Last week’s Democratic debate, the first to feature all of the party’s top-tier 2020 presidential contenders on one stage, is as good a time as any to take stock of the race.
While we’re still more than a year off from Election Day, the debate offered a clear contrast between what is and what will be.
What we have is a presidency in absolute chaos. A presidency wracked with scandal. A presidency with no clear agenda, except to ensure that President Donald Trump ends up wealthier at the end of his term than when he began.
I’ll get back to the Democratic candidates in a moment (by the way, I’m an independent), but I think it’s important that we acknowledge there are two things that drive President Trump: greed and narcissism, and not necessarily in that order.
Aside from his die-hard loyalists – who apparently couldn’t care less if he’s a compulsive liar, a white supremacist and a bully – I’m convinced most Americans have made up their minds about the president. They think Trump has to go, and I think the debate showed us what we have to look forward to when he’s gone.
Trump’s policies – check that, his off the cuff and often irrational decisions, day in and day out – have had no rhyme or reason. He stands for nothing. He is immoral, crass, ignorant and mean-spirited. A day doesn’t go by that we are not treated to yet another shocking revelation about Trump or the sycophants who occupy his orbit.
The Trump presidency is a cesspool of corruption. He hasn’t drained the swamp, as he promised he would. Instead, he’s clogged the drain with his personal toadies.
There isn’t time or space here to list all of the corrupt practices of this administration, but I have reported on Mexico for decades, and find Trump to be as unscrupulous as the worst that that country’s ruling party, the PRI, ever offered over the course of its seven-plus decades in power that finally ended in the late 90s.
Today, thanks to Trump, any criticism by the United States of government corruption around the world now rings hollow, a sad commentary on what the U.S. presidency and the Republican Party have become. For the record, Trump’s ascent and the likelihood that he will weather any effort to impeach him will be thanks his Republican abettors. Not because they believe in him or even thing of him as a true Republican, but because it serves their self-interests.
Enter the 10 Democrats at last week’s debate.
After three hours of sometimes contentious (and, yes, occasionally petty) back-and-forth, the biggest difference exhibited between these 10 candidates and Trump is that any one of them is eminently more qualified to be president. And the election of any one of them would go a long way to restoring the reputation of the Office of the President.
Yes, they are all ambitious. Yes, they all have big egos. No, none of their political platforms is perfect.
But to a person, they all proved themselves to be thoughtful, informed, disciplined, tireless, and wholly committed to the principle that election to public office is a call to serve the will of the people, and not, as Trump apparently believes, a platform for self-aggrandizement to be used as a weapon against real and imagined enemies.
While the idea of dedicating oneself to public service may seem quaint and pollyannaish to cynical pundits and voters, I believe it is the single-most valued quality Americans want in our elected officials. It may not be what we always get, but it is what we want.
Why? Because real public service requires elected leaders to commit to do their job honestly and transparently – and that builds trust, and trust builds respect, to paraphrase the words of Arizona’s only-ever Latino governor, the late Raúl H. Castro.
It’s probably impossible for any human being to live up to that ideal all of the time. But it doesn’t change the fact that we voters expect our elected leaders to aspire to that higher goal.
What we saw Thursday, no matter where the candidates stand in the polls, were 10 people committed to serving the American electorate in a dignified manner.
Ultimately, what each of the Democratic candidates offered up at the last Democratic debate was a vision for a future based on the belief that the American people deserve a leader dedicated to representing the will of the people and doing so with a level of respect and integrity deserving of the Office of the President.
Trump, on the other hand, believes in Trump. That’s it. He could care less if anyone respects him or the Office of the President, as long as he is feared and as long as he makes a buck.
As for who won the latest debate? I think some of the candidates were more impressive than others. Most of them would make a good president. A couple of them might even be great.
While I don’t think the debate will have much effect on the latest rankings or the recent polling trends – which show Biden, Warren and Sanders in the lead – I do think there was an obvious winner: the American people.
Trump is going to lose this election. He’s going to lose big. When he does, he’ll lose to one of the capable people we watched at work in last week’s debate.
More to the point: When one of these Democratic candidates does win in 2020, our country will be better off for having decisively quashed the greatest threat to democracy in modern American history, Donald J. Trump – and my guarded faith in this imperfect experiment called the United States of America may finally be restored.