Memorandum No. 5
I was too disheartened to watch the first presidential debate of 2020 on live broadcast. After two weeks, I finally sat down and viewed the footage, (C-SPAN) and I have a few thoughts. Watching these kinds of broadcasts are not the best methods for studying candidates’ policies or their legislative records. However, they can offer a glimpse at the runners’ individual characters or personalities.
I thought former Vice President Joseph R. Biden performed agreeably. He attempted to appeal directly to the American people and called on the nation to come together. For the most part, Biden debated truthfully, and his overall message to the country was positive: assuring the people no struggle is too great to overcome. I cannot say the same for President Donald J. Trump. While both candidates expressed inaccurate information in some form, President Trump made significantly more false or misleading statements than Biden did.
Both candidates demonstrated a lack of decorum by interrupting one another numerous times when speaking. Trump, in particular, behaved disrespectfully by mentioning Biden’s son, Hunter, of having been discharged from the U.S. Navy after testing positive for cocaine after a routine urinalysis. Trump frequently brought up allegations of corruption and conflict of interest with Hunter Biden’s connection with Burisma, an energy holding company based in Ukraine. (Quinn) Trump emphasizing Hunter Biden’s past drug addiction was unbecoming of the Office of the Presidency—I will explain further of what occurred in the following passages. Although Biden calling the president “clown” or asking him, “Will you just shut up?” also did not inspire images befitting the next commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.
I felt disheartened and embarrassed at the site of two elderly men hurling insults at each other in front of millions of people to hear and see. I am disappointed that on an occasion when I expected participants to conduct themselves with nobility, I beheld a former U.S. vice president calling the sitting U.S. president a liar. “The fact is everything he’s saying so far is a lie,” Biden said, “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everyone knows he’s a liar.” While Biden’s assertion was discourteous and exaggerated, it was not baseless. Nearly four years into his term, Trump has often disputed with the press and contradicted directives put forth by his subordinate leaders.
In the past, Trump has described himself as a leader of law and order. However, he has not always clearly denounced white nationalists or white supremacists who, in recent accounts, have been the ones responsible for instigating much of the nation’s civil unrest. For example, when given the opportunity to clarify his reaction to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump shifted focus away from the violence caused by neo-Nazis, and called attention to the activities of anti-fascists or the so-called “alt-left”. (Jacobs and Laughland) Trump’s preoccupation with the nonexistent alternative left is contrary to recent findings by various federal institutions. (U.S. Department of Homeland of Security 4) The Federal Bureau of Investigation has designated racially motivated extremists as one of the most urgent security threats to confront the United States. Additionally, reports by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security underscored that domestic terrorism committed by white supremacist groups poses the deadliest security threat in the country. (Sherman) These independent agencies clearly label white supremacy as an ongoing issue. Yet, against this backdrop, the president still highlighted the supposed comparability or culpability of counter-protesters and anti-fascists during the Sept. 29 presidential debate.
Pushed by Fox News moderator Christopher Wallace if Trump would condemn white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys, the president responded with, “Stand back and stand by.” Essentially, rather than rejecting them, the president of the United States of America seemed to command a white nationalist militia to wait for future orders from him. To witness the American head of state indirectly engage with a racist, anti-government organization was profoundly alarming to me. To a certain extent, I understand Trump’s focus on rioters, but conflating a largely decentralized band of leftists who are resisting the potential outbreak of fascism, to far-right extremists who want to subjugate everyone else who is not white, indicate to me that the president is actually confused on how to effectively enforce law and order.
While both candidates used personal attacks on each other during the debate, Trump’s scorns were both more descriptive and frequent. Trump employed a combination of belittling Biden’s career in politics and praising his own accomplishments as president to make his case to the electorate. To Biden, Trump made such statements as, “You graduated last in your class, not first in your class,” without explaining its relevance. Trump also engaged in fear mongering, saying Biden plans to “socialize medicine” but Trump did not specify how Biden would. Trump stressing the phrases “socialist” or “socialized” healthcare suggested to me that his disagreements with the Affordable Care Act, or commonly referred to as Obamacare, were not due to procedural differences in the bill, but due to ideological differences with key signatories of the bill.
As stated in the beginning of this review, nationally televised political debates rarely engage in deep policy interrogations; they have evolved into spectacles where politicians exchange perfunctory talking-points. However, these dialogues can help voters understand what kind of person a candidate might be. While streaming the presidential debate, I noticed Trump had the habit of disrupting and provoking Biden. The constant snide comments and taunts worked so successfully that Biden immediately adopted a similar offensive. In this regard, both Biden and Trump conducted themselves poorly; they diminished themselves and the dignity of the White House by resorting to such immature deportment.
While incivility abounded on both sides, I could still recognize, with relative ease, who carried themselves more appropriately. Indeed, Biden delivered fewer falsehoods and unprofessional remarks, but he stood out when he was holding Trump accountable for allegedly disparaging members of the U.S. military as “losers” and “suckers”. Biden insisted his son Beau, who served in the U.S. Army National Guard, was a “patriot” (Beau Biden passed away in 2015 from a brain tumor). Trump then produced the retort, “Are you talking about Hunter?… He got thrown out of the military for cocaine use.” Biden could have responded in a number of ways: he could have charged Trump with nepotism for hiring members of his immediate family of influencing the presidency; he could have recounted the fact the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller between 2017 and 2019 did not completely exonerate Trump of obstructing justice.
Instead, Biden said, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s fixed it, he’s worked on it, and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” Biden could have spoken as contemptuously as Trump, but he did not. He could have villainized the president by citing some of Trump’s private indiscretions, but he did not. Biden could have rebuked Trump’s children and their involvements with foreign adversaries, but he did not. Instead, Biden limited his criticisms of the president to Trump’s personal actions.
A couple of times, Biden appeared distracted or unfocused when explaining certain points, but he was clear when he was affirming the power of the common people. “You have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like for the next four years,” Biden said. When he assured the integrity of the voting system and encouraged every U.S. citizen to join in the political process, Biden was acting as a would-be-president for all Americans, not just for Democrats or his supporters. When Wallace asked if Biden would accept the election results on Nov. 3, he said, “I will accept it, and [Donald Trump] will, too. You know why? Because once the winner is declared once all the ballots are counted, that’ll be the end of it, and that’s fine.” Such a declaration helps ensure the continuity of democracy in the United States. Trump was not as forthcoming: Trump did not commit (as Biden did) if he would concede, and he continued his assault on the reliability of U.S. elections.
Both candidates should communicate more coherently in the next debate; they should incorporate more detailed explanations about their plans to address climate change, racism in the United States, and other matters. Despite their cantankerous and combative engagement, Biden emerged as the winner of the evening, because: Biden spoke with more empathy; he argued with more honesty; and he behaved more respectfully.
C-SPAN. “First 2020 Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.” YouTube, 29 Sept. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW1lY5jFNcQ. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.
Jacobs, Ben, and Oliver Laughland. “Charlottesville: Trump reverts to blaming both sides including ‘violent alt-left.’” The Guardian, 16 August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/15/donald-trump-press-conference-far-right-defends-charlottesville.
Quinn, Melissa. “Senate Republicans release controversial report on Hunter Biden and Ukraine.” Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) News, 23 Sept. 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hunter-biden-report-burisma-ukraine-senate-republican-released/.
Sherman, Amy. “Fact-check: Did the FBI director warn about white supremacist violence?” Statesman, Gannett Publications, 9 Oct. 2020, https://www.statesman.com/news/20201009/fact-check-did-fbi-director-warn-about-white-supremacist-violence. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.U.S.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020”. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2020. dhs.gov, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2020_10_06_homeland-threat-assessment.pdf.