A US presidential debate like no other

Azza Radwan Sedky
Monday 12 Oct 2020

It was a chaotic debate in every sense of the word leaving Americans with a sour taste in their mouths having not learned much from the whole debacle

Millions around the world tuned in to watch the future President of the United States speak at the first 2020 US presidential debate; soon afterwards many tuned out.

Mostly frustrated by the lack of decorum and substance, andby the unpresidential bickering, viewers lost interest, turning their TV sets off.

It was a chaotic debate in every sense of the word leaving Americans with a sour taste in their mouths having not learned much from the whole debacle.

First, let’s review the format of the 2020 presidential debates. Three debates are scheduled to take place: September 29, October 15, and October 22. One debate between the incumbent Vice President, Mike Penn, and the Democratic nominee, Kamala Harris, is scheduled for October 7.

Although some predicted that Biden, after the first chaotic debate, may opt out of the two forthcoming ones, it has been confirmed that he will participate in both debates. And now that President Trump tested positive for Covid-19, it remains to be seen if the schedule will be upheld.

After a cordial but socially distanced head nod from both debaters, President Trump and Vice President Biden took to their corners, and with the first question from the moderator, the atmosphere tensed and the debate turned into a fiasco.

President Trump was responsible for the aggressive tone of the debate, continuously speaking out of place and order and talking over Biden. As a result, the debate was flooded with interruptions, name calling, and very little as far as substance and future plans go.

Despite President Trump’s confrontational tone, he did not name call Vice President Biden as the latter did though both traded accusations and trashed one another’s records.

However, Trump managed to infuriate Biden, who countered with offensive slights. He mocked Trump saying, “Will you shut up, man?” and called him a clown, a liar, a racist, and the worst American president.

Trump got personal, too. As Biden paid tribute to his late son, Beau, who served in Iraq, Trump shifted to Biden’s other son, “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” Trump continued, even as Biden tried to interrupt, calling it “not true.” “He didn’t have a job until you became vice president, and once you became vice president, he made a fortune in China, in Moscow, and various other places,” Trump said.

More importantly than the bickering that ensued, Americans didn’t learn much from the debate, and the debate itself did not shift the dynamics of the race. Vital issues such as Covid-19, the economy, and racial confrontations on the streets were not dealt with in depth or with genuine concern, rather both candidates tried to talk of their earlier successes and very little about their future visions.

The debaters quibbled over economic achievements. Biden said that Obama’s administration inherited an economy on the verge of collapse and that he, personally, played a significant role in it boost, and that Trump received a flourishing economy. Trump said that he built “the greatest economy in the history of this country.”

Neither talked about how he would stimulate the economy and help it overcome the pandemic.

President Trump defended how he handled the Covid-19 crisis, saying had Biden been in charge, the “death toll would have been millions,” and that “we’re weeks away from a working shot.”

Biden, in a dramatic move, faced the camera and consoled those who had family members die during the pandemic. Biden also usedTrump’s own words “It is what it is,” to retaliate, saying, “It is what it is because of who you are."

Still neither had concrete strategies as to how either will handle the pandemic as it closes in on over 207,000 deaths.

America viewers also watched the debaters discuss the incredible division on the American street. When the commentator asked President Trump if he was willing to condemn white supremacist militia groups, Trump asked if they would give him a name. Biden responded, “Proud Boys.” Trump then said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” which was by no means a condemnation but an invitation to militia groups to “stand by” for later intervention.

According to The Guardian, “Proud Boys are a dangerous ‘white supremacist’ group says US agencies, that law enforcement have shown concerns about their menace to minority groups.” It has also been suspended from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as it openly endorses violence.

President Trump lost on this issue, for two days later he had to condemn all white supremacists: “I condemn the KKK, I condemn all White supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t now much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that,” Trump told Fox News, the American news channel. However, it may be too late, for cities around the US are bracing for unrest on elections day especially if the winner is not to be announced immediately.

So where do we go from here? A repeat of the first debate would be a disaster like no other, but it is unlikely that the debates would be cancelled sincethey provide much needed feedback on presidential candidates through a format followed for many years.

In fact, the commission that oversees the debates announced that it may resort to cutting the microphones if the candidates try to interrupt each other as a measure to maintain order during the debate.

The debacle that occurred during the debate tells us much about our expectations of leaders. In 1960 at the UN, when Nikita Khrushchev’s lost his temper and pounded his shoe on the table, the world stood still. Today, when childish bullying spews between President Trump and Vice President Biden, we accept it as a sign of the changing times while we await the next debate.

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