No one expected the two US presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, to exchange pleasantries in the first debate in the November 3 election. But what happened last night in Cleveland, Ohio, was worse than any commentator had anticipated.
The first hour of the debate, moderated by Fox News presenter Chris Wallace, was marked by insults and constant interruptions, with Donald Trump constantly speaking over Joe Biden.
“It is almost impossible to answer anything with this clown,” said Joe Biden, on one of the occasions when he was most exasperated. Before that, the Democratic candidate had already rolled his eyes and shot “Are you going to shut up, man?”, when Trump, once again, spoke over him when answering a question. At one point, Chris Wallace raised his voice and almost shouted, repeatedly asking Donald Trump to let the opponent speak. The incumbent president has shown that the aggressive style that led him to the Republican nomination and victory over Hillary Clinton four years ago is the same that he will boast in this election cycle.
However, CNN commentators – who broadcast the debate – found the positions taken by the president worrying and even dangerous, namely the statements made about white militias and supremacists.
When Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump if he condemned the actions of white militiamen and supremacists, the president started by saying yes but ended up hesitating and then affirmed what was interpreted to the contrary.
“Proud Boys, stay away and wait,” he said, statements that this far-right group immediately celebrated on social media, adorning their logos with the president’s words.
The issue of protests over police violence was one of the most contentious in the debate, with Trump accusing Biden of wanting to abolish the police and Biden calling the president “racist”.
In addition, all the important topics of the elections were addressed: the vacancy in the Supreme Court and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, the 205,000 killed by the covid-19 pandemic, the economic recession and the controversy surrounding postal votes.
Trump was even obliged to respond to news from The New York Times, according to which he has paid only $ 750 a year in federal income taxes since the beginning of his presidency. Before that, wrote the newspaper, based on the analysis of the tax returns he had access to, the president had paid zero in previous years, for declaring substantial losses in his business.
None of this is true, Trump contested. “I paid millions in taxes,” retorted the president, at the insistence of Chris Wallace. From his podium, Biden has repeatedly asked Trump to show his tax returns. As he has done for the past four years, the president has argued that he cannot do so because the statements are being audited, but that one day everyone will “see”.
“It is the worst president America has ever had”
With an especially attacking stance, Donald Trump repeated the formula of his rallies, reaching all the key points of the re-election platform. He returned to say that he did more in four years than any other president in history and above all “more than Biden in 47 years”. He also again questioned the possibility of a transition after November 3: according to Trump, he will only lose against Biden if there is fraud. That is what he focused on when he considered that the postal vote, which will skyrocket in this election, is “a disaster”.
Despite voting by post himself, Trump said this process is “a shame” because there are millions of ballots to be sent automatically to voters. The president, warning that the election results may not be known “for months”, guaranteed that ballots with a vote for him were found in the trash and that there are others to be sold or thrown into the rivers.
Biden countered this catastrophic scenario, saying that the military has been voting by post since the end of the civil war and that the system works well. In addition, he recalled, there are several states – including Republicans – that have smoothly mailed elections. Turning to the camera and telling Biden voters to ensure that if he wins, Trump will be forced to leave the White House. A scenario in which the incumbent president refuses to leave is not possible, he guaranteed.
“Under this president, we become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent,” said Biden.
“He’s the worst president America has ever had,” said the Democrat.
The Supreme, the covid and the environment
Trump defended his right to appoint yet another judge to the place left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying he has “enough time” to do so even after the November 3 election. Biden, of course, argued the opposite, saying that the American electorate must decide who will fill that vacancy.
It is a matter of substance, not least because Trump said he will count on the Supreme Court to “look at the bulletins” in case of suspected manipulation. He did not elaborate on what he meant by that, but we know that it was this court that determined George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in 2000, stopping recounts.
Regarding the covid-19 pandemic, which has already killed almost 206,000 people in the United States, Trump rated it highly and compared it to what he considered to be “the terrible job” done by Joe Biden during the H1N1 pandemic, in 2009.
Biden, then vice president of Barack Obama, replied that 14,000 people died and not 205,000. He accused Trump of hiding the gravity of the situation and of continuing today without having a plan. The two argued vehemently over the vaccine, which Trump promised “for the next few weeks” and which Biden countered, citing the administration’s own clinical directors, which will only be distributed en masse in mid-2021.
A (almost surprising) statement by Biden was that, speaking of his plan for combating climate change and creating a green economy, he said he “does not support” the Green New Deal, the plan of the progressive wing of the Democrats. Instead, Biden spoke of his plan, which focuses on decarbonizing the economy by creating “thousands of good, well-paid jobs”. He also promised to take the United States back to the Paris Agreement.
Without breaks, this hour and a half debate was considered disastrous by commentators and voters, due to the acidity of the clash and insults. Trump attacked Biden’s son Hunter, calling him drugged and corrupt, and Biden, who was exalted in his son’s defense, had several moments when he called the president a “liar”.
Some background questions were left unanswered or unanswered. For example, what is the president’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and what, exactly, does Biden advocate when it comes to increasing seats on the Supreme Court and “filling” the ranks of the judicial system like Trump himself? boasted of doing.
There are two more debates, one on 15 and another on October 22, and the question of what Joe Biden’s possible stance on the “bullying” that Donald Trump is already familiar with is pertinent. If he responds in kind, the candidate risks being accused of lowering the level to the mud. If you do not answer, you will appear weak.
“You have the control to determine what this country will become,” said Biden, once again speaking to the electorate. “Or if it will be another four years of these lies”.
Trump, who is behind in the polls and seems to dance with the prospect of violence if he loses, said something that can be terribly prescient: “This is not going to end well.”