Viewers were not left feeling any wiser from the first 2020 United States presidential debate: Shame, disappointment, anger and concern about the “day after” was all we were left with after watching the cockfight between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
We did not witness a fruitful debate on different ideas and proposals, but had to endure irritating noise instead. If anything, it was an insult to American citizens and voters, and certainly not a presidential debate worthy of the world’s strongest democracy.
Analysts and pollsters appear to agree that Joe Biden walked away the winner of the night, against the Republican incumbent. Most undecided voters are now leaning towards the Democratic candidate. Still, we are looking at an entirely different ballgame as the number of these voters is nowhere near what it was in the past, and hence they play less of a role in deciding the final outcome.
Few voters today listen to both sides and weigh their proposals before deciding who to cast their ballot for. Citizens who exercise critical thought without ideological blinders, who are prepared to vote for the candidate with the best program and vision, are a rarity.
America, possibly like most of the world’s democracies, has been going through a phase these past few years where one side is simply not interested in listening to the other. Champions of one camp tend to blindly support their candidate and as blindly believe that any criticism leveled against them is without merit and the product of fake news.
The atmosphere was tense even before the televised debate began; on the stage, the tension rose to levels rarely, if ever, seen before. For someone who has watched almost every single US presidential debate of the past 40 years, it was unprecedented.
It was hard to imagine that such insults would be possible, even from the bitterest of rivals. Yet, we heard the president telling his Democratic rival, “There’s nothing smart about you.” “Everybody knows he’s a liar,” responded Biden, who went so far as to tell Trump to “shut up, man” at one point when the Republican kept interrupting him.
Trump accused Biden of being a “left-wing puppet,” even though he has been in the centrist wing of the Democratic Party for decades, both as senator and as vice president. For his part, Biden described Trump not only as a liar, but also as “Putin’s puppy.”
Apart from the very base level of the debate and the borderline vulgarity of some of the language used, the takeaway is that Biden seems to have scored some points, both in substance and in terms of the impression he made, with the bar set particularly low thanks to Trump’s constant haranguing.
The former vice president was assertive enough to lay to rest the spiteful talk led by Trump, about his mental abilities, and managed to strengthen his position overall, according to public opinion polls the next day.
The most worrying aspect of the debate though was Trump’s apparent insistence on challenging the election result – if he loses – and sowing the seeds of an institutional crisis and political chaos, by suggesting the voting process is a “fraud” that cannot produce reliable results.