By Zander Kurita ’22
*Note: This article does not reflect the views of The Iris or anyone other than the author.
On Tuesday night, America settled in for the first presidential debate of the 2020 election. I was not expecting much and did not believe that the debate would dramatically change the race. Anticipating a contentious night of polarizing debate, I was shocked by the childish screaming match that ensued. Each campaign had created a clear game plan. For former Vice President Joe Biden, it was a traditional approach that respected what a debate is and has been throughout American history: a presentation of each candidate’s position in order for the American people to decide. President Donald Trump went into this debate without any respect for the election process. At every turn, he ignored the rules and interrupted Joe Biden as well as Chris Wallace, the moderator. This debate was the worst in American history, and it is doubtful that it changed anyone’s mind. I will try to break it down and pull out the few coherent points made throughout this senselessness.
Section One, The Supreme Court:
Moderator Chris Wallace started off his questioning with a topic at the front of many voters’ minds: the Supreme Court. With President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, a partisan fight has presented itself over whether the president and the Senate should be able to confirm a new Justice while an election is in progress. Trump received the first opportunity to speak, and he stuck with the party line. This was his best moment because he was presenting a clear argument, not attacking Joe Biden out of turn. However, after the opening section, the carnage and nonsense began.
Section Two, COVID-19:
The omnipresent issue of COVID-19 is one at the center of this election. Joe Biden’s criticism of Donald Trump’s response was potent, and, instead of responding to these critiques, the president simply screamed about Biden’s record in an attempt to distract from his own. Biden spoke directly to Americans who had lost loved ones through the camera. This moment showed us the heart of Biden’s argument to be president: experience backed by empathy learned through tragedy. The coronavirus segment was one of Biden’s strongest and one of Trump’s worst.
Section Three, The Economy:
Biden did not present as sharply in this next category, and Trump’s strategy of interruption seemed to have the greatest effect during the economic segment. Despite the economy being a self-declared strong suit of the Trump campaign and a key motivation for his supporters, he did nothing to prove that he would bring the country out of this recession aside from a renewal of “trumped-up trickle-down” economics that has left so many middle-class Americans worse off. The recent revelations about Trump’s tax returns also made the category less effective than it could have been for the president. What could have been a strong category for Trump turned into a stalemate.
Section Four, Race in America:
Some of the greatest contrasts between the two candidates have been made in regard to race relations in America, especially in this time of cultural reckoning and broad social change. The big moment of this segment came when Trump refused to condemn white supremacists after his own FBI director legitimized the threat of white supremacists to national security. The president chose, rather, to deflect to Biden to rant about Antifa. This racism is at the heart of his candidacy, and his inability to distance himself from it is costing him votes. Biden’s capacity for change and ability to listen make a stark contrast with the president and appeal to a growing group of Americans.
Section Five, Climate:
As the end of the debate neared, the quality steadily declined. By the time we reached the second to last category of climate, the bickering was incessant, making it difficult to watch. Biden stayed strong in the face of a deranged Trump and staked his position as a Democrat who wants to combat climate change but not a supporter of the Green New Deal, a hallmark of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Once again, Biden did not falter and lose support, nor did Trump gain support.
Section Six, The Election:
The last segment of the presidential debate trainwreck was no different than the rest. The points made by both candidates were those that we have seen over the past months, especially after the president would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose. Donald Trump continued to rail against mail-in voting while Joe Biden promoted safe voting and encouraged Americans to vote whatever way they are most comfortable. This topic surely drove the country further apart because it has become such a partisan issue.
There were a few interesting segments of the debate, and we saw the candidates clarify their positions. Any short time of substantive debate was quickly pummeled into submission by the never before seen chaos created by the president. With President Trump trailing in the polls by a national average of seven percent, he needed to clearly and substantively win this debate to gain supporters and begin to close the gap to Biden. There is no chance in my mind that he gained any voters or closed any gaps. He preached to his base and continued to polarize--a strategy which is clearly not gaining him any momentum in the polls.
The debate format was greatly flawed, especially since Chris Wallace could not control the president. Donald Trump will not obey the rules, and any moderator would be just as incapable of restraining him. The next debates will not get better, and the question of whether or not Joe Biden should even participate is valid. I was deeply saddened by this debate, which was a departure from civility and respect in American democracy and in our sacred ritual of the presidential election.