Trump sets debate trap for Biden, falls into it

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Today's Agenda

The many debate moods of Donald Trump.

Photographer: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A Night to Remember

Well, that was awful. 

Yesterday we said presidential debates usually aren't game-changing or memorable. Last night's slapfest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden was not game-changing. But it sure was memorable, just like a Zamboni loaded with circus clowns falling through a hole in the ice would be memorable. 

Make no mistake: This debacle was Trump's fault, Bloomberg's editorial board writes. He may have meant to rattle Biden into a mistake, but he pushed his aggression way too far. By the end of the night, when he seemed to encourage the white-supremacist Proud Boys to "stand by" for further instructions, the net effect of his performance was gasoline on the flaming pyre of American democracy. (Today he told the Proud Boys to "stand down," which was barely better.)

It's almost too easy to blame moderator Chris Wallace. Short of cutting off Trump's microphone, there was little he could do to stop the torrent of interruptions and insults. The Commission on Presidential Debates said it plans changes for the next debates that might help keep order. (Maybe the Apollo Theater Sandman?) One could blame Biden a bit for the overall tone, suggests Ramesh Ponnuru; a sharper debater would have come up with better retorts than "shut up," however viscerally appealing or money-raising that might be.

Still, Biden at least tried to string together coherent messages and policy ideas, writes Jonathan Bernstein. Trump didn't bother, settling for pure falsehood and bluster. It's of a piece with the rest of his time in office, which helps explain why he trailed Biden badly in polls before a debate that did him no favors.

Further Trump Reading:

Shutdown Showdown

When you think of people bucking pandemic restrictions, you might picture gun-toting Michiganders or grocery-tossing Texans. But people in France, Spain and elsewhere in Europe are also starting to tire of lockdowns, Lionel Laurent writes, even as case counts rise alarmingly. Governments keep doing a poor job of explaining the new rules or cushioning the economic blow, leading to dangerous levels of resistance. 

Israel has similar trust issues. Its new Covid-19 wave is mostly concentrated in Orthodox communities, but Benjamin Netanyahu fears driving them out of his coalition, so he's just shutting down the whole country, writes Zev Chafets. He's pretty nakedly putting his own political needs above Israel's, which won't exactly motivate Israelis to comply. 

Further Second-Wave Reading: New York's slight increase in positive test results is no reason to close schools. — Faye Flam 

Upheaval in Entertainment

Even without lockdowns, Americans are in no mood to crowd into theme parks, which helps explain why Walt Disney is laying off 28,000 park workers, as Tara Lachapelle notes. Even before the pandemic hit, Disney's future was more in streaming entertainment than standing-in-lines-and-sweating entertainment. This is only hastening that change, but it's no less painful.

You'd think America's streaming giants would be on Easy Street right now, with people still mostly entertaining themselves on couches. But Comcast and AT&T are both saddled with massive entertainment businesses that have suffered in the pandemic, Tara writes, between the aversion to amusement parks and movie theaters and Hollywood's prolonged content drought. No wonder activist investors are agitating.

Further Reading

Fred Wilpon has been a terrible steward of the New York Mets, and he will be paid handsomely for it by Steve Cohen. — Joe Nocera 

The heat of Palantir's IPO ignores the political headwinds gathering against it. — Tae Kim

While the world is distracted, Armenia and Azerbaijan are heading for what could be a disastrous war. — James Stavridis 

California's plan to force schools to start new ethnic-studies classes is the wrong approach. — Andrea Gabor


Biden's victory odds are up to 78%.

Airlines near 50,000 job cuts.

There's still no agreement on stimulus.


Zoo parrots encourage each other to curse at guests. (h/t Mike Smedley)

Compact nuclear fusion is possible, studies show.

How Iceland's medieval past affects it today.

The sleep-deprived masculinity stereotype.

Note: Please send cursing parrots and complaints to Mark Gongloff at

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