You Get What You Get: Real Stories From The US Presidential Debate


Alex Vickery-Howe slaps y’all down for forgetting what actually matters when choosing a world leader.

There was a point in the first US Presidential Debate of 2024 when the lunacy degenerated into two elderly rich guys bitching about golf. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, and I used to teach a class on experimental theatre.

You may recall seeing an old Saturday Night Live sketch where Kate McKinnon, playing Kellyanne Conway, demands that the political candidates have a ‘penis off’. I’m not saying we’re there… yet… but the image of the two men vying for one of the most influential jobs on earth abandoning policy, abandoning common sense and abandoning the pressing needs of their people to instead discuss their dismal athletic prowess was… two-parts miserable, one-part bizarre.

Do they really think any voter is treating this like a Mr. Universe pageant?

To be fair, Trump was the more invested party. He gets a bit weird about golf. Biden spent the entire confrontation in a protracted state of disbelief. In fact, if you rewatch the debate from beginning to end, you’ll see a man utterly stunned by the lies flying at him without repudiation, without retraction, and without sanity. That should have been the headline in every major publication.

Former US president and convicted felon, Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Too much commentary has focused on Biden’s evident lethargy, pandering to a superficial narrative that may well see America become a dictatorship by the end of the year. Yes, Biden is an elderly man. Yes, he struggles to communicate effectively through a lifelong stutter. Yes, the eerily silent format threw him off. Compare that to his first rally following the debate and you see a president energising the crowd, outlining his vision, and – in contrast to Trump – sharing coherent thoughts. Biden didn’t mention sharks once.

It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising, that mainstream media is seizing on precisely the wrong things. Quite absurdly, commentators are listing Biden’s ‘performance’ before Trump’s falsehoods. How is that responsible reporting?

Biden looked tired, sure. Trump tried to gaslight the American people.

Which one is actually dangerous?

CNN has copped a lot of criticism for failing to call Trump out, and rightly so. Factcheckers are essential when you’re dealing with the most dishonest presidential candidate in history. Nixon was an amateur compared to Trump. Bush was a cheerful court jester.

Disturbingly, closer to home, the ABC Fact Check is wrapping up just when we need it most. It’s a matter of public education, and the public good, that facts be available to counter dishonest candidates. I despise the popular phrase ‘my truth’ for this reason.

We don’t have a right to personal truths. There are facts and there are fictions. Trump’s ‘truth’ is largely a projection of his ideal self, and a conscious masking of who he really is.

I’m sure strategists will reflect on Biden’s inability to push back hard enough in the moment, but the onus is on journalists too. It’s our job to push back when a candidate is blatantly deceiving his electorate.

Biden did accurately call Trump a liar, a whiner and a bully, and arguably he couldn’t have done much more with an intermittently muted mic. Biden also tried to answer the questions posed by the moderators… rather than go back over grievances as Trump continuously and laboriously did. I didn’t see Biden opposed by a strong leader with clear policy. I saw a President perplexed by a churlish manchild desperate for the last word.

US president Joe Biden. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Are we really going to rake this President over the coals (coals Trump wants to continue using because “the Paris Accords are stupid and expensive”) for trying to talk to US voters and their concerns? Are journalists suddenly incapable of reporting with factual accuracy and instead obsessed with the ‘feeling’ of the debate?

In a two-horse race between a good, decent human being who has proven himself over multiple decades serving his country by holding public office and a corrupt, blathering meat puppet with corporate donors, militant extremists and actual Nazis pulling his strings, anyone who writes publicly about this debate has a duty to rise above the shallow spin doctors and promote the facts of each candidate’s respective policies. Americans deserve to know what they’re buying, and what they stand to lose.

My mother has a saying: ‘Alex, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.’

She probably didn’t invent that rhyme… but, thanks to her, it went viral among five-year-olds at the various primary schools she taught at. It was a little creepy actually. Have you seen Village of the Damned?

Those words popped into my head during the debate. We can unpack her teaching style another time, but Mum’s lesson applies to this situation. America will get what it gets. If voters, inexplicably, decide that Biden’s age is of greater concern to them than Trump’s felonies, Trump’s assaults, Trump’s attempts to overthrow government, Trump’s pathetic response to COVID-19, and Trump presiding over a weak, inept, and internally divided America then….

Don’t get upset.

And don’t expect the rest of the world to pay attention or take you seriously. We’ll just laugh again the next time Trump spruiks his lies in front of the United Nations.

Now, let’s look at some of the lies I’m talking about, in order of least to most egregious:


1. Trump believes America was respected on his watch.

You could practically hear the laughter coming out of the Kremlin. The idea that Vladimir Putin would be afraid of Trump is ludicrous. Putin, much like Kim Jong Un, took absolute advantage of an intellectually feeble and easily flattered POTUS. Trump was tricked into saluting a North Korean general – possibly the worst photo op ever from American’s point of view – and visibly wilted in Putin’s presence. Our own Malcolm Turnbull took Trump on and won.

Nobody respected America under Trump. Not even Melania. That’s the story.


2. Trump is still lying about his economic record.

Trump crashed the American economy the way he crashed his casinos, his hotels, his airline, his mortgage company, his steak business, and his sham university.

He has always been a gifted grifter but an abysmal capitalist. The illusion that he knows how to run anything should have worn off by now. When Trump said, during the debate, that ‘other countries were copying’ his economic plans while he was in office, even the camera operators should have groaned.

While he now tries to blame his mismanagement on other factors, such as the pandemic – the one he played down at the time – the cold truth is that Trump’s hubris exploded America’s national debt, betrayed the middle class and allowed wages to stagnate. The winners in Trump’s term were corporate lobbyists and the super duper rich. Meanwhile, his cavalcade of tragically devoted supporters got knifed in the back while he laughed at them.

Trump wasn’t just an economic failure. He was an economic conman. Only the excessively wealthy benefited from his tax cuts. Everyone else was ‘a loser and a sucker’ in Trump’s playbook. Staunch Republicans should remember what George W. tried to say, in one of his infamous gaffes, and not let themselves be fooled a second time.

That’s the story.


3. Trump only pretends to care about illegal immigration.

Here’s a free kick for the MAGA crowd: Senator Tim Scott is your man. Articulate, jovial and measured – on the surface, at least – Tim Scott is the strongest choice for VP under Trump. I don’t agree with many of his policies, but he’s smarter than your nominee and he will fulfil your agenda.

Following the debate, Tim Scott hammered the point that ‘the issue the people care about most’ is the crisis on the Southern Border. That shouldn’t be true. Existential climate change, global pandemic, a coup against the government, cost-of-living, employment, education, affordable healthcare, and affordable housing should take precedence to anyone thinking clearly and wanting the best for their families and for the future. Oh, and democracy should be up there on the list too. You know, the whole not betraying a great nation and slipping into a far-right military dictatorship thing.

But Tim Scott was on message. People do care about the Southern Border. I’d argue they care largely because unscrupulous and predatory politicians have terrified them with lies, false statistics and fearmongering, but they care all the same.

Do you know who listened to those concerns and offered a strong bi-partisan policy for defending the Southern Border? President Joe Biden.

Do you know who demanded Republicans abandon that policy because it was politically inconvenient and embarrassing for him? Felon Donald Trump.

That’s the story.


4. Trump still denies the coup of Jan 6.

Following his first loss to Biden, Trump proved to be an absolute snowflake. He refused to accept the results of an open, free, and fair electoral process. Donnie was a wretched sight. A narcissist denied his supply. A little boy taking his bat and ball home in a stink.

Then, he did what Trump always does when his pride is wounded… Little D held a rally.

What followed was an epically horrific and repulsive display of losers refusing to accept their L. They terrorised their elected leaders. They assaulted law enforcement. They smeared faeces on walls.

The irony is that Trump and his supporters mocked Hillary Clinton’s base for being upset by the electrical college result in 2016. I remember co-workers weeping and Kate McKinnon playing the piano… but nobody in the Clinton camp went so far as to storm the Capitol.


During the debate, Trump took no responsibility for this attempted coup. He made the same old pathetic excuses, the same old nonsensical equivocations, and even called out members of his own party for what he will always see as their ‘treachery’ for participating in the January 6 committee process.

Trump is the traitor. He should have been impeached. Every violent seditionist that disgraced themselves that day, threatening their country in the name of ‘patriotism’, should be locked away for a very, very long time.

That’s the story.


5. Trump continues to lie about his COVID response.

This one is personal to me. Many of us are still dealing with the lasting impact of this devastating disease.

The way the Republican Party, and especially Trump himself, spread lies about the impact and severity of COVID-19 must forever be recorded as a dark – and stupid! – chapter in American politics.

Whether it was his insane assertion that the pandemic would end in the summer, his musings about the medical value of bleach, his demonisation of Dr Anthony Fauci, or his refusal to wear a mask as it spoiled his fake tan, everything Trump did on this issue was catastrophically self-interested.

Thanks to Trump, America’s COVID response fell behind the rest of the developed world.

Thanks to Trump, there were morgues in city streets.

Thanks to Trump, people’s final words were ‘it’s not real!’ prior to intubation and painful death.

If someone competent had been in charge, 450,000 American lives would have been saved. How dare that moron be proud of his murders.

That’s the story.


6. Trump barely acknowledges climate change as an issue.

It’s difficult to know which lie poses the greatest existential threat to his voters, but I’ve settled on this one. Climate change is real, and it is here. Experts now say the rate of change has accelerated beyond predictions and still there are cave creatures, many in political office, who are babbling about ‘natural cycles’ and ‘population control’.

I cannot calculate how many hours I used to waste on Twitter (X is still too dumb for me to say) reading pompous idiocy from people (like dear, dim Malcolm Roberts) who confuse scientific consensus with popular consensus. The former is the weight of evidence in an academic field; the latter is a bunch of people agreeing. It’s sad when lazy commentators and shoddy senators try to conflate the two.

Here’s a spoiler: climate scientists don’t make decisions like the phone polls on The Voice. They reach consensus only via the accumulation and verification of evidence. Anyone who fails to grasp that very basic fact is unqualified to sleep in the White House.

I’m expecting too much of Trump by even raising this.

Trump earnestly believes that windmills cause cancer and electric-powered boats will send him into an oceanic battle, like Roy Scheider in Jaws. He thinks nuking hurricanes is… a thing humans can do. Before and during the debate, he claimed the air and water in the United States were both ‘the cleanest they’ve ever been’ under his policies. I’ll tell you what makes that claim absurd…

His policies.

The truth is that a climate change sceptic with absolute power will devastate America and the world at large. Trump has declared that if he is returned to office, he’ll leave the Paris Accord, and leave it smugly. Many of his supporters believe the Paris Accord benefits Paris and not America. It’s hard to argue with that level of ignorance, but I guess I’ll try….

The Paris Accord refers to climate targets that its signatories will commit to over a set timeframe. It just happens to have Paris in the title, but don’t let that confuse or frighten you… it’s like Burger King is not a real king. We’ve talked about this before.

As I write this section, I genuinely wonder if Trump is aware of what the Paris Accord is. A frightening possibility is that he’s not always lying to us. He may be more gullible than I give him credit for. Either way….

That’s the story.


7. Special mention

‘I didn’t have sex with a porn star!’

This is something no former president should have to say. I try to imagine Obama speaking these words, or Hillary, or Biden [what about Bill Clinton? – Ed]… it would be the immediate end of their candidacy, and that would be more than fair.

Former US president Barack Obama, pictured in September 2019. (IMAGE: Marco Verch, Flickr)

Don’t forget, Trump is a criminal. He has been found guilty in a court of law. We know he bribed Stormy Daniels after having sex with her, while his wife was pregnant. We know he deliberately misled the American public by concealing this fact. We know he stole documents. We know he sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll.

That’s the story.


So… pick a favourite. Any one of those stories could be, and should be, all over your newsfeed.

Any one of those stories could have, and should have, been packaged as an eye-catching headline immediately following the debate.

I’ll tell you what is not the story… ‘Biden is old.’

We knew that before the debate started. I fail to see how it’s relevant to any serious person. You get what you get.

If America makes this about age instead of honesty and integrity, then America will get the dictator it deserves.

If America chooses to fall for the catchy ‘Sleepy Joe’ slogan while allowing Trump to lie again and again, never checking, never refuting, never caring, then America will get the dictator it deserves.

If America, God bless her, re-elects the man who killed innocent citizens in a foreseeable pandemic, failed to address climate disaster, tanked the economy, favoured the rich, launched an attack against his own government and didn’t even know he was running Puerto Rico, then America….

Don’t get upset.

Dr Alex Vickery-Howe is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, social commentator, rambling podcaster and emerging novelist. His work spans political satire, environmental polemic, dark comedy and fantasy fiction. He holds a PhD from Flinders University, where he is a senior lecturer in creative writing.