Op-Ed: Not Up for Debate: Trump is his Own Ironic Foil in First Presidential Debate of 2020

Photo Courtesy of: nytimes.com

Photo Courtesy of: nytimes.com

“Mystified” is a strong euphemism for how I felt as I watched the debate. Was this schoolyard food fight what a presidential debate really looks like? 

I decided to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960 as a point of reference. Strangely enough, the candidates from each respective party then and now sort of mirror each other. Nixon was a huge proponent of “law and order,” as Trump claims he is, while Kennedy advocated for people of color and the advancement of science as Biden does. 

However, the similarities end there. 

Kennedy and Nixon let each other speak, and there was even mutual understanding to respect the efforts of the other candidate despite vast ideological differences. There was no pause or interruption, and the two candidates and the moderator oozed class as they respectfully ceded the floor to whomever was speaking. 

That’s what a debate is; the first presidential debate of 2020 was a bully pulpit. 

Both candidates interrupted each other. Both candidates held prodigious disdain for the other. But, as CNN’s Jake Tapper said, this “hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck” was a disgrace not because of the moderator, nor Joe Biden, but because of Trump. Trump overwhelmingly surpassed Biden in distracting comments, totalling at seventy-one interruptions as opposed to Biden’s twenty-two. I also noticed that Biden’s interruptions mostly centered around correcting false information, while Trump’s interruptions centered around distraction and insult. Biden could have done better at getting his points across if he could have gotten a word in without being insulted and misrepresented by his adversary.

Not only did the President of the United States stand before the camera rolling his eyes, scoffing, sticking out his tongue like a scaly orange chameleon trying to catch a bug, and insulting and interrupting Biden and Wallace, but he also had nothing substantive to say. 

Most of what did come out of his mouth was either (or all at the same time) distracting, disrespectful, or even destructive. Some of his interjections were a little deranged, like “China ate your lunch, Joe,” a pleading “Chris,” a “he just lost the left,” a couple “Wrong!”s, a confounding “they want to take out the cows,”  and indignantly, “Did you use the word smart!?…Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word.” 

Those were some of the distracting remarks, which actually brought some burlesque comic relief to what would have been absolutely grueling to listen to. I got the feeling that Biden felt the same way as he smiled through the absurdity.

Some of Trump’s other ad hominems, however, were inexcusable. He berated Biden about his son, as Biden stood there trying to defend “my son–”. Trump at first was not explicitly clear about which of the Biden sons he was attacking, and Biden had to stand there and talk about both of his sons, one of whom was a veteran who died of glioblastoma, and the other of whom struggled with addiction. That topic should never have been raised in a presidential debate, and Chris Wallace agreed: “I think the American people would rather hear about more substantial subjects.”

Like the problem of rampant racism in the United States. The destruction of protected land for unsustainable energy sourcing and the rollback of environmental protections put into place by Obama. The issue of health care. Trump’s ostensible tax evasion. The White House’s ongoing bungled response to the global pandemic. 

When it comes down to it, Biden had clear plans and definitive, reasonable responses to the issues presented in the first debate. Most importantly, Biden was able to denounce white supremacy. After both Wallace and Biden urged Trump to do the same, he asked them “What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead, who do you want me to condemn?” Chris Wallace said, “White supremacist and right-wing militia,” and Biden said more specifically, “Proud Boys.” Instead of denouncing the aforementioned groups, Trump told them “to stand back and standby.” 

He also claimed that he repealed racial sensitivity training initiatives because they were “insane” and “radical.” There are deeply troubling implications here that I cannot hope to possibly cover in one article, but in short Trump’s response is tragic not only for his campaign but for all of America. 

Trump’s rhetoric actively foments racism. He actively endorses self-proclaimed “western chauvinists” who team up with Klansmen to hate non-white and non-Christian people. Trump denies the centuries of abuse that BIPOC have had to endure and actively perpetuates the abuse. He also condemns antifascism, which in a roundabout way hints that he supports facism. His comments on not stepping down if he loses the election corroborate that. 

Let’s do a side-by-side comparison of another pressing issue: climate change.

In the debate, Biden proposed creating 2 trillion dollars in green jobs, weatherizing buildings so that energy is conserved, abolishing the creation of oil and coal power plants, instituting electric-run vehicles for government workers, installing electric charging stations on highways, and reaching net-zero energy production by 2035. 

He also says that “the first thing I will do” is to “rejoin the Paris Accord.” 

Biden acknowledges that rampant wildfires are due to climate change, and that the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest is alarmingly detrimental as we are losing one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. He plans on “gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion, and say, ‘Here’s $20 billion. Stop tearing down the forest. And if you don’t, then you’re going to have significant economic consequences.’” 

While I believe that the United States can and should do more, such as halting big corporations’ disproportionately large contributions to the global carbon footprint, I think that Biden’s proposed plan is pretty good. It’s certainly better than Trump’s plan, which constitutes refusing to acknowledge the science of climate change at all and blabbering about wanting “immaculate air and immaculate water,” while at the same time claiming that “we have the lowest carbon…” I think the word he was looking for to finish his sentence is “footprint.” 

He also thinks that the Paris Accord was “a disaster,” so there would be no hope for rejoining if he achieves incumbency. 

What is more, Trump does not attribute the rampant wildfires in California to rising temperatures but to dead trees and lack of forest management. While lack of forest management actually is an issue, Trump has made no effort to divert funding towards forest management and treats the fires like a mildly annoying annual telemarketing call: “Every year I get a call. California’s burning. California’s burning.” 

One takeaway from the debate is that Biden cares about the American people. I know this because he addresses us and tells them what he plans to do for us. 

Trump cares about making Biden look bad. Biden, according to Trump, is a dutiful mask-wearer: “every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” Is that supposed to be an insult? I guess it is, according to Trump.

Not two days after the debate, Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He was given the best care he could have received, including attention from ten attending physicians, treatments of remdesivir, and a treatment of an antibody cocktail recently developed by Regeneron to lower the levels of the virus in the body. 

Trump was discharged after 3 days and is under 24/7 supervision by medical specialists at the White House, but maintains his cavalier attitude even though approximately 210,000 Americans have not been so lucky. 

I don’t think I have to write a quippy comment here to illustrate how ludicrously ironic and cruel his attitude is, especially considering that six months ago Trump suggested that intravenously injecting bleach into COVID-19 patients was a legitimate course of treatment. 

Biden is the better candidate solely based on the first presidential debate of 2020 and the days that followed. This election is not about party allegiance. It is mostly about policy. But it is overwhelmingly about respect and care for the American constituency and for the people of the world. 

The debate makes clear what will happen if either candidate gets elected. Biden will take action to support BIPOC and banish the voices of white supremacists and far-right militant groups. Biden will participate in worldwide efforts to combat global warming and climate change. Biden will wear a mask to protect himself and to protect the American people. Biden will focus his actions on doing right by the American people and people around the world. Trump won’t.