In the normal course of recent presidential campaigns (since 1960), the TV debates between the major party candidates have been a fixture of the process. That does not mean they are required. This year and this campaign are very different from any in the past century, in large part because the incumbent president is different — way different — from any in our country’s history. And because of who the incumbent president is, the democratic challenger would be wise to decline the invitation to participate in any TV debates with him.

There is one basic reason for this, and numerous variations on it: Trump is unable and unwilling to participate in a civilized debate.

Any debate will become yet another Trump circus with insults, name-calling, lies, posturing, and distractions. It will be mean and divisive because that’s what Trump’s presidency has been about: divisiveness, distractions, and lies.

My view would be the same if the nominee were anyone other than Biden. Any nominee would face the same impossible task: you can’t participate in mud wrestling without getting dirty. You would be talking to…

…one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

– Bob Dylan

Hillary Clinton tried in 2016 (“When they go low, we go high”), but it didn’t work. During the Republican primary race in 2016, Trump bullied and insulted all his opponents into incoherence.

Trump still imagines that he can win if he just doubles down on everything he has done before. There is zero chance he will rise to the occasion. Quite the contrary. He knows a debate could not help Biden, only diminish him. It would only tarnish the campaign and give Americans yet another reason to be disgusted with politics.

Of course, Trump will rant and rave when Biden announces that he won’t debate, claiming it’s because Biden is weak, etc. People will ignore that, as Trump has been ranting about practically everything for the past 4 years. Let that not be a concern, most have tuned him out. Having the debates will have much greater negative outcomes. Refusing to debate is the courageous decision.

Most Americans are desperate to end this time of multiple plagues, divisions, and unrest. Biden can articulate that vision and show himself to be the leader that will begin and pursue the hard work that it will take to make America, yes, great again. Begin to repair and restore all that Trump has sullied in these four years and take up the long-simmering challenges around racism, medical care, equal opportunity, and climate. Trying to talk about any of those things with Trump in the room is impossible. Biden must take the message directly to the people and treat Trump as uninterested in the process and irrelevant after January 20, 2021.