The race to the White House took a sour turn last week as we were graced with the first presidential debate between Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. Given how tumultuous 2020 has already been, many might have looked to this event for some hope of a brighter future. Instead, however, we were left with many unanswered questions (literally and metaphorically), not to mention a pounding headache. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, undertaking the impossible job of mediator, has my deepest sympathy – he didn’t have the option of changing the channel like I did, nor could he mute what became an indictment of American politics.
The debate began with discussions of the Supreme Court, a nod to the recent passing of influential Justice Ginsberg, yet neither candidate spent any of their allotted two minutes to pay tribute to her. Perhaps this was a sign of the tone that would soon dominate the evening. Speaking about the upcoming Supreme Court election and of Ginsberg’s replacement, however, both candidates had much to say.
In an attempt to justify his advocation of an immediate Supreme Court election, Trump proclaimed that he “won the election”. He furthered this ‘point’ by saying that a President is elected for four years, not three, a point of which we don’t need reminding – don’t worry Donald. The President also took time to praise his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who was “top top top of her class” allegedly according to an unnamed professor at Notre Dame.
In contrast, Biden advocated waiting until the White House race was over before the Supreme Court nomination is settled, though his emphasis quickly veered to the current administration’s goal of abolishing the Affordable Care Act. Biden attempted to present startling statistics related to the issue, yet was interrupted by Trump every couple seconds, meaning he struggled to establish any meaningful emphasis. This pointed tactic arguably proved effective in stifling Biden, who suffers from a stutter, but did nothing to help the overall quality of discussion.
Next up on the agenda was Covid. (The irony in President Trump being hospitalised with the virus shortly after is not lost on the author). If the debate was a shambles before, it became a distasteful political point-scoring match with obvious insincerity from both candidates, clearly frustrated with each other.
Biden opened this time, with his key message that Trump “has no plan” – a valid point considering the US’s 7.5 million cases and two hundred thousands Covid deaths. The President’s response: “it would have been much higher if [Biden] were in charge”, led to a scene more befitting of a primary school playground than a Presidential debate. There was a slip-up from Biden in referencing the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009, when 14,000 American lives were lost while he held the office of Vice President. Even for my low expectations, the debate hit a new level of inhumanity when the tragic deaths of many Americans were used as empty numbers in order to prove a political point. Thankfully, Trump said “one death is too many” – unfortunately, his passive tone showed signs of a pre-rehearsed campaign script, rather than any feeling of remorse for those whose loved ones had been lost.
Conversely, the comedic highlight of the debate came when Trump told Biden “don’t ever use the word smart with me”. The Former VP gave a wry smile as I sunk into my bed, feeling far from smart for still watching. Nevertheless, I hobbled on, as did the debate.
In another notable moment, Trump seemed to dodge Wallace’s call to condemn white supremacists, before telling the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist organisation, to “stand back and stand by”. Delivered in textbook Trump fashion, few could say they felt appeased by these coy, vague instructions.
Perhaps the most poignant indicator of the debate’s lack of humanity came during Biden’s rejection of Trump’s notion that Americans who lost their lives at war were “losers” and “suckers”. Whilst evidently emotional, insisting his deceased son Beau was not a loser, the Democrat was interrupted by a babbling Trump claiming Hunter Biden, Joe’s other son, was dishonourably discharged from the army for cocaine abuse. At this point, my sympathy was shared between Wallace and Biden.
As he tends to do, the President stole the headline in the closing stages of the debate by pleading with his supporters to watch what’s going on at polling stations “very carefully”, underlining his well documented concerns about voting fraud, which have brought into question the previously-assumed peaceful transition of power. Not only is a fair, well-spirited Oval Office race at jeopardy if Trump is being serious (it’s hard to tell nowadays), but so is the American Constitution .
I wish I could properly summarise this debate, but the fact is that it was more of shouting match. Biden seemed flustered and occasionally lost his cool, the highlight being calling Trump a “clown” before opting for the more flattering “person”. Trump, alternatively, was a blubbering buffoon: he showed no regard for the structure of debate, nor had the patience to let anyone else speak. It is baffling that one of these flawed old men will be President for the next four years, especially if this ‘debate’ is any indication of how they will hold office. That being said, the debate produced two snippets of sound advice to be heeded.
Firstly, not to inject bleach into your bodies, like Trump once advocated. He was “being sarcastic and you know it” – no Donald, I don’t think we do. Secondly, ahead of future debates, both candidates should adopt Biden’s recommendation and “shut up man” – I imagine the desire to gouge your eyeballs out is reduced significantly in a properly conducted political debate. Then again, maybe not.