Don’t Watch the Debate Sober
By: Emanuel Louis
A comedy? A tragedy? Very few words can describe the spectacle that was delivered to us during the American presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio last Tuesday. Viewers from around the world were left dumbfounded at the dismal display of American politics, when both candidates clawed at each other rather than highlighting the reasons that they should become president. Between Trump’s recent tax fraud scandal, his Supreme Court nomination, and him testing positive and getting hospitalized for COVID-19, there is no doubt that the debate is yet another foreshadowing of the hectic weeks to come as the clock counts down towards the elections.
The first ever presidential debate that took place in the United States pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon in 1960. At the time, the televised debate was revolutionary in presenting the candidates’ political agenda to the American public. Both Kennedy and Nixon portrayed leadership and charisma as the country was in the midst of a bitter Cold War against the Soviet Union. The civility and composure shown to Americans 60 years ago were instead replaced with animosity and blatant disrespect last week.
A fundamental rule in debating is to not interrupt the opponent whenever they are given personal speaking time. However, continuous interruptions, mainly from Trump, plagued the entire debate from start to finish, with absolutely no respect whatsoever for the pre-established rules from the Commission on Presidential Debates. Trump also frequently cut off Chris Wallace, the moderator, and managed to amass a total of 128 interruptions in the 90-minute debate.
Trump and Biden also did not hold back on attacking each other, whether it be out of intentional provocation or pure frustration. Some memorable lines from Biden included: “Well, it’s hard to get any word in with this clown. Excuse me, this person” and “Will you shut up, man?”. As for Trump, one could say he was rather blunt, saying “Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word”, and “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe. 47 years you’ve done nothing.”. Trump did not stop at that however; he went as far as bringing up Biden’s family and using his son Hunter’s struggle with substance abuse and (discredited and disproven) reports about his past to further defame Biden on public television.
Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic was a primordial point of discussion throughout the debate. But the message sent to Americans by both candidates was drastically different. Biden condemned the poor handling of the situation and accused the president of having failed and continuing to fail at properly managing the pandemic. Trump on the other hand flouted about the amazing job he did and blamed the media for the “fake news” that tarnishes his name. He then claimed that Biden would have done an even worse job with how he handled the H1N1 influenza and made fun of him for how he wears masks. He confidently declared, “When needed, I wear masks. I don’t wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” Oh the irony…
Another highlight (or lowlight) of the night was Trump’s stance on white supremacy. He was asked by Chris Wallace if he is willing to condemn white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, and to do so if he is. He answered, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” Stand by? Why not stand down entirely? Why not simply say, “I condemn the Proud Boys”? Even though it would have taken him no effort whatsoever, the current President of the United States effectively failed to directly condemn white supremacy on national television. He promptly pointed the finger afterwards to the political left regarding national political unrest, and completely sidestepped the demand that was asked of him. It took a mediatic outrage for Trump to finally backpedal and condemn white supremacist groups 2 days later.
Even more concerning was Trump encouraging his supporters to “watch very carefully” the poll booths, calling them “poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing”. One small problem though, this notion of monitoring poll booths is simply another name for voter intimidation, a strategy that was frequently used in past days to intimidate racial minorities from voting. Ballot patrollers were notorious for using every possible trick in the book to dissuade or prevent Latinos and African Americans from voting. And now, Trump is trying to bring them back, decades later, right when activists are denouncing the systemic racism that has rocked the country in the past few months.
As if all of Trump’s claims haven’t been extreme enough, he ended off the debate by insisting that the election is rigged. Not only that, he declared that he intends to legally challenge the election results within the Supreme Court, where he recently nominated a new judge and essentially assured Republican control, after arguing that the entire mail-in ballot system is flawed. Many consider his final comments as one of the biggest threats to democracy in the history of the USA.
What did viewers take away from this debate? Not much. People who were already supporting Trump or Biden remained firm in their beliefs. Racial minorities who were not planning to vote before the debate are now gathering together to settle for Biden as they realized that Trump’s reelection could result in a blast to a very racist past. As for voters who were undecided, the mess of a debate they witnessed did not help whatsoever in helping them make a choice. If anything, they realized that this election is not about choosing who they would be proud to have as president, but rather which poison they will have to tolerate for the upcoming 4 years.
The upcoming presidential debates are not lining up to be any more informative either. Many are calling for a change in the rules, for example by giving the moderator the ability to mute mics, in order to prevent the continuous interruptions, irrelevant crosstalk, and overall chaos that occurred on Tuesday. However, Trump and his team have preemptively notified the media that they would reject all rule changes brought forward. “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?”, he defended with convinction.
You can watch the debate here: https://youtu.be/6FPxLV9eRyY (transcript: https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/donald-trump-joe-biden-1st-presidential-debate-transcript-2020 )
Here, you can also find a fun drinking game to play if you decide to watch the debate: https://www.delish.com/just-for-fun/a29190779/presidential-debates-drinking-game/
Whether you choose to drink or not, you’ll probably feel sick by the end anyway.
So, if you haven’t seen the debate yet, grab your popcorn and/or your vodka, because you are about to witness one of the greatest circus shows in the history of the USA.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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