The putrescence of America’s public life was pitilessly displayed Tuesday when, for 98 minutes, whatever remains of the nation’s domestic confidence and international stature shriveled like a brittle autumn leaf. The national interest — actually, national security — demands that the other two scheduled mortifications, fraudulently advertised as presidential debates, should be canceled: When a nation makes itself pathetic, the response of enemy nations is not sympathy. And an additional 180 or so minutes of ignorant assertions mitigated only by the inarticulateness of the purveyors of them will swell the electorate’s already abundant crop of cynics, well defined as people prematurely disappointed about the future.
Most Donald Trump utterances resemble turbid creeks that are silty at their sources and trickle away into mud. He might finish his presidential term without ever speaking a complete sentence — subject, object, predicate. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who characterized Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose movement as one of “strenuous vagueness,” survived Antietam but might have expired straining to decipher Tuesday’s cascade of falsehoods, rudeness and syntactical tangles.