal for the President of the United States to use his position to peddle toxic conspiracy theories?

Do we really need to have a discussion about why the excuse “I’ll just put it out there,” is reckless, dangerous, and disingenuous?

Well, it seems we do, and I’ll take that on below. But let’s look at the Mr. Rogers comparison. That was the description Trump’s own supporters had for Joe Biden’s performance at his event. Here’s how it happened.

Throughout the dueling forums, Twitter lit up with Biden supporters’ sharply contrasting the calm and collegial tone of the ABC townhall hosted by George Stephanopoulos with the combative faceoff between Trump and NBC host Savannah Guthrie before she turned to voters in the audience for questions.

As the Biden forum wrapped up, “Mr. Rogers” was trending on Twitter after Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser for President Trump’s reelection campaign, compared the Democratic nominee’s performance to the long-running children’s show aimed at preschoolers.

“Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I’m watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood,” she tweeted, misspelling Fred Rogers’s last name….

Biden’s supporters eagerly embraced the Mr. Rogers analogy, arguing it was a “self-own” for Team Trump because Rogers was known for his soothing, patient, and kind demeanor. “Pretty telling that this crew thinks Mr. Rogers is the bad guy,” tweeted Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas.

To get an idea of what they’re talking about, check out Biden’s response when asked what his losing the election would say about the state of the country. It’s calm, measured, humble, conciliatory, and optimistic. It would not be an unusual performance for a presidential candidate in any election year prior to 2016, but boy does it stick out as a shining bacon of normalcy in today’s context.

The odd thing about this is that I have actually called Joe Biden “Crazy Uncle Joe” in the past, referring to his gaffe-prone, impulsive, and often unfocused style of speaking and thinking. It would take a lot to make him seem like the sober, reasonable, and responsible candidate. The fact that this has nevertheless happened—the fact that he has been out-crazy-uncled by such a huge margin—says a lot about his opponent.

The rest of this edition is available only by e-mail to paid subscribers.

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