Donald Trump lived down to the Left’s caricature of him during Tuesday’s presidential debate. His constant interruptions and refusal to obey the two-minute time clock came off as entitled and impulsive, not traits that will convert undecided voters.
Bullying is unlikely a winning rhetorical strategy. Trump damaged not only his reelection hopes, but also the causes that he has championed during his presidency.
On the substance of issues, he seemed at times unprepared. Asked what the elevation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court would mean for the court and the country, Trump robotically repeated that she had support across the political spectrum. He failed to portray her as a necessary bulwark against judicial activism.
Nor did he point out that the United States’ coronavirus fatality rate is comparable to Europe’s, despite our much higher rate of key comorbidities like obesity and our more aggressive methods of counting coronavirus deaths.
The most powerful reasons to reelect Trump are his defense of law and order and his resistance to identity politics. Yet he opportunistically played the race card against former Vice President Joe Biden for Biden’s support of the 1994 federal crime control bill.
That bill increased federal penalties for repeat felons and brought greater transparency in federal sentencing. The law was a necessary response to rapidly escalating murders in the inner city. Trump, however, parroted left-wing critics of the criminal justice system, as he has done before, by decrying Biden’s support of the statute as anti-Black. He criticized as biased Biden’s alleged use of the term “superpredator” (actually, the term was coined by a political scientist), even though it is an accurate descriptor for teens who mow down children in mindless drive-by shootings.
By giving credence to the phony claim that strict law enforcement is racist, Trump undermines the legitimacy of the very criminal justice system that he properly seeks to defend.
For his part, Biden asserted that there is “systemic injustice” in law enforcement. Any political leader better be sure of his evidence before leveling such a profoundly corrosive charge. Yet numerous studies show that it is crime, not race, that determines criminal justice outcomes.
Biden promises to “defeat racism,” as if that remains an enduring force in America today. To the contrary, there is not a single mainstream institution — whether a corporation, bank, law firm, newspaper, college, or tech company — that is not twisting itself into knots to hire and promote as many underrepresented minorities as possible.
Trump was right to cancel white privilege training in the federal bureaucracy; Biden and moderator Chris Wallace’s efforts to portray such training as innocuous hand-holding were laughable. So reluctant are whites to engage in identity politics in their favor that Trump himself could not use the term “white” to describe the hapless targets of these trainings. Instead, he stated euphemistically: “If you were a certain group, you had no status in life.”
If Biden is elected, victimhood ideology will become even more entrenched in our core institutions, destroying equal opportunity and fomenting more of the racial animosity that has torn the country apart in recent months.
But Trump’s stubbornness, sometimes impressive in its sheer orneriness, prevented him from scoring an easy point regarding the white supremacy canard. Trump’s instinct to deny the role of white supremacists in this summer’s violence was well-founded; the anarchy came overwhelmingly from the left.
But after Biden repeated the lie that Trump had called white supremacists “very fine people,” Trump should have put the issue behind him with a verbatim condemnation of white supremacy. He could have pointed out that just last week he designated the Ku Klux Klan as a terrorist organization.
Such a condemnation would merely restate the obvious about this country’s lived values. And ironically, from a purely Machiavellian point of view, it would cost him no votes, precisely because the number of actual white supremacists (as opposed to people who believe in colorblindness) is minute, whatever the Democratic Party and the mainstream media claim.
This piece originally appeared at New York Daily News
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. Follow her on Twitter here.
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