Trump and the Limits of Content Moderation
In the first presidential debate of 2012, Mitt Romney scored a surprise victory by switching up his style. Barack Obama had obviously prepared to attack the Republican nominee and former hedge fund executive for the archconservative economic proposals he had been campaigning on. Romney disarmed him by simply denying having taken the positions he’d taken—insisting, for example, that his tax policies wouldn’t favor the wealthy. He threw the unflappable Obama off his game by presenting a more moderate version of himself than the one the country had seen on the campaign trail.
Donald Trump, it hardly needs to be said, did not follow Romney’s example last night. The president was, if anything, a more petulant and antagonistic version of his usual self. He spent the bulk of the first debate relentlessly interrupting Joe Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. But his performance went beyond being impolite. In the most disturbing two moments of the debate, the president refused to agree to respect the results of the election or even to encourage voters to remain calm while votes are tallied; instead, he urged his supporters to go monitor the polls, a thinly veiled invitation to voter intimidation. And when Wallace repeatedly asked if he would disavow the white supremacists and militias causing violence in American cities, Trump deflected, asking someone to name a specific organization. When Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, Trump, far from denouncing them, instead said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”