By Isabella Strimling, contributing writer
Photo from CNN
As a competing member of the Parliamentary and Lincoln-Douglas Debate Teams here on campus, an ardent arguer, and one of political controversy’s most concupiscent addicts, I would like to apologize for the acts that just disgraced the U.S. Federal Government’s stage. The 2020 Presidential Debates (thus far) have hardly earned their title. A debate is intended to inform the national voter audience of a prospective president’s intentions while in office on certain critical and current events. The ideology is to capture a raw reaction and response, no matter what a person is capable of preparing for; the debate stage is a battle-zone. Your opponent’s responses and opportunities for accusatory cross-examination make the debate an unrehearsed performance rather than a robotic return. Emotions run high in political clashes and speaking from experience, it’s sometimes very difficult to keep snarky remarks and cynical commentary entirely under your breath.
But this is my personal experience. That of a third-year political science student who is, unfortunately, still battling a nasty temper suppressing an otherwise sophisticated debating style. You’d think two 70-year-olds would have more grace than I do—especially as prominent figures and leaders in the political sphere. Right?
In the past few weeks we have seen two debates: Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris versus Mike Pence. Both have been significantly unconventional interactions between candidates and have given us quite a bit to think about.
Donald Trump v Joe Biden (September 29th, 2020)
The moderator of any debate is tasked with formulating questions to outline and guide the discussion during debate night. This debate focused mostly on racial violence, the open seat on bench for the Supreme Court, and COVID-19. There is a rather conspicuous amount of individual moments during the actual exchange of conversation that swayed my respect for the candidates, but I was honestly conflicted on my polarizations for a clear superior.
Donald Trump had an awful debate. I was devastated to see this man go on stage and defend such radical beliefs that notarize racial violence. One of the most jutting moments of the debate was when he refused to condemn white supremacists, responding to Chris Wallace’s (the moderator) inquiry about DT’s readiness to condemn all white-supremacist parties:
“Sure I’m willing to [tell them to stand down], but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing”.
Biden swiftly returned this statement with an encouraging “Say it. Do it. Say it,” taunting Trump to actually speak the words: “I condemn white supremacy.”
He failed to, unfortunately.
I am personally curious as to why he chose to avoid such a seemingly obvious rejection. Why is he still so popular if he is appropriating his public platform only to inject his ridiculous rhetoric? Is he nervous about losing and thus making a grand last attempt to snag radical voters who don’t quite understand the ratifications of voting? He refused to participate in the secondary (now virtual) debate on Fox News saying, “that’s not what debating’s all about, you sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous.” Through my liberal eyes, I see a man terrified of being forcibly muted in his attempts to speak over a more reasonable candidate once more.
The other grim moment was the discussion regarding Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy on the Supreme Court. Trump’s plan to elect Amy Coney Barrett to the bench will be a devastating decision for the feminist movement. Of course, we have to recognize that it is the constitutional right of the president to nominate a justice if a seat may become open. That is not arguable. But Joe Biden made a very good point during his slim thirty-second uninterrupted segment of response.
Trump, chin jutted, chest puffed out, stated firmly that “since we’ve won the election, we’ve won that vote by default.” And yes, this is true. It is written in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution that he has the power of nomination alongside the confirmation and consent of the US Senate. But Biden used an interesting approach in countering this unfortunate, cold-hard fact. He said that (and I’m paraphrasing) the 2020 election began long before the passing of Ms. Ginsburg and the need for another justice.
This is a very interesting point of discussion. Is Donald Trump acting based off of his fear of losing the election? Biden makes a genuinely good point here in assuming that Trump is attempting to load the court with radical right candidates before he is forced out by voters who are appalled by his actions to continue his legacy. A wrong choice in this instance puts the very future of American Democracy at stake. If he were to be re-elected next year, he would still have that responsibility to fulfill the seat. So why the push for a vote before the year has turned? Unless he is once again attempting to rapidly spread his ideologies before packing up the White House, this theory is becoming terrifyingly plausible with every day we grow closer to the election.
In all honesty, yes, Joe Biden needs to sit down with Dr. Trask and learn a few things about public speaking, and yes, he definitely did not do as well as democrats hoped he would. But he was not the worst debater on that stage. Trump made the fatal mistake of committing an obvious ad hominem fallacy, a key structural role of argument in any formal exchange. It is the irrelevant attack of some aspect of your opponent’s personal being. In attacking Joe’s sons and family in the way he did, we are forced to damn him to the likes of a crude, naïve, and an underprepared participant, clawing for sensible ground to rally his supporters against democracy. Yep—at this time, that is where I stand: Biden (by the skin of his teeth) won that debate.
Now let’s talk about the latter: Kamala Harris v Mike Pence.
Besides the fact that there was a fly on Pence’s head for 123 seconds being timed by CNN, New York Times, and Joe Biden’s campaign administration, this debate was dull. The two avoided the moderator’s questions and in transparency, the moderator herself was not strong in moderating. The questions were biased and, in most situations, conversation killers. Perhaps that is why the debate itself operated outside the boundaries pre-set by the moderator’s outline.
Kamala Harris did win this debate, though.
Pence was an obvious opposite to Trump’s aggressive debate-personality. He remained mostly calm and was expectedly eager to paint the Biden-Harris campaign as an extremist, left ticket.
What he failed to do, though, is address the present. When prompted about climate change and the Trump Administration’s failure to take action he simply stated that the “climate is changing. We will follow the science.” Funny, considering Trump publicly announced that science is often wrong and unreliable in an interview a few weeks ago. Pence tried to avoid Harris’s accusation but failed miserably when she says (with an incredible amount of zest and vigor) “Let’s talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings (referencing the startling rises in temperature).” Pence had no response except for refusing to admit that climate change is, in fact, a crisis. A tad contradictory in my opinion.
Although Harris had her fair share of sidestepping questions, Pence struggled in general to come up with an answer other than “we need to stop left extremists.”
By far though, the biggest buzz of this second debate was the fly.
In the Bible, a fly is a literal representation of all things bad—a descendant of the devil. Its symbolism is known to be that of gossip and lies, impure deception and evil. Coincidence? I don’t know, reader. Looking at the Trump Administration in their most recent performances, this comparison seems pretty dang suitable and pretty dang accurate.
It is questioned in every political science classroom whether the results or content of a debate actually reform or affect a voter’s stance so close to an actual election. But, I truly hope this one showed you the better of the worst. My vote is not going to Biden, but to the Biden-Harris ticket, and the security from authoritarianism and oppression they offer as a duo in office.