Guest Opinion: About Last Night…’s Presidential Debate

NOTE: The following Guest Opinion piece contains strong language and disturbing, debate-based subject matter. The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Chelsea Community News–except when he says that every eligible person should vote, and that Trump is repellent, racist, compulsively mendacious, homophobic, misogynist, authoritarian, caustic, abrasive, vengeful and relentlessly narcissistic. Enjoy!

Illustration by Max Burbank

BY MAX BURBANK | Okay, so, yes, assuming you watched the debate last night like I did and are a Democrat… admittedly… ouch. Zero sugar coating, “Yikes-level ouch.” And as every Democrat knows, when facing a “Yikes-level ouch” event, the very best thing to do, the single, most efficacious and traditional response to minimize harm and address concerns is, of course, wild, unrestrained, hysterical panic.

I’ll give you a personal example, because who doesn’t love a relatable anecdote? So, this one time I was enjoying a very nice campfire? And I caught on fire. An ember landed on my sleeve and it ignited, perhaps due to my overly enthusiastic use of lighter fluid as (or more truthfully in lieu of) kindling and it got pretty serious pretty quickly. So what I did was, I took a deep breath, recalled fire safety instructions that had been drilled into me at multiple grade school assemblies, and threw a fuckin’ nutty. I ran around in circles shrieking like a deranged baboon with its nuts in a hydraulic press, waving my burning arm around like I was trying to beat back a mob of vampires with a torch until, blinded by tears, I succeeded in running directly through the campfire at least twice. And you know what? It worked great. The fire went right out and I was totally fine. I’ve had worse sunburns. Even my shirt was fine, and to top it off, I reached into my pocket and there was a crisp, unburnt $500 bill in there that I had never seen before. Where did it come from? I don’t know and I’m sure I don’t care. Unrestrained panic, man. What can’t it accomplish?

Except none of that is true, I made it all up, Donald Trump-style, by which I mean I don’t care that I was obviously lying and it doesn’t bother me in the least that you never believed me even for an instant..

Panic has never made any bad situation better, it only makes things worse, sometimes dramatically. That statement, unlike my campfire story, is true. And you know what? It would still be just as true if instead of writing this I said it on TV and my voice was hoarse and quiet and I said “The Idea” and “By the way” far too many times. Look, if you ever really do find yourself on fire? If someone says to you Stop, Drop and Roll? Do that. You know, as opposed to saying “I pretty much agree with you that’s what I should do, but I really hate the way you delivered that message. You know, all creaky and old-guy like? So I think my best course of action is to bitch, wring my hands and loudly wish some imaginary new person would magically appear and give me the exact same advice but in a more palatable way, and OH MY GOD I’M ON FIRE, I’M TURNING INTO A GOOEY, DRIPPING CARBONIZED LUMP LIKE A FUCKING MARSHMALLOW A KID INSISTED THEY WERE OLD ENOUGH TO ROAST THEMSELVES BUT OF COURSE THEY DIDN’T PAY ATTENTION AND NOW IT’S JUST A SHITTY, INEDIBLE, FLAMING LUMP OF oh, never mind, too late, I’m a ghost now.”

Look, if you’re reading this, you’re the only people I’m talking to, because that’s how this works. You inescapably fall into one of two categories; the larger group being people who enjoy and rely on Chelsea Community News (as well you should), and a smaller, select and beloved group of folks who for whatever misguided reason like my writing. Unless you’re both, so that’s three categories. I’m a writer, not a counter. In any case, like just about everyone else in this country, you already know who you are voting for and the debate didn’t change that. None of us will be deciding who the next president is, though irritatingly it is still the case that you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO VOTE because if you don’t, you have fucked the logic that means you aren’t deciding who the next president will be, as your innaction will TILT THE GOD-DAMN BALANCE, so PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, VOTE and did I mention that while panicking never helped anything it’s still sometimes hard not to do? Hang in there because I promise I’m working my way around to telling you something that’s going to help you with that. The next president is going to be decided by voters who at least up until last night were “undecided.” What, that didn’t cheer you up?

It’s easy to say that anyone still undecided at this point is tremendously and willfully uninformed. See how easily I said that? But it’s also not entirely fair. The vast majority of eligible voters in America care are interested in politics to the same degree that I am interested in sports, ie. not. Whether I think that’s OK isn’t the issue, it’s just the way it is. Mostly there are a whole lot of folks who just hate the choice, but every day we inch closer to the inescapable fact that this IS the choice. Unless Biden steps down (which is unlikely and the last time it happened the result was Nixon), there isn’t going to be another option. Undecideds are better described as persuadables.

I cringed my ass off watching last night’s debate. I was mostly miserable the entire time. For about a half hour there I was in enough actual and significant physical pain I had to question whether I might be having some sort of a medical episode (spoiler, I was fine, I just get a bad tummy when I’m freaking out.) But see, the main reason I was so worked up hinges on the fact that I am NOT an undecided voter. I am VERY MUCH decided vis a vis a Trump candidacy and have been since that corpulent, oily bastard oozed down his fucking oligarch gilded escalator and released a torrent of racist bile, like Oogy Boogey unraveling at the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas, revealing he is made entirely of billions of bugs! BUGS!!

See, there were two people on stage, but mostly all I could see was Joe Biden not coming off the way I wanted him too, looking old and fragile when I’d expected the State of the Union Joe, not Republican caricature Joe. And I think that’s how it was for all those panicking last night and actively making things worse by committing to that panic today. But critically, that’s NOT what the debate was for undecided voters. I could only see one person on stage. My guy, doing poorly. The undecideds saw two people. And one of them was Trump. And he was his usual repellent, racist, compulsively mendacious, homophobic, misogynist, authoritarian, caustic, abrasive, vengeful and relentlessly narcissistic, solipsistic self.

So yes. Yes, I admit it, the debate went very badly for Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. The conventional wisdom is the he had one job, to stand before the American People and not seem like an 81-year-old man and he failed to do that.

But who decided that? Who decided that his ONE JOB was to be younger? Because really? His One Job is to be president, a job he is doing, a job he began by beating Donald Trump, where job creation is at an all time high, with an economy that is battling post-pandemic inflation with more success than any other country on earth, where sweeping climate legislation has been passed and who, as an added plus, is not a convicted felon. Trump’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that sitting presidents have total immunity and could as an OFFICIAL ACT have their opponents assassinated by the same Squad who killed Bin Laden without fear of prosecution! You’d think that would mean in Trump’s opinion it would be perfectly legal for Biden to do that to him! Hey, Jake and Dana, maybe that could have been one of the questions you asked!

I know it’s already too late, seeing as the New York Times went with multiple op-eds calling on Biden to step aside, as if that wasn’t a decision only he can make. So… could we all maybe just take a step back and a few deep breaths, wait a few days and see how things shake out? Unavision did a Focus group debate watch with undecided Latino voters and when the show ended, almost all of them had made up their minds for Biden. They decided that the frail old man was a better choice than the blustering, racist lie monster who says America is a rats nest. They didn’t find that argument appealing. Who could have imagined? Maybe, just maybe, the chorus of pundits and office holders don’t actually have any idea what motivates undecided voters or what they might have seen in the debate. Stranger things have happened.


Max Burbank is a freelance writer living in Salem, Massachusetts. His work has been published by,,, and the literary magazine websites (because he is both hoity and toity, but neither enough to get in the print versions) and Once upon a time, before the Internet, he sold science fiction stories to the legendary Algis Budrys for Tomorrow: The Magazine of Speculative Fiction. Until recently, he was the political satirist for Chelsea Now, where he won a PRESTIGIOUS first-place award for editorial cartooning from the New York Press Association, because gosh darn it, he draws real good, too. Max’s comedy writing can be found archived at Max is available for freelance work, both writing and illustration, because he likes to eat.

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