Mess, Messier, Presidential Debate

By Uwe Fromm

Last night, 29 Sep 2020, the first of three presidential debates was held in Cleveland (OH) between the current President of the United States Donald J. Trump and his opponent Joseph “Joe” Biden. The race for the white house is now approaching the final stages. Here is Uwe Fromm’s report on last night’s “messy” debate. 

Last night’s debate, moderated by Chris Wallace (Fox News), was structured in six segments of approximately 15 minutes each, covering the areas of Trump and Biden Records, the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in US Cities, and the integrity of the election. 

With news developing fast around the United States’ presidential race, last night’s debate was held in the context of the recent New York Times report on Donald Trumps tax records and the US Senate’s ongoing Supreme Court confirmation process. Also, it is noteworthy that with Biden leading over Trump with between 4 and 10 points since May 1st, there are fewer undecided voters than in the last presidential election. Supporting this claim are polls conducted shortly before last night’s debate, showing that “86 percent of voters said their mind was made up about for whom they will vote, while just 14 percent said they could change their mind. Among Biden voters, 93 percent say their minds are made up, while 89 percent of Trump voters say “they won’t change their minds.” With the poll data presented, considering the amount of voters who have already decided, Trump’s only possible play to gain votes would be to convince voters why they should not vote for Biden. Thereby, Trump could increase the number of people not turning up at the poll stations and, thus, increasing the weight of his own voter base.

“We had to prepare for an emotionally charged debate.”

While Joe Biden is said to have prepared by holding mock debates and Donald Trump by using flashcards and videos whilst heavily campaigning, we had to prepare for an emotionally charged debate. A debate that – most likely – would not be concerned with traditional debate topics like education, but rather one that is played out on a stage of insecurity concerning the factualness of statements being made during it. A stage where there is a possibility of the legitimacy of the votes being challenged in the aftermath and of spreading rumours about a candidate using performance-enhancing substances and a hidden earpiece to cheat during the debate.

So, let’s jump into last night’s events.

The Supreme Court

Starting with the question on if the current administration should be filling the vacant position on the Supreme Court, Trump almost immediately starts circling the same arguments which seem to all boil down to: Yes, we should fill the position now, because we can, and because Trump’s pick (Amy Coney Barrett) is said to be valued among many people. In contrast, Joe Biden would like to wait until after the election to give a voice to the American people. As the main reason for Trump’s push towards filling the position as soon as possible, he named health care issues (especially regarding the affordable care act), ultimately leading the “Supreme Court ” segment to become a segment on ‘health care”.


Regarding Covid-19, Joe Biden started by pointing out that, Donald Trump has no plan in how to deal with the pandemic (naming examples like ‘it will be gone in the summer’ or the suggestion to ‘inject disinfectant’), claiming Trump himself had panicked over the situation, that he made false promises and that he did not lead by example as he was still holding his rallies, not wearing masks and not respecting social distancing measures.

Trump answered by stating that Biden would have done the same ‘if that many people would have wanted to come seeing him’. Furthermore, Trump claims more people would have died if Biden would have been in charge as Trump closed the country immediately, contradicting himself a few minutes later, claiming Biden wants to shut the country down, and he wants to keep it open. Also, in terms of vaccination, Trump contended that soon there would be a suitable solution, stating the delay was due to political reasons.

The Economy

Continuing with his augmentation line, Trump claims that Biden wants to shut down the economy again, just before radically shifting from economy to mental health and alcohol abuse, due to people having to stay at home. Furthermore, Donald Trump claimed that a significant number of people have already gone back to newly created jobs.

For Joe Biden, the first step to recover the economy would be to solve the Covid-19 crisis, adding that mostly the ‘small’ people were affected by the economic strains. In contrast, the richer ones were able to gain more wealth, ultimately leading to the topic of taxes and Donald Trump’s income taxes, which he claimed to have paid for in the millions, adding that evidence for that would be following soon.

Race and Violence in US Cities

Joe Biden pointed out that he is very much in favor of equality, equity, and constitutional acting, condemning Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville, adding the example of Trump having the streets cleaned from protesters when he wanted to go to a church after the George Floyd death. Relating to the topic of Covid-19, Biden also mentions Trump’s failure to address the increased effect of the virus on minority groups. 

Trump, quickly shifted to the field of law enforcement, and pointed out his strong line on ‘Law and Order’. When asked specifically about why he had abolished ‘Race Sensitivity Trainings’, he argued by stating that, in his view, these trainings were ‘radical’ and that he would mediate ‘very bad and very sick ideas – teaching people to hate the country’.

Trump and Biden Records

This segment aimed to give both candidates the chance to explain why they would be the better candidate for the presidential office, leading Trump to claim that there has never been a president that has done as much as he has (despite all the challenges he had to face – for example, the impeachment), he also pointed at the record number of justices that were appointed.

While Joe Biden at first did not get into why he would be a better option, he focused more on pointing out why Trump would be the worse option. When the topic was changed to ‘climate change’, Trump did not give a clear answer if he believes in the science of climate change, but rather avoided the answer, claiming that the US is doing phenomenal when it comes to ‘Carbon’. Quickly Trump got to the wildfires in California and to this call for better forest management, which he kept circling back to, while Biden tried to explain how to create green jobs by promoting climate-friendly governmental investments for example, housing. He also stated that, in case of his election, he would like to rejoin the Paris Agreement. 

The Integrity of the Election

Regarding the integrity of the election, both Biden and Trump stayed true to their prior opinions, with Biden believing that people should be able to vote whichever way they want to vote and that it is vital that people can send in their ballots as well. Donald Trump equally voiced his concerns about potential fraud and election rigging through mail-in voting. Asked if both candidates would urge their supporters to stay calm and not to declare victory if it would take a longer time to determine the final winner, Biden agreed while Trump did not.

After an exhausting 98 minutes of debate, the scene looks quite messy.

While Donald Trump was continuously trying to dominate the discussion by talking – or rather screaming – over not only Joe Biden’s answers but also over the moderator’s questions, Joe Biden seemed rather calm, sometimes a little fuzzy but notably often turned away from the moderator and the audience at the venue to speak directly into the camera – to the American people at home.

As last night’s debate was the first of three presidential debates, this gives a good first glance at what to expect in the upcoming days. While last night’s statement by both candidates needs to be checked for accuracy, it will be crucial to monitor voters’ behavior closely in the upcoming weeks.

Neither of the candidates stepped across their lines of prior behaviour. Watching a ‘full speed’ Trump and a sometimes little shaky Biden, the question arises if this debate and the upcoming debates, will be able to encourage a voter movement from one side to the other, especially if the handling of the global pandemic, economic strains or civil unrest did not do that already. All while keeping in mind that, going into the debate, there was a high number of already decided voters. This debate did not have a clear winner, which, in the lights of the two candidates’ overall standing, makes Biden the hidden winner, as Donald Trump certainly was not able to win over undecided voters, let alone convince Biden voters to cross over. This debate will undoubtedly dominate the media in the upcoming days as a lot of mess has to be cleaned up.

We are curious to see how this unravels and looking forward to the next debates.

Until next time. Stay informed, interested, and involved!

By: Uwe Fromm

Picture: Screenshot from “USA-val 2020: Presidentdebatt”

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