2020 Presidential Debate Reaction

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As voters settled in to watch the first presidential debate of 2020, I would guess many had an idea of what was to come. Reports came out that both candidates were looking to attack the other on hot-topic policy issues and were trying to figure out the best ways to get under the other’s skin. This is to be expected.

But I wonder if they knew the extent of what the evening would bring. Or if Chris Wallace knew that he would be filling the role of a babysitter, not a moderator. While presidential debates have always gotten a bit heated, this one set a landmark for the most uncivil debate between two candidates.

A good summary of last night

It certainly proved to be the most childish. If the debate stage was a first grade classroom, President Trump would have been held inside for recess. It’s amazing to me that out of all the candidates that ran for election in this year’s primary, these are the two we have to choose from.

Who will you choose?

President Donald Trump, who needed to be reminded throughout the night that it’s rude to speak when it’s someone else’s turn, or former Vice President Joe Biden, who is past his prime and struggled to convey a fully formed thought many times throughout the course of the evening. In early November, one of these two men, who just spent an hour and a half bickering, insulting, and interrupting one another, will be named our president.

I have been able to vote in two elections and both of them have left me with lackluster choices. The first debate served to exacerbate not only my presidential frustrations, but many others concerning the United States as well. Many saw no winner in the debate, but the American people as the clear loser. No matter which candidate you side with, there should be universal embarrassment regarding this debate.

From the very beginning, it became clear that President Trump’s main objective would be to bulldoze Biden with a barrage of personal attacks and interruptions. This has been a classic Trump tactic since the beginning of his campaign leading up to the 2016 election. Early on, it worked like a charm. Biden was easily flustered and couldn’t cut through the noise. President Trump forced Biden to stray off topic and lose his train of thought throughout much of the first part of the debate, which made Biden appear confused and disorganized.

But President Trump also made many mistakes. His constant interjections and interruptions of Joe Biden reflected poorly on his character. Though the majority of voters have made their minds up already, the minority who are still on the fence may see President Trump’s behavior during the debate as immature and unpresidential. In addition, he dodged a significant amount of questions and deflected blame back to Biden instead of answering Chris Wallace’s questions directly. He also rambled on about the action his administration has taken to prevent climate change and sounded uneducated on the topic. Many of the claims ended up being false after being investigated by independent fact-checkers.

But most importantly, President Trump failed to denounce white supremacist groups despite being given multiple chances. Wallace gave him an opportunity to make a firm statement condemning white supremacist ideology, but President Trump danced around the question and never did so. He even went as far as to tell a well-known hate group, The Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by”.

It should not be difficult for the President of the United States to speak out against white supremacy. Somehow, it is for Donald Trump.

That being said, it was excruciating to watch Biden miss out on opportunities to capitalize on Trump’s mistakes. Though, in my opinion, he took the higher road and held a more presidential demeanor overall, he failed to attack Trump on critical issues all night long. Biden should have absolutely hammered on Trump about releasing his tax returns. This is a topic he has avoided for years and Biden could have used this golden opportunity to make him answer some tough questions. Instead, President Trump was mostly able to dodge the subject again, despite the New York Times report claiming that he hasn’t paid federal income taxes in 10 out of the last 15 years. This was Biden’s time to shine and he failed miserably.

He mentioned that the American people should be able to see Trump’s tax returns, but didn’t harp on the issue like he should have. This was something President Trump did well that Biden did not: whenever a controversial issue arose, Trump hammered on it until Biden was forced to give some sort of answer. Biden let Trump off the hook far too often. His main strategy throughout the debate was to criticize President Trump’s record, but he did so without any substantial proof to back up his claims. He also fell into the trap that many Democratic candidates did during the primary, which was to criticize Trump’s policies without offering up any solutions of their own.

He became a victim of Trump’s distractions early on, as he constantly allowed himself to be pushed off topic. It was rare that he was able to form a complete thought in these circumstances, which made his points seem like nothing more than incoherent rambling. This plays right into Trump’s hands, as he has consistently pushed the narrative that Biden is suffering from cognitive decline.

Over the course of the night, however, Biden settled in and turned in a stronger performance than I expected. After initially becoming easily distracted by Trump’s outbursts, he was eventually able to work through it and speak directly to the American people by looking straight into the camera. Biden did a fine job handling attacks about his son, Hunter, which was expected to be a hot topic in the debate. Trump accused Hunter Biden of receiving $3.5 million from the ex-wife of Moscow’s mayor, but went too far when he attacked Hunter for his past drug use. Biden took advantage of this and acknowledged that Hunter did have issues with drugs in the past, but has overcome these issues like many people across America today.

Not only did he shut down the issue, but he also used this as an opportunity to appear relatable and make Donald Trump look insensitive for bringing it up in the first place. Climate change was another issue where Biden dominated. While Trump rambled on about how great he has been on environmental issues, Biden took over and rolled out actual plans on how his administration would tackle global climate change. This was perhaps his best moment of the night, as he got directly to the point and laid out a vision for the future.

Former Vice President Biden also did an excellent job of differentiating between peaceful protests and riots following the police shootings of Breonna Taylor and many other black Americans. He condemned looting and rioting, while praising peaceful demonstrations. This is a line that President Trump has often tried to blur, which made it even more crucial that Biden made the difference between the two quite clear. He was able to walk the fine line between supporting good police officers and holding bad ones accountable.

Trump then tried to accuse Biden of wanting to defund the police, which he strongly denied. He followed up by saying that good police officers should be supported and that he wants police departments to have the funding necessary to make meaningful reforms possible. Biden also touched on how law enforcement and the black community will have to collaborate effectively to achieve real progress in solving this dire situation, which was a great message for a divided country.

After watching this abomination in its entirety, I can say with honesty that I don’t think either candidate is the best fit for the presidency. I do not have confidence that either man can lead our country in the direction it needs to go. Trump was the clear instigator of this whole debacle, but Joe Biden needed to be more assertive and dominant when it was his turn to speak.

Donald Trump is a national embarrassment who tried to bully his way through this debate and through his four years in the White House. But Joe Biden is no angel either. Biden has been extremely confrontational at times on the campaign trail, has been accused of inappropriate conduct, told radio host Charlamagne that “you ain’t black” if he considers voting for Donald Trump, told an auto worker he was “full of shit” during a confrontation about the second amendment, called a New Hampshire voter a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” (whatever that means), and has told multiple voters not to vote for him if they disagree with policies instead of trying to sway them. Not only that, but he has an inconsistent voting record on issues he claims to have supported throughout his whole career.

There is a hashtag that has been trending on social media recently called #SettleforBiden. In November, I’ll be going to the polls and doing exactly that: settling.

What it comes down to is that, as flawed of a candidate as he is, Biden’s views are more closely aligned with the issues that I care about. More importantly, I see the words and actions of President Trump as incredibly dangerous and divisive. I do not see the possibility of unity amongst the American people if his presidency continues. While Biden may struggle to achieve full unity in our country, at least he will make the attempt to bring us together. Donald Trump relies and thrives on the American people being divided. Also, any president should be able to definitively denounce white supremacist groups. Our current one has not, despite being given many opportunities to do so. President Trump and I are on opposite sides of many social issues that are closest to my heart and therefore I cannot support him. Despite the many reservations I have about Joe Biden, it is easy for me to choose him over Donald Trump. For a second straight election, I’m forced to choose between the lesser of two evils instead of a candidate that I truly see eye-to-eye with.

Consider this my official, yet extremely reluctant, endorsement for Joe Biden as President of the United States.

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Matthew McFall
Matthew McFall is a senior Communication Studies major minoring in Business Administration. He is from a small New Hampshire town called Henniker... Not sure if y'all have ever heard of it. Matthew previously attended the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to become a teaching professional, but returned to New England College in 2017. He's not sure what he wants to do when he grows up, but he's almost grown and he sure hopes he figures it out soon. When he's not in school, Matthew may be found on a golf course or skiing at Pat's Peak. He also enjoys spending time with his family, his friends, and his lovely girlfriend of over six years.

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