Art by Dorothy Zhang
The Presidency of the United States of America has often been referred to as the most powerful position in the world. While the origins of this comment are based out of a patriotic zeal, it does hold many truths. Nonetheless, we have seen President Donald Trump redefine what it means to be President of the United States over the past four years. It makes no difference which side of the political spectrum you are on; if you are being to honest to yourself, you will realize the following: Trump has spent the majority of his Presidency dividing the nation along partisan lines in the name of his own political power, and has disregarded the value of truth and honesty as a president. Although the line that splits the aisles has run deep for decades, Trump has exacerbated the situation by fracturing the collaboration that is so necessary in any form of government. While former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for the 2020 election, is not the liberal or diverse figurehead that many progressives had hoped for during the nomination, he has generally been centering his candidacy around talking directly to the average American, and trying to bring democracy back to the people in an attempt to establish a new form of decency. With this context in mind, watching the first live Presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden was horrifying.
At the beginning of the debate on Tuesday night, September 29th, as the two presidential candidates stepped up and gave each other friendly greetings on their socially distanced podiums, I doubt many expected the chaos that was to follow. These two men had the responsibility to represent the United States in a setting of civil discourse as they appeal to the American people, but as described by one of my fellow classmates, it was more of “a kindergarten food fight.”
The debate was meant to be moderated by Chris Wallace, and be organized into six, fifteen minutes segments on pressing topics: the coronavirus, the Supreme Court, the economy, race and violence in cities, the candidates political (and tax) records, and the integrity of the upcoming election. Each candidate was supposed to have two minutes to answer each question directed at them during these segments, without interruption, and only after this time was the other candidate allowed to respond. During the debate, President Trump interrupted Biden 73 times, and said a multitude of factually and socially questionable comments in his time. This demonstrated his need for attention, as well his means to achieve that attention, as he resorts to bullying and disregarding facts.
The topics discussed were certainly partisan, however President Trump used his time to try and paint Biden’s views as far left – even socialist – in an attempt to make his opposition seem less appealing/more radical to average Americans. In reality Biden is a moderate democrat. During his time he had to constantly defend his actual positions on these issues, while trying to highlight President Trump’s disappointing responses to problems such as the current pandemic. Biden even declared that he “is the democratic party right now,” meaning that he (believes that he) represents the democratic party as a candidate who is not far left, despite how Trump was portraying him as on stage.
As the debate progressed, Joe Biden was able to make the crucial pivot from simply defending himself from the president’s constant barrage on his honor, to standing up for Americans. Realizing how the president’s uncouth behavior must have seemed to the millions of Americans watching on live television, Biden took moments to look directly at the camera and highlight the actual truth on some of the aforementioned issues, as well as President Trump’s behavior. Just one day after the debate, Biden referred to the debate as a “National embarrassment.” Biden also attempted to urge Americans to vote in the upcoming election despite President Trump’s attempts to hinder mail in voting, while the president continually attempted to interrupt him. It is clear that the President knows that United States citizens voting is one of the biggest threats to his reelection, based on the current polls and his loss of the popular vote in the previous election.
In light of the current pandemic, it is unsafe for many Americans to vote in person, and mail-in and absentee voting has been proposed as a solution. However, in fear that this will increase voter turnout (specifically of Democrats), President Trump has continuously accused mail-in voting as vulnerable to fraud and has been spreading misinformation on this topic. In the states that have already successfully incorporated voting by-mail, voting fraud is not an issue whatsoever. By targeting these systems that uphold democracy and are specifically designed to help more Americans vote, President Trump is attacking democracy itself. A lot of these claims of voter fraud are specifically aimed at keeping people of color from having easy access to vote, in a similar vein as other forms of voter suppression. He has even stated that, due to his lack of confidence in these legitimate voting practices, he will not agree to a “peaceful transition of power.”
During the debate, the president stooped so low as attacking Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who served the United States in the navy, for his struggle with a drug addiction and his economic ventures. Not to mention, President Trump also avoided condemning white supremacists groups such as the Proud Boys for hate crimes. These are just two more examples seen on Tuesday, not to mention the president’s thousands of other polarizing comments, based in hate. Additionally, it is essentially redundant to fact check the president anymore, as in the words of Biden, “everyone already knows he’s a liar.” Trump’s presidency may prove to be one of the biggest before-and-after moments in the history of United States politics, due to his unprecedented behavior which has shaken American democracy, further transforming it into a polarized state where the truth is debatable and respect has largely been transformed into thirst for media coverage.
Biden: Trump’s Conduct Was a National Embarrassment. Performed by Joe Biden. CNN. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/09/30/biden-trump-conduct-national-embarrassment-nr-vpx.cnn.
CNN. “Presidential Debate Highlights.” Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/09/30/first-presidential-debate-highlights-orig-mh.cnn/video/playlists/top-news-videos/.
Kaplan, Thomas, and Michael Shear. “Biden and Trump Will Debate Six Main Issues. Here’s Where They Stand.” The New York Times, September 29, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/us/politics/biden-on-the-issues-trump-on-the-issues-debate.html.
Rutenberg, Jim. “The Attack on Voting.” The New York Times, September 30, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/magazine/trump-voter-fraud.html.
Stahl, Jeremy. “We Counted Every Single Time Trump Interrupted During the First Presidential Debate.” Slate, September 30, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/trump-interruptions-first-presidential-debate-biden.html.