On September 29 2020, the first of the three presidential debates took place between President Trump and Vice President Biden, in Cleveland, Ohio. This debate took place under preventive measures against the spread of Covid-19, such as forbidding the spectators from applauding. The debate was moderated by Chris Wallace, who aboarded five general topics of discussion.
The first topic brought to the discussion of the presidential candidates is Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. First to speak is Trump himself, and he reinforces his answer multiple times by repeating that she will be an outstanding judge, stating that it is his right to nominate whoever he wants as he won the election. Biden counters this answer by arguing that the American people should have a say in who is nominated for the Supreme Court. From this point, both candidates start speaking over each other. Trump accuses his opponent of being a socialist and not letting him finish his sentences, while Biden accuses him of not coming up with a plan to replace Obamacare, as he in the past promised, repeatedly stating that “everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie”. (Biden, 2020). As the candidates resort to personal attacks and insults, the moderator moves to a second topic.
Both presidential candidates next have to deal with the topic of the ongoing pandemic. As Biden repeatedly states that Trump has no plan to deal with the spread of Covid-19, the latter tells him off for not wanting to close the borders earlier, stating that “[he] never could have done the job [they] did”. (Trump, 2020) In response, Biden tells Trump off for not having been realistic enough with the vaccine, misleading the American people and letting them believe the pandemic would be over before actually possible. Trump says he wears a mask “when needed”; days later, ironically, his Covid-19 test comes back positive. As the topic nears its end, Biden states that Trump will be the first president to leave administration with fewer jobs than when he entered it, and that he kept none of his promises in protecting teachers and helping small businesses; as billionaires got richer, he argued, America’s middle and lower classes suffered.
Tensions are high as the moderator brings up the issue of race, especially in light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Biden argues that Trump has only generated hatred within the American people as he went against peaceful protestors, stating that America needs a system where people are held accountable for their actions. In response, Trump argues that he has gained more support from American people than any Republican before, and defends his decision to end racial sensitivity training on the basis that “people complained that it was a radical revolution taking place” (Trump 2020) and that its proponents were spreading terrible images about America. Perhaps the most defining moment of this debate is when Trump refuses to answer the moderator’s question regarding whether or not he condemns white supremacists, instead talking around the question and repeatedly denouncing Antifa without understanding its actual definition.
Before moving on to the final two topics, the candidates are asked why voters should elect them rather than their opponent. Trump states that no president has ever done more for the country than he has, raising the greatest economy and lowest unemployment. Biden counters this statement, declaring that under Trump the country became “weaker, sicker, poorer, divided”, while the wealth of billionaires boosted.
The moderator then brings up a pressing topic, that of climate change. Trump’s arguments all come back to the issue of forest management, believing that it is the solution to ending forest fires, while stating that he wants “crystal clear” water and air. When asked if he believes in the science behind climate change, he does not answer, as for the question regarding white supremacy. Meanwhile, Biden puts the accent on the importance of renewable energy, with the mindset that the implementation of green infrastructure will create millions of jobs that not only pay well but make sure that the environment remains cleanlowered. He equally stresses the importance of re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement.
The final topic addressed during this debate concerns the candidate’s trust in the mail-in ballots to ensure a fair election. While Biden is confident in this system and affirms that it’s in the American people’s hands to determine the future of their country, Trump denounces the mail system, stating that it’s “a fraud” and unjustly run by corrupt mailmen who steal and discard ballots. He moreover argues that many ballots with his name have been found in waste bins, while Biden explains that mail-in ballots are trustworthy as they have been used by the military for decades.
This debate brought up a number of issues, which might have been decisive for many voters. However, the most surprising aspect of this debate is its level of unprofessionalism. From the beginning, candidates were calling each other names such as “clown” (Biden 2020) or insulting the other’s family members, as Trump did towards Biden’s son on multiple occasions. The entire debate was dominated by confused, overlapping voices yelling at each other in disregard of the moderator’s attempts to make them settle down.
Interestingly, throughout his arguments, Biden used strong pathos to urge his listeners to vote, by staring directly into the camera as if he were staring in our eyes. In contrast, Trump’s rhetoric revolved around using his hands and tone in an almost condescending manner.
In less than a month, the American people will have to make a decision. Considering the accelerating rates of climate change and proliferation of racial equality movements, their decision might impact the nation for longer than the upcoming four years.
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Maria Gheorghiu, DC Canada
Trump, D. & Biden, J. (2020, September 29). “First Presidential Debate: President Trump and Joe Biden.” United States of America. Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic. Wall Street Journal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yW8nIA33-zY