US presidential debate chaos as Donald Trump refuses to denounce white supremacy

Americans were expecting the first presidential debate to be ugly and confrontational. But this was off the charts.

Let's call the night here in Cleveland what it was: a disgrace of a presidential debate that illuminated nothing and raised deeply troubling questions about the potential for election chaos.One analyst called it "a hot mess inside a dumpster fire within a train wreck".  That just about sums it up.Almost from the beginning, the moderator lost control.

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Chris Wallace of Fox News tried to rebuke President Donald Trump, but to no avail.  By the end of the night Wallace looked like he had been run over by a juggernaut.

The President and Joe Biden snarled at each other and exchanged barbs at every turn.But the low point - one that is dominating the headlines here this morning - was the President's refusal to denounce white supremacists. Instead, he appeared to tell a far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys, to "stand down and stand by".

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"Stand by" for what wasn't clear.  But in parallel Trump asked his supporters to descend on polling stations to witness what he called an ongoing election fraud.Would the President commit to keeping his supporters calm and to accepting the election outcome?  Joe Biden said yes.  Donald Trump said he wouldn't be able to if he saw a rigged election.And Trump is portraying postal voting as that fraud.

So it is not clear if the election result will be accepted by the President. That's an astonishing development.There were lots of bitter moments as Biden and Trump argued about the pandemic, the economy, and racial turmoil.In a moment that has gone viral, Biden barked at Trump, "Shut up, man!"  Expect that phrase to be printed on a gazillion T-shirts within days.Trump had his own insult: "There is nothing smart about you; for 47 years you've done nothing."It was excruciatingly personal at times.  Trump attacked both of Biden's son, including Beau, who died of cancer.

Some commentators are suggesting that it was such a chaotic evening - and that Trump so overwhelmed the protocols of the evening - that the next two debates will simply be cancelled.It doesn't feel that Americans would mind. Instant polls suggested they saw this debate as uninformative and negative.Whatever you think of this President - and his supporters will say he won the debate and is being unfavourably targeted by a liberal media - this was a depressing evening if you believe in democratic debate.In 1858, with the US in crisis, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held the most famous and uplifting series of debates in American history.A hundred and sixty two years later, with the country again in crisis, we have just witnessed the exact opposite; the weakest, bleakest debate ever to occur on a presidential stage.