This election’s first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was best summarized by CNN’s “The Lead” host Jake Tapper. “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck,” Tapper said on CNN. “It was a disgrace.”
The unprecedented level of interruptions, lack of control, and inability to maintain any level of professionalism overshadowed many of the important issues that the debate was supposed to address. But beyond the childish exchanges, there were a few key moments from the debate that should stick with viewers and potential voters.
“Will you shut up, man?”
These words uttered by Biden early into the debate served as a precursor to what would eventually be at least 128 interruptions by Trump to both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace. While Biden’s comment might seem like a drastic break in political character, he has been known for having a short temper. He has been known for getting overly defensive when questioned on his political stance, which is why Biden’s team prepared him prior to the debate.
It was evident that Trump intended to bait Biden into losing his temper through his interruptions, but Biden never truly cracked. Even as Trump repeatedly attacked his record and made false personal accusations, Biden seemed to either mediate, look down, or smile at Trump’s verbal onslaught. Trump’s tactic might have worked on viewers like me, but failed to fully devolve Biden.
There was also much public questioning of Biden’s behavior. While most people watching the debate did not react negatively towards Biden’s rebuke, some on social media suggested how if Biden were anything but an older white male, his remark would have garnered more controversy. Author Jill Filipovic tweeted about how Hillary Clinton, having been criticized often as a woman in politics, could not have responded to Trump akin to Biden during her 2016 presidential bid, to which Hillary replied “You have no idea.”
“He’s wearing the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Trump in line with his questioning of the scientific community continued to downplay the severity of COVID-19’s impact while simultaneously bullying Biden for his decision to wear a mask more frequently. In a twist of fate, Trump later tested positive for COVID-19, just 3 days following the debate.
Trump’s rhetoric in the debate was consistent with many of the offbeat ideas he has pedaled since the start of the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, he downplayed COVID’s severity by equating it to a common cold, delaying any appropriate response until the virus had infiltrated some of the highest levels of government in and out of the United States. Since then he has continued to promote experimental medicine and dangerous remedies under the assumption that these companies can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
He has also promoted the reopening of businesses during the height of the pandemic. While some government officials helped facilitate his interest in reopening the country, a VOX analysis concluded that only four states as of early September met the criteria for reopening. Many states such as Texas and Florida that chose to reopen earlier during the pandemic experienced a record number of infections.
Biden has consistently followed the guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, as well as medical experts’ advice. Trump’s criticism of Biden can only suggest his level of recklessness and disregard for all affected by COVID-19. Most people have in one way or another been affected by COVID, so to insult anyone for taking the virus more seriously than others is both selfish and deadly.
“Proud boys, stand back and stand by.”
This Trump quote received the most outward backlash by anyone that saw the debate. Biden asked Trump to condemn the Proud Boys, an alt-right, male-only white supremacist organization that engages in political violence. Instead of condemning the organization, Trump said the following quote, much to the dismay of people across the political spectrum.
VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes created the organization during the 2016 presidential election to combat progressive culture and uphold white-savior culture. Even a quick Google search of some of his more notable quotes exposes the ideology of a highly disturbed individual who genuinely believes political correctness is intrusive and that white men are the only individuals fit enough to exercise control.
Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists and other hate groups is not new. Following the 2017 ‘Unite the Right Rally’ in Charlottesville, NC, which resulted in one death and over a dozen injuries, Trump condemned violence on both sides — though most of the violence, including the single death, was perpetuated by one white supremacist who ran his car into a crowd of counter protesters.
Many at the time were disappointed and outraged by Trump’s inability to condemn white supremacist and alt-right groups, and this past sentiment is indicative of the same narrative during the debate. The Proud Boys celebrated Trump’s comment to “stand back and stand by,” even integrating his comment within their new logo.
The language of the statement is somewhat cryptic. Stand back for what? Stand by for what? We can only assume that Trump intended to order the group to prepare themselves for something potentially violent and harmful. We can only hope that the Proud Boys and other similar groups will not mobilize, even when incited by Trump’s comments.
“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I cannot go along with that.”
Towards the end of the debate, both candidates were asked to give their final remarks about the election and voting. Biden claimed he would accept the results of the election regardless of whether or not he wins. Trump on the other hand claimed that if he believes there is any information that suggests that the outcome is skewed, he will not accept the results.
This comment is more interesting and unusual than some of his other claims. First of all, most presidential elections are not decided by tens of thousands of ballots. The Federal Election Committee (FEC), concluded that nearly 136 million people voted in the United States in 2016 with the difference between Trump and Clinton standing at around 3,000,000 votes.
There has only been one contemporary election where tens of thousands of ballots would have greatly affected the outcome of the presidential election — the 2000 election between Al Gore and George Bush Jr. Florida, the tiebreaker state, was ultimately determined by just 537 votes, something that is never likely to occur again in any future presidential election.
What Trump is suggesting is impossible, and his lack of acceptance over official numbers or even legal precedents that were created following the 2000 election poses a major threat to the foundation of U.S. democracy. As someone who holds the highest political position in the U.S., his questioning could foster doubt in voters over the value of their vote. His language delegitimizes the election process, suggesting that unfavorable results should not be accepted, even if votes are measured correctly.
Trump’s language delegitimizes the election process, suggesting that unfavorable results should not be accepted, even if votes are measured correctly.
Overall the debate and everything said by both candidates was nothing short of a failure. Trump doubled down on his existing agenda, providing voters with no new information on what a second term would entail.
The constant interruptions by Trump successfully prevented Biden from delving into the specifics of what a Biden presidency would look like. Most people are aware of Trump’s ‘platform’ and what his views are, but with Biden as the only alternative, it is critical for indecisive voters to get to know Biden and his plan.
Though Trump might have failed to win over the public, he successfully prevented Biden from doing the same. Should there even be a second presidential debate, Biden needs to push out his agenda, and though the new debate rules will hopefully allow him to actually finish his sentences uninterrupted, he needs to ensure the quality of his rhetoric meets the standards of undecided voters.
Last updated 10/5/20
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