Robbie MacPherson '21
On September 29th, The Commission on Presidential Debates held the first debate of the 2020 election cycle. It was a lot to digest for those on either side of the aisle. Most people agree that the debate was chaotic, regardless of whether they support Trump or Biden. We saw Chris Wallace try (and fail) to keep a sense of decorum and civility in the debate. CNN described the debate accurately, calling it a “dumpster fire” and a “train wreck,” and many were inclined to agree with CNN’s interpretation, even those who see CNN as “fake news.” But upon further investigation, there was actually some decent substance between the bouts of shouting.
Trump is always an interesting character, but he played up his “Trumpiness” even more when he took the stage to debate Joe Biden. Other than interrupting and causing most of the chaos present, he illuminated his positions on some issues. On the COVID response, Trump claimed responsibility for the COVID lockdown by saying he “shut down the greatest economy ever” which is contrary to the arguments made by many conservatives that claim he left everything to the states when trying to defend Trump’s COVID response. Trump also tried, and failed, to effectively condemn white supremacists and right wing militias. Chris Wallace asked him to condemn white supremacist groups and tell them to stand back, and being the operative word. Trump told them to step back, skipping over the whole condemnation part, and just moved onto deflecting by blaming Antifa for any and all violence.
Biden also showed his teeth at the debate and proved to the American public that, despite rhetorical slip ups earlier in the campaign, he still has the necessary kick in him to bear the weight of the presidency with poise. After months of running “sleepy Joe” ads, Trump himself got to see Biden debate with coherence and even hit back by telling Trump to “shut up.” Biden used the debate to show the American people, the few that were actually watching the debate, that he has what it takes to debate Trump. I’m sure I was not the only person who was concerned about Biden’s ability to hold up under Trump’s belligerence, but the debate reassured me of his ability.
On social issues, Biden also showed that he was holding firm to his own beliefs regarding topics such as police reform. Biden had already made clear that he did not support defunding the police, no matter how frequently Trump accuses Biden of doing so. Biden emphasized his supportive stance on police when he said, “The vast majority of police officers are good, decent honorable men and women … but there are some bad apples.” He did not fall into the camp of the far left that just despises law enforcement, which was reassuring to more moderate voters. When it came to healthcare, he made clear his antipathy for universal healthcare. He advocated for expanded Medicaid and Obamacare, which again reassured many moderate voters, myself included, that he was not too left leaning. He even stood his ground when Trump attacked him for wanting to take the country in a socialist direction by saying that he doesn’t support socialist policies and emphasizing that he beat Bernie Sanders. Biden even said, “I am the Democratic Party!” which is an odd way of saying that what Biden says goes, and since Biden does not support socialism, neither does the party.
Probably the most characteristic part of the debate was when we saw both candidates show a more raw and unfiltered side of themselves. Biden ridiculed Trump for his insults directed at military service members, specifically drawing on the emotions he felt due to both of his sons having served. Trump made false claims regarding Biden’s son, Hunter, who Trump claimed was dishonorably discharged. Biden focused on the comments Trump made before refusing to visit the military cemetery in France where he calls those who served and died “suckers and losers.” Biden addressed Trump with a passion and vigor he does not normally show where he referred to his son, who served in Iraq, and said, “He was not a loser, and the people left behind there were heroes!” which reinforced Biden’s support for the armed forces. It was refreshing for us Biden supporters to see Joe Biden really let loose with previously unseen emotion at Trump.
Although the debate likely did not affect the outcome of the election much, the September 29th debate was definitely a more lively and interesting event than most normal presidential debates have been in the past. Many people struggle to determine which side really won the debate. It definitely wasn’t Chris Wallace and neither candidate really gained much, though Biden proved he could still formulate coherent thoughts. So who won the debate? I tend to lean towards Biden but realistically the only people who really benefited from this debate are the enemies of American Democracy.
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