News/Op-Ed: Pardon the Interruption… President Trump, Former V.P. Biden Collide In Chaotic First Debate

By Joshua Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief

On Tuesday night, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed in one of the most chaotic, insult-laden presidential debates in history, leaving political pundits stunned, American families appalled and the country in an untenable struggle for decency and civility. 

US President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden exchange arguments as moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace (C) raises his hands to stop them during the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

Throughout the past few months, Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has been subject to a litany of insults from President Donald Trump and his administration, who have directly attacked the former Vice President’s mental acuity as well as his record as a senator and the eight years he served under President Barack Obama. Despite the personal attacks and insults that Former Vice President Biden and his family have faced at the hands of the President, the former Vice President has maintained a stranglehold on his leads in the polls, while his opponent has continued to ignite his base despite low approval ratings. 

On Tuesday at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, the seasoned, veteran debater in the form of Joe Biden and the unpredictable, unorthodox debater in the form of President Trump had the opportunity to put the months of insults to rest and appeal to the American people by discussing policy, visions, and providing a semblance of unity through their rhetoric in a time where the country is experiencing tremendous political polarization. 

Instead of getting a civil, decent, and controlled debate, the American people witnessed a nightmare unfold right before their very eyes. The moderator, widely respected Fox News Sunday Anchor Chris Wallace, seemingly struggled to control the personality of President Trump, who continuously interrupted the former Vice President more times than Biden was even able to speak. Rather than employ a message of unity, optimism, and leadership, the President continued to evoke rhetoric that was divisive, despicable and abrasive – yet another trampling over norms of presidential etiquette by an administration that has continually embraced the unconventional, regardless of cultural backlash. 

This debate, amidst all the issues currently going on throughout America and on the global stage, could have been huge. One may argue that perhaps this debate could have been the one to change poll numbers, make undecided voters commit to a candidate or even change the tightly held perceptions some people have regarding the character of both candidates. The debate had all the potential in the world, and certainty all the subject matter that America cares about during this election cycle. The topics that were supposed to be discussed in detail, chosen by Wallace, were as follows: the Supreme Court and Trump’s nomination, the COVID-19 Pandemic that has killed 200,000 and counting, the state of affairs in America economically, the battles for racial justice, and the integrity of the election itself. 

The debate could have been memorable, an opportunity for both of the candidates to be a shining star during a time in our country where everything is bleak – but the American people were left with more questions than answers. Immediately following the debate, Americans on Twitter, reporters on CNN and Fox News, and many politicians were quick to discuss what they had just seen.

The debate had no clear winner. President Trump rarely followed the rules agreed upon by the campaigns, driving the discussion into tangents of low-blow attacks against the former Vice President, while Biden cleared a very low bar set by months of smears against his mental acuity. 

In every way possible, no matter how people now and in the future decide to digest and analyze this debate, one thing is clear – the losers in this debate are the American people, as well as the integrity of our Democracy that is being taken down and overthrown by thuggish rhetoric. The people are suffering because of the utter embarrassment and shame that comes with seeing two grown American men – who are in a battle to run the free world – unable to engage in a debate that should have been civil, informative and unifying for a country that is bleeding for hope and leadership. 

After everything the American people have been through in 2020, Tuesday served as an opportunity to provide optimism in a better direction for the future and ignite the bases of two campaigns that have many flaws. Instead, it was the American people who suffered and were left with nothing to cheer for, nothing to feel proud of, nothing gained in terms of who has a better vision for our nation. 

In lieu of finally getting an opportunity to see what former Vice President Joe Biden would do differently than Trump as President to fix the economy, healthcare, the environment and social injustice, the American people weren’t able to hear his words over President Trump’s consistent interruptions, side comments and insults. The highlights of the debate for former Vice President Biden came in the form of him telling the President to “shut up, man” as well as calling him a “clown.”

On the flip side, President Trump had a debate performance that can only be described as unpresidential. Entering this debate amidst slipping poll numbers, President Trump truly needed a magical – or, at the very least, adequate – debate performance in order to give more fight and direction to his reelection campaign. Yet, he failed to do so.

All night, the President butted in, hurling insults toward the former Vice President in an attempt to get his challenger to make a big mistake – but it never happened. It almost seems as if Biden, the 47-year political veteran, the elder statesman in government is immune to the mudslinging and diabolical rhetoric that the President and his campaign choose to employ day-to-day on the campaign trail. When former Vice President Biden brought up his deceased son Beau Biden’s military service, the President brushed it off, choosing instead to insult Biden’s living son, Hunter. 

Furthermore, the President chose not to condemn white supremacists and far right extremist groups when asked to do so, instead telling the Proud Boys – a far right extremist group that promotes violence – to “stand by.”

In the midst of a pandemic and increased racial tensions, President Trump offered no solutions – only insults and green lights to alt-right militia groups – saying that the reason former Vice President Biden did not host in-person rallies and campaign events was not due to COVID-19 concerns, but because “no one would show up.”

Instead of raising the bar for a man he calls “sleepy” and “unfit for the job” of president, he has lowered it, while making the former Vice President look competitive for telling the President to “get out of his bunker.” All the while, former Vice President Biden has furthered the concerns amongst Americans that he is not energetic enough to truly bridge the divide between the left and the right and excite Americans enough to get tremendous voter turnout.

As both of their respective campaigns continue to play out, the former Vice President has continued to tout that the country is in “a battle for the soul of America.” Meanwhile, the President has continue to maintain a stranglehold on his base of support by promising to take down the “radical left” and to “Keep America Great.”

But, if the debate is any indication of what is in store for this country in the next few weeks, rhetoric will not be a reliable source of optimism, and traditional etiquette in American Democracy might be a thing of the past. 

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