Incessant interruptions, squabbling and name-calling: characteristics one would typically use in the description of temperamental children, not a televised presidential debate intended to motivate Americans to elect the leader of their nation. Tuesday’s debate, hosted by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, was a pathetic and polarizing event that served no purpose aside from turning away undecided voters.
The debate opened with a question about filling the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat. President Trump argued that his choice in nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett was a justified one, citing testimony that she is a “fine character” and respected by an unnamed esteemed professor at Notre Dame, Barrett’s alma mater, which Trump described as “very liberal.”
Biden argued that the American people deserved a say in the decision, especially since the election already started. Trump interjected by saying, “They elected me for four years, not three.”
The rest of the night followed in a similar fashion — constant overlapping of voices, neither candidate respecting each other’s given time, an exasperated Wallace desperately trying to get the debate back on track, and petty insults that were irrelevant in a debate that was supposed to focus on policies.
This exchange of insults completely obliterated previously-established norms of presidential debates. Trump belittled Biden’s intelligence, incorrectly mocking his education at Delaware State University (Biden attended the University of Delaware). Worst of all, he took a strong punch at Biden’s sons, Hunter Biden and the late Beau Biden.
“The way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being ‘losers’ and ‘suckers,” Biden said, “My son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot and the people left behind there were heroes.”
To which Trump interrupted, “Really?”
“I’m talking about my son, Beau Biden,”
“I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter,” Trump said. He continued later by taking a stab at Hunter Biden’s prior drug abuse, to which Biden had one of his most touching moments of the night: addressing the audience, he recognized the widespread issue of drug abuse and his pride in his son’s progress.
This is not to paint Biden as innocent. He referred to Trump several times as a clown, once a racist, and at one point accused him of being “the worst President America has ever had.” However, to his credit, he did not make any sarcastic comments about Trump’s family or other personal matters.
These petty passes were the immediate attention-grabber of the debate: most meaningful conversation on policy was overshadowed by the immaturity of the candidates’ demeanor. As the debate garnered around 29 million viewers on TV, it’s guaranteed that many undecided voters were tuned in, looking for a reason to vote one way or another. This “hot mess of a debate,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper described it, was unlikely to accomplish anything but turn voters off.
National unity should be the one issue both parties can agree on, and yet that concept seems more abstract with each passing day. Reducing to name-calling and low blows contributes to the nation’s polarization, instead of working to create solutions to our problems, especially during the current global health crisis.
Following this election almost feels like rooting for a sports team, or engaging in high school gossip: mindlessly supporting your “side” and demonizing the other. Americans need to realize that this election is not a matter of whose insults one finds more entertaining, but rather which man is better suited to lead our country out of a pandemic and into a brighter future.