Dear Vice President Biden: A Trial Lawyer's Tips for Your Next Debate

Dear Vice President Biden,

I feel your pain.

As a long time practicing lawyer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with people who lacked decorum, talked over me, and generally acted like jerks. Like your encounter last Tuesday, their goal was not to debate issues but rather to conceal truth. 

After 35 years of dealing with these bullies in court, I have developed some strategies to share with you when you next debate our interrupter-in-chief.

John Paul Sartre’s comments about certain personalities is instructive here: 

They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words...They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

Realize that the rules of normal discourse don’t apply for these people. They don’t play by the rules. And if you follow them into the mud puddle, you’ll both get dirty. Only, they like playing in the mud. It’s their happy place, not yours. 

I think it pays to be the adult in the room when these children go off on one of their rants. When they fist pound, they think they’re appearing strong and earnest, but they actually come off as a spoiled child having a toy taken away. Just like Mussolini thought he was the epitome of strength, for all of his pomp and self importance, he came off like a buffoon.

So with that in mind, how can you counter Mr. Trump’s antics at your next debate?

  • Mock him.  Use humor to mock him. Malignant narcissists have paper-thin skin; they can’t handle attacks. You saw this during the debate—Trump couldn’t control himself or hold his tongue at all when he felt attacked. So, the tactic is to deftly manage him with subtle taunts. These rascals can handle a challenge to their facts or logic (they are post truth, remember!) but subtle mockery is kryptonite for them. This is what Chaplin was after in “The Great Dictator”; use humor as your nuclear weapon.
  • Don’t take the bait. as Epictetus observed, “Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.” If you stay in control of yourself, you remain in control of the contest. And the calmer you remain, the crazier he will get. 
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Self deprecation often neutralizes aggressive attacks. Emulate Lincoln and Reagan––both mastered the art of using self deprecation offensively. 
  • Master the facts. Your opponent will distort, if not lie outright about the facts. While you won’t persuade him with your mastery of the facts, you will enhance your credibility with the people who matter: the voters. 
  • Turn opposition into an opportunity. When you get angry, you stop thinking. Control your emotions so you can look for opportunities to exploit the craziness. Use his words against him and ridicule his comments with a smile on your face. 

These are just a few tips to consider. There is no easy way to deal with these personalities, but if you keep your cool, use his own force against him, and stay strong, you will come out on top.

I’m rooting for you, Joe! 

Published October 1, 2020

About the author


Steven N.Peskind

Principal Attorney

To be successful, a lawyer must have insight into the whole human catastrophe and be able to effectively traverse the legal system. It is the intersection of these two disciplines that fascinate me. I have been a lifelong student of both human nature and the law, and have created this blog to help others following my path.


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