Art by Helen Cui
The first presidential debate on September 29th opened with an extremely tense and confrontational tone. Even within the first of six topical segments, Trump quickly began to attack Biden, steamrolling his speech, attacking his character, family, and generally lying about his policies and the Democratic Party’s platform. Biden was powerless in the face of such cognitive dissonance, resorting to laughing in the face of Trump’s verbal assault, and often attempting to interrupt Trump in order to state: “that is simply not true.” Trump’s absolute abuse of the rules forced Biden to stoop to his level as the former Vice President attempted to clarify and offset Trump’s intentional misstatements. Trump seemed not to be there to debate the issues at hand, but rather to poke holes in his opponent’s character and to attempt to inflame Biden into embarrassing himself by growing overly emotional in response to Trump’s often salacious commentary. Trump’s browbeating strategy is one he employed in 2016, often resorting to name calling and vulgar references in order to inflame his generally uneducated voting base. Indeed Trump’s attempt to force a connection between Biden and left wing extremists like Antifa was a continuation of his strategy to tighten his voter base, radicalize moderate Republicans, and suppress voters from reaching the polls or voting by mail. However, the president’s own statements contradicted themselves, as he stated numerous times that Biden was losing the far left as a result of rejecting liberal policies.
Trump established the opposing (Democratic) party as a nebulous and terrifying enemy, placing Biden as its weak leader, definitively stating: “Antifa is a dangerous, radical group, and you ought to be careful with them. They’ll overthrow you.” Trump not only purports a nonexistent connection between Biden and Antifa, but directly threatens Biden over his inaction towards the far-left concept. To Trump’s voter base, Biden has been painted as an extremist sympathist that will only be elected with the support of violent socialists. Trump then was called to condemn white supremacists and accompanying militias such as the Proud Boy group by both the moderator and the former vice president. Trump however took this moment, not to condemn the Proud Boys and other violent right wing militias, but instead to tell them to prepare themselves, either for a conflict or another event: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left. Because this is not a right-wing problem — this is a left-wing problem.” Trump called for the Proud boys to “stand by,” which is clearly a call for the group to prepare themselves and to remain loyal to Trump in a coming time of need. Trump then proceeded to define the time of need “stating that somebody’s got to do something about Antifa.” These calls to action combined with Trump’s rhetoric on government stability, such as his statements referring to himself as “your president of law and order,” vowing to “dominate the streets,” demonstrate his strategy of utilizing straw man arguments to inflame extremists on both sides of the isle.
Riots and clashes between extremists could strike fear in the general voting populace, forcing them to stay home and away from the polls. Trump’s calls for poll watchers and other measures of election security composed of his supporters set a dangerous precedent for voter suppression and intimidation. By setting up Republican security outside of polling stations, Trump is pouring gasoline into a pile of dry hay and simultaneously lighting a cigarrete. Riots outside of polling stations are beneficial to Trump, and it won’t be the first time that riots outside of a polling station have prevented voters from registering their votes. Indeed Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting are baseless attempts to further suppress voters and to ensure that people are too afraid to vote in person or by mail.
Trump’s primary political goal heading into the general election appears to be the suppression of moderate and Democratic voters and the prevention of polling access. He has connected Biden to extremist left wing groups, he has told his followers to prepare themselves for action against these groups, he has pushed for poll watchers and other intimidation techniques, and he has directly damaged mail in voting and the postal office through his appointment of Louis DeJoy who has consistently ordered the removal of vital equipment and systematically dismantled the policies and procedures of the post office. Donald Trump is not attempting to win the Presidential election fairly; he is trying to take the democratic system down with him.