Debate or Debacle?: Discussing the First 2020 Presidential Debate

Courtesy of Fox News

Courtesy of Fox News

Cydney Macon and Seemani Dash

The Atlantic called it “A Disgusting Night of Democracy.”

The Washington Post named it a “Chaotic Debate.”

Fox News said it was a “Trainwreck.”  

These were only some of the headlines explaining the first presidential debate.  Held on September 29, the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden stirred a media storm leaving a wake of many conflicted voters. The debate had long been anticipated for most Americans. With current issues of racial injustice and the Coronavirus, Americans are looking for a leader to assuage the uncertainty of the future of normalcy and justice for all.  But many individuals didn’t feel comfort from the debate.  From a WWAY article, individuals called the debate, “…physically and emotionally depleting, “and a lot of back and forth. Definitely unorthodox.”

The main topics discussed that night were the Coronavirus, racial injustice and climate change. As stated at the beginning of the debate, each candidate agreed to the rules to allow both a platform. Mediator Chris Wallace directed questions to both candidates, leading to several unprecedented reactions from the individuals. 

On the topic of COVID-19, Biden addressed the 200,000 deaths that succumbed to the virus and criticized Trump for not taking action earlier, claiming he said, “It is what it is.”  Trump argued back that if the country were in Biden’s hands, “Millions of people would have died…We got the gowns, we got the masks, we got the ventilators…and now we’re weeks away from a vaccine… We’ve done a great job.”  In regards to the vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that a vaccine could be approved in November but wouldn’t be distributed widely until a  couple of months starting next year. Biden later gave a startling statistic of how COVID-19 has killed “1 out of 1000 African Americans”. This was proven true.  According to the APM Research Lab, African Americans are the leading numbers of Americans who are suffering the most from the virus.

On the topic of racial injustice, Biden said, “There is systemic injustice in this country, in education and in law enforcement.  The mass majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women.  But there are some bad apples.  And when they find them, they need to be sorted out.  They have to be held accountable.”  Biden continued with wanting to bring in civil rights groups, police officers and police chiefs to the White House to figure out how to end racial injustice. In response to Republican accusations, he opposed defunding the police completely, choosing instead to discuss solutions to improve the system. 

Trump was addressed by Wallace regarding ending federal racial insensitivity training in September. Trump said,” I ended it because it’s racist. They were asked to do things that were absolutely insane.  They were teaching people to hate our country.”  The training is known to teach critical race theory which, according to a Vox article, is about, “…examining and critiquing social institutions — and creating spaces for people of color to share their experiences — [it] can help create a fairer world.”

Biden called Trump “a racist” after his response.  He followed with how there is racial insensitivity and that it’s important for people to be concerned about what offends other people.

One of the big takeaways from this topic was when asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, Trump dodged the question.  He went on talking about left-wing terrorists like Antifa.  “Say it!”, Biden continued to egg Trump to condemn white supremacy.  

Finally Trump asked, “Who do you want me to condemn?”  Biden shouted the Proud Boys.  The Proud Boys are a far-right, neo-fascist and male-only organization that has  ties to white supremacists that promotes and engages in political violence.  According to Guardian, the FBI classifies the group as an “extremist group”.

In response to Biden, Trump answered, “Proud Boys.  Stand back and stand by.” This sparked an outrage among many Americans who understood Trump’s line as a defense to white supremacy. 

On the topic of climate change, Wallace asked both candidates their climate proposals for the next four years. Trump responded with several points: the carbon emissions were at their lowest this year, the Paris accord was a “disaster”, the forest floors needed better management, Biden wanted to remove the cows and acknowledged human contribution “to an extent.” He’s relaxed Obama’s Clean Power Plan (limiting carbon emission) and fuel economy standards (for better car prices) alongside pulling out of the worldwide Paris Climate Agreement. According to, our carbon is lower this year than past years, but is still on an increasing trend, with some proposed factors being more electrical car usage and the lockdown. There are still major threats to the world regardless.

Biden’s proposals for climate are extensive, including over 1.7 trillion dollars to completely boost renewable energy throughout America, “building an economy” to support less gas usage, net-zero energy consumption and thousands of new jobs. He’s promised rejoining the Paris Accord and denied using the controversial Green New Deal as his climate plan. His proposals involve weatherizing buildings, creating new jobs and reducing disaster-relief funding. Though expensive, it leaves voters with the question: is the planet worth the investment? 

There were many moments of unfounded accusations, Wallace attempting to maintain control and lack of coordination between the two candidates, but here are the key takeaways: 

      1. Biden is apprehensive to a fast Coronavirus vaccine and pushes for wearing masks. 
      2. Trump believes he’s done the right thing by shutting down borders and mitigating the overall response. (He has since contracted the virus.)
      3. Biden acknowledges systemic racism and has plans to approach it with more discussions and legislature. 
      4. Trump has removed federal racial sensitivity training and chosen to disregard condemning major white supremacist groups. 
      5. Trump chalks climate change legislature to forest management and better economy. 
      6. Biden focuses on renewable energy, albeit with plenty of expenses. 
      7. Both candidates have different directions for steering the country with few commonalities.

As we anticipate the next presidential debate for more information, voters have the choice to separate each candidate’s character from their talking points. Trump showed a lack of empathy, but is confident in his current ability to run the country’s economy and legislation whereas Biden, though snarky at times, addresses many issues diplomatically with the experience in office to back up his plans. The first debate definitely kicked this election off with a bang.