Last night’s debate was precisely what it was meant to be: revealing. In an age where authenticity – or the appearance of it – matters so much, Americans got to see a relatively unvarnished picture of the two candidates for president. One did a more or less decent job, and the other ravished the format more than he did his rival. Whether or not there will be more debates is now a reasonable question.

Posturing aside, there should be more debates. We deserve it. However painful or embarrassing the process may be for everyone involved, these feelings are part and parcel of our lives today anyway, so let’s hash them out.

Donald Trump’s surprise election four years ago was a shock to the system, just as it might have been for those who were alive when a man landed on the moon or Kennedy was assassinated. We remember where we were.

I was in a hotel room in the Democratic Republic of Congo when the BBC reported that Wisconsin had gone red. Then my television exploded, literally, and in a puff of smoke there was only darkness. As it was three in the morning there, my thoughts turned to the handle of Jack Daniels in the next room, a jar of peanut butter to help hold it down, and the possibility of having to swim the river to Brazzaville if more events like this one fell from the sky.

Since then we’ve all seen or experienced various degrees of trauma and are each, in our own way, shell-shocked. For me there was the seemingly unending Russia investigation, for Chris Wallace there was the lost opportunity to say the word “normal” with a straight face, and for everybody in the world there was COVID-19. Kind of like a banquet of misfortune.

And while I never supported candidate Trump, I ended up getting treated like one of his supporters, and this experience was an education in itself. Before I was charged by the Justice Department, I drafted a short essay for family entitled “How Mueller Pushed Me Into Trump’s Corner.” I copied my lawyer in a friendly way, but the file was then mistakenly included with my production to the special counsel the next day (and then withdrawn when the error discovered). My editorial musings then were probably not helpful.

So I’ve come to know judgment and exclusion, and better appreciate how many Trump supporters have long felt. The shame-casting, derision, and propagandistic assault launched by one side softens up the receiving end for its own soothing and redemptive narratives, sometimes interwoven with patriotism and sometimes with sheer indignation. Meanwhile, the gas-lighting goes both ways.

But last night’s performance took us back to the beginning. Had Trump played by the debate’s rules, he could have scored many points. But instead, he taunted Joe Biden about “Law and Order” while demonstrating at the same time that neither

matter to him very much. Just like in the Wizard of Oz, the curtain was pulled back and the sham was exposed for what it is.

To be fair, Biden stooped when he called Trump a “clown,” a “liar,” and “the worst president in the history of our country.” Still, he was more precise than I feared he might be, and held up his side of the stage for the most part. Team Trump had lowered the expectations of Biden’s ability to perform to such a point that simply by showing up and speaking in complete sentences, the former vice president was pretty much assured victory.

A couple times, Biden said to the moderator – as if Trump weren’t in the room – “he can’t do that” with respect to following the rules. That was a little condescending. Trump actually gave us a tremendous gift last night with his honesty about who he is. He told us the city of his birth will “probably never get back to the way it was,” that “bad things happen in Philadelphia,” and that California is “simply crazy.” He also told the Proud Boys, self-described ‘Western chauvinists,’ to “stand down but stand by.”

Through his childish badgering and unwillingness to appear presidential, Trump embarrassed himself and made some of his own supporters embarrassed for him, perhaps even causing some to wonder if he’s still worth all the stress. If this is in fact the last debate, it will have served a purpose. If there are more, we probably all hope they’ll be different.