President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden went head to head in an intense debate last week with seven sections covering a range of topics; COVID-19, national security, healthcare, unemployment, immigration, race and climate change.
The last 2020 Presidential Debate took place on Thursday, October 22, 2020, from 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Over 63 million people tuned in to watch the two candidates debate for the last time before Election Day.
The debate was held at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. NBC News White House Correspondent and “Weekend Today” co-anchor Kristen Welker, moderated the debate.
On October 22, I watched the debate for the first time and formed judgments based on my own personal opinions. However, I watched the debate for a second time on October 25 attempting to watch it with an unbiased point of view. As a journalist, I wanted to write this article without using my own personal opinions and challenged myself to watch it again with an open mind, an unbiased mind. This article is broken up into seven sections, one for each of the sections discussed in the debate. In each section, I go over positives and negatives of both of the candidates or comment on how both of them answered the question and the content of their answers.
I would like to preface that I am a registered independent (undeclared) and anything written in this article is my opinion from trying to watch the debate without bias.
To kick off the debate, the topic of COVID-19 was the first section of six. Both candidates struggled with the way they answered the questions and their demeanors, but also contributed some great points.
Focusing on President Trump, something refreshing to see was his fairness and logic in his reply to Biden accusing him of not taking responsibility for the pandemic response.
“I take full responsibility,” said Trump. “It’s not my fault that it came here, it’s China’s fault. And you know what, it’s not joe’s fault that it came here either, it’s China’s fault. They kept it from going into the rest of China for the most part but they didn’t keep it from coming out to the world including Europe and ourselves.”
Although on some standards referring to this virus as the “Chinese Virus” or the “Chinese Plague,” which the president has done in the past, it was important to remind people that the cause of the virus was not his fault nor anyones in America.
Not a lot of people necessarily think the president is to blame for the virus as a whole, but it was beneficial for him to make that statement and clear the air.
However, when talking about a potential vaccine the president says, “we have a vaccine that’s coming. It’s ready. It’s going to be announced within weeks…,” he is making a big promise to a lot of hopeful and fearful people in this country. It seems that he thinks that if a vaccine could be pushed out before election day or the next few weeks, that it would increase citizens’ support for him. The moderator added to the debate by asking him what companies were working on the vaccine but I was alarmed to hear the name Johnson & Johnson among that list.
According to an article published in Forbes, Johnson & Johnson had around 50,000 lawsuits against them in regards to talc, hip-plants, and Xarelto back in 2019.
Vice President Biden created a hostile environment immediately when he was asked the same first initial question in this section and after hearing Trump’s response. Right away he resorted to demeaning the president and stated everything he’s believed he has done wrong so far. Biden did not answer the question at all, and gave us no insight into how he would handle the pandemic until later in the section and debate. This could have easily been a tactic to tick Trump off but he should have answered the question and made what he was doing differently than the president the center of the conversation.
On the other hand, Biden did a great job with pointing out flaws in Trump’s answers and relating it back to viewers at home. Take how the president talked about teachers and schools reopening for example. “The transmitle rate to the teachers is very small…,” Trump said and continued to say that schools must reopen regardless of other circumstances. “We have to walk and chew gum at the sametime,” said Biden. “…Oh and by the way, all you teachers out there, not that many of you are gonna die so don’t worry about it. So don’t worry about it.” The way Biden responded using a simple but powerful analogy showed the importance of what he was saying. Being able to reopen schools safely is hard and will only work when you have several different moving parts working together at once and you are provided with the right resources.
But Biden should have elaborated on his plans further while refraining from attacking Trump right away. In some ways being offensive was really effective as it showed some of the context of what he was saying a lot better and exposed the flaws within Trump’s statements. But in other ways harmed him as it took away from him focusing on the questions at hand and making him stand out more.
Both candidates were strong at times during this section, but weak when it came to how they answered the questions and some of their responses. Neither of them answered the questions fully and left a lot of room open for discussion.
After it was announced at a press conference from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that Russia and Iran obtained voter data that could be used in the election last Wednesday, national and election security became a very prominent issue.
Welker asked the candidates, “what would you do to end this threat?” Unfortunately, the responses from both parties were rather disappointing. Instead of answering the question correctly and fully, they avoided it and attacked each other on subjects that were somewhat related to the topic, and other things that had no correlation to election security whatsoever.
The conversation went from election security, to foreign affairs, then to taxes, to Wall Street, etc. Neither of them seemed to understand what the topic was about or knew how to answer the questions in full.
Biden, who responded to the initial question by saying foreign governments that got involved in our elections “will pay a price.” He mentioned it over and over again but Joe, what is that price?
You said countries will face consequences but what will they be? No where in his argument did he say how he would make countries pay or punish them. It sounded very similar to a parent saying they would discipline their child if they failed a class and not doing anything after seeing an F on their report card.
Trump on the other hand started off by attacking Biden immediately and then jumped into different topics right after. Trump claimed that Russia and Iran got involved because along with the democrats, they do not want him to get re-elected. He followed up on that by bragging about how tough he is on countries like Russia while at the same time making digs at Biden every second he could get.
Once again, rather than providing an in depth answer to the questions asked, both candidates went off on other tangents or about things the other one has allegedly done. This was a waste of time but also brought up some interesting points that may have been overlooked by the media or that would not have been asked in the form of a question. For example, Trump brought up Biden allegedly receiving 3.5 million from Russia, while Biden brought up Trump’s knowledge of Russian bountys on American soldiers.
The highlight of this section was the issue on foreign entanglements and the United State’s relationship with North Korea. Again, President Trump’s response to this topic was surprising and insightful.
“In the meantime I have a very good relationship with him. Different kind of a guy, but he probably thinks the same thing about me. We have a different kind of a relationship…,” he said about his relationship with North Korea’s president, Kim Jong Un. When it comes to a country like North Korea who we consider to be a national threat, realistically you may need to have a non-traditional or different relationship than you have with other countries in order to deal with specific tensions.
Former President Barack Obama by no means did a bad job when it came to our relations with North Korea, but he also didn’t do the best he could have. Trump said the Obama Administration left him with a mess in regards to North Korea. Tensions with Un were high prior to 2016 and although Trump’s negotiations and relationship with Un may not be ideal, he did the best he could to control the conflict between the countries and halt a potential nuclear war. Trump said that he and Un “fell in love” after they first met at the Singapore Summit back in June of 2018, but even if they aren’t lovers, their relationship keeps the threat of a nuclear war contained.
Biden has a completely different idea of how to approach the issues with North Korea and maintain a relationship with them. Biden’s responses were a little concerning, especially when describing how he responded to China questioning the Obama Administration on the U.S. military moving missiles and other military maneuvers conducted in South Korea. Biden said to China, “…Because North Korea is a problem and we’re gonna continue to do it so we can control them. We’re gonna make sure we can control them and make sure they cannot hurt us…” We do need to regulate North Korea and make sure they aren’t a danger to us anymore, but how he worded his response sounded like he was trying to fight fire with fire. Un to many is considered a horrible dictator, but pressuring or attempting to scare him using the same tactics he does could lead to more problems. Countries threatening and pressuring one another with military involvement and violence is why there was a Cold War for 44 years.
The third section of the debate was very different from the first two sections. It focused on healthcare in the United States, specifically the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Both candidates gave a lot more substance within their responses, but Biden stood out a lot and seemed much more prepared to discuss this topic.
This was not the first occasion where Trump has been asked about the ACA, to which he has said repeatedly that he plans on abolishing it. However, when you are about to get rid of a federal program that over 20 million people rely on, it would be smart to have a detailed substitute plan ready to share. From his response when asked about the ACA, he did not make it seem like he had a plan ready to share. “So I’d like to terminate Obama-Care, come up with a brand new beautiful healthcare…,” he said. His new healthcare system could genuinely surprise people but when you are running for re-election and have platforms like debates to share certain things, it seems as though you should have a plan ready to share with the country. His new system could be in the works and not ready to share yet, but with only a week left until the election, it could leave a lot of voters confused and unsettled.
However, Trump went into a little more detail than he usually does with his healthcare plan and gave an honest answer about the ACA. “What we’d like to do is terminate it, we have the individual mandate done, I don’t know that it’s going to work,” he said. “If we don’t win, we will have to run it and we’ll have Obamacare…” Whether those are empty words or not, he was being realistic and gave viewers a lot of insight into his contingency plan in case all else fell. For those viewers who were undecided or those who rely on the ACA, he played a very smart card and offered both a new health care system but reassured them that if it doesn’t work Obamacare will come back.
Although he did not provide as much detail as he could have, Biden still supplied enough of the baseline information to give viewers a little more insight on how his healthcare plan would operate, including an updated name for the system; Bidencare.
Biden also respectfully shut down Trump accusing Bidencare of not supporting private insurance options and saying he is like every other stereotypical democrat when it comes to healthcare. “…The reason why I had such a fight with 20 candidates for the nomination was I support private insurance…,” Biden said. And later in the debate he made the point again, “he thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all of those other people because I disagreed with them.”
This was the perfect opportunity for Biden to elaborate even further and supply statistics or mention potential endorsements for Bidencare. It may not have been necessary, but for those undecided voters watching the debate, providing as much information as possible could be the turning point especially when it’s about a subject like healthcare.
The next section covered the minimum wage and unemployment. From a moderate viewpoint, both candidates’ answers to the questions appealed to those who are in their individual parties rather than the country as a whole.
For example, when asked about raising the federal minimum wage, Trump said he believes that it should be a state option and the minimum wage should not be federally regulated. Although he said he has considered raising the federal wage in the past and is open to considering it in the future, his reasoning behind his logic is that every state is different, which means that people’s needs are different depending on the state, henceforth every state needs a different minimum wage. In some ways, this makes sense. Different states have different types of taxes, tax amounts, employment opportunities, and ways of living in general. But on the other hand, it could make things somewhat unfair when states may or may not increase the wage and citizens have to rely on their individual governor to set the wage. It could also be unfair for people relocating for work or school. For example, if you grew up in Connecticut and then went to college in New Hampshire and work a minimum wage job, you’d have to adjust from making $12 an hour to $7.25 an hour.
Biden supports a federal minimum wage of $15 and made it clear that there was no evidence showing a wage set at that amount has any correlation with people being fired or businesses shutting down, which Trump disagrees with. A common argument to a federal minimum wage is some people don’t think certain professions should make a wage as high as $15 and compare professions to one another. For instance a fast food restaurant cashier making $15 compared to an EMT driver making $15. Some think that someone saving peoples lives should not make the same as someone working as a cashier.
Going off of that, Biden played his cards right when he used first responders as an example of why the minimum wage should be federally controlled. A huge following of Trump’s campaign and support for him comes from first responders and law enforcement. So Biden mentioning how poorly some of those workers get paid, could have caught the attention of viewers, maybe those in the middle or undecided. This section was the least controversial and felt the most liked debate. Minus a few digs and side comments, both candidates explained themselves very well and gave good reasoning why they support what they do.
Immigration is one of the issues at the forefront of politics today. Immigration laws and regulations need to change with the times in order to effectively make sure things are kept in order and unfortunately, immigration policies have been a mess for a long time. After hearing how both candidates answered the proposed questions, it was clear that Biden was the winner of this section.
Welker asked the first question directed to President Trump. She asked him about how ICE is unable to locate the parents of over 500 children being detained at the border. Right off the bat, Trump said a lot of very controversial things that may not have been intentional or premeditated, but still unnecessary and to some disrespectful. To start, he refers to smugglers who bring children over the border as “coyotes.” The term is used often when talking about smugglers but since the 1700’s, it’s occasionally used as a derogatory term against mixed races, specifically those who are half Hispanic and half Native American. Although it is not common that people know the meaning of the word, it could be a deciding factor for undecided hispanic or BIPOC (Black, Indeginous, and People Of Color) voters who have been called that term in a derogatory way.
Trump then begins to proudly talk about terminating the practice of catch and release with immigrants. Biden rebuts him, and describes how the practice used to operate. Families or individuals detained under catch and release by Border Patrol are then given a date for a court hearing. From there they are released into the United States and personally responsible for showing up to their hearing on their assigned date to make their case on why they are seeking asylum and prove why they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. If they do not show up for their hearing, ICE and Border Patrol are assigned to track them down and arrest them. Without catch and release, immigrants are forced to seek asylum in the country they are trying to escape from rather than in the U.S borders. Hearing dates could vary from days, to weeks, to months, to years.
Biden makes the case that this is the first time in our country that refugees cannot seek asylum within our borders. Besides using the term “coyote,” Trump’s reasoning behind abolishing catch and release stereotyped immigrants, specifically hispanics. “A murderer would come in. A rapist would come in. A very bad person would come in,” he said as he described his perception of the practice. An immigrant can absolutely be any of those things and still immigrate to our country, but like anyone else they can also be incredible people.
But when he was identifying the possible concerns with catch and release, which are valid, he also failed to mention how he would help the good people and the ones who were coming to America for a better life. There is no doubt that bad people will attempt to cross into our borders, but it is not fair to punish the good people because bad people are bad. To put it in perspective, there are plenty of rapists and murderers in this country who were born here and someone can interpret what he said as he thinks bad people are only coming from other countries and raised there such as Mexico. Citizens of the United States have never experienced first hand what it’s like to seek asylum, so it is not fair to judge someone based on a situation they are in that we are privileged enough not to be in.
That unfortunately was not the last derogatory remark from the president during this section. After Biden described the process of catch and release, Trump claims that only one percent of those immigrants come back for their hearing. “When you say they come back, they don’t come back Joe. They never come back,” he said. “Only the really, I hate to say this but those with the lowest IQ, they might come back…” Being on stage, let alone being the president is nerve wracking as it is. Nerves can get the better of us sometimes and cause us to say things we necessarily didn’t mean to say or what we mean to say comes across in a different way. But a comment like that was out of line and had no relevance in the debate.
Aside from the other things Trump said, he did bring up something that could be overlooked or forgotten by a lot of people. Despite what a lot of people may think or say, The Obama Administration built the cages at the border back in 2014, not the Trump Administration. It’s unsettling to know that both of them felt that cages were a proper way of detaining immigrants but it was also unsettling to see Biden ignore Trump’s accusation and not address it or own up to it at all. The only silver lining for him in this case is that they were never used during Obama’s term, only Trump’s. The president continuously brought it up throughout the section, shouting “who built the cages Joe,” sometimes speaking over the Welker and Biden.
“Let’s talk about what we’re talking about,” Biden said, interrupting Trump at one point. “What happened? Parents, their kids were ripped from their arms and separated. And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It’s criminal. It’s criminal.”
Biden was the winner of this section simply because he answered the question in full and highlighted his strengths and exposed Trump’s weaknesses when it came to the topic of immigration. One of those weaknesses is the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) Act, which grants immigrant minors with temporary residency, the right to work, and provides pathways to become a citizen of the U.S. Those kids are called “dreamers” and are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. He also had clear plans for immigration reform and gave insight to what it would look like if he were elected and made the dreamers the center of attention.
If he is elected, the dreamers are guaranteed to be immediately certified to stay in the U.S. and will be given the opportunity to pursue a pathway for citizenship. This exposes Trump’s weakness when it comes to immigration reform because back in 2017 the Trump Administration terminated DACA, until the Supreme Court deemed that decision unlawful this past June. Biden also said within his first 100 days in office, he is going to propose to congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented immigrants.
President Trump had no foundation for his argument in this section and relied on putting blame on Biden for not getting immigration reform done during his eight years in office or continuously brought up the fact of the cages.
The sixth section of the debate focused on racism in America. After what we’ve seen BIPOC go through not only in this country but throughout the world, it’s despicable that the topic of race is at the center of our social injustice issues. But similar to the section on immigration, Biden had more substantial responses to the questions and understood the topic at hand. He had moments where he strayed away from the issue of race but for the most part answered the questions properly. There were also some interesting and controversial points brought up on both sides that added another layer to the issue at hand.
Welker began by asking Biden if he understood why parents of color fear for their children and find it necessary to give them “the talk.” He started by acknowledging the institutional racism in America and that children of color have to do things differently than white children do so they don’t get in trouble or in certain situations physically harmed. He made it clear the income of people of color has no correlation with how they are treated and there is a need for more economic and educational opportunities for BIPOC, so everyone can have the same opportunities to succeed.
When asked the same question, Trump responded “yes I do…” and then began to attack Biden on his past record and for not doing anything during his 47 years in government. He brought up points that were definitely valid and worth mentioning such as the 1994 Crime Bill and Biden allegedly calling black people “superpredators.” Following that, he constantly bragged about nobody doing more for the black community than himself, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln. Abrahma Lincoln may have not supported slavery, but by no means whatsoever was he an abolisitnist, so his comparison did no good for him.
Trump did also discuss The First Step Act, which he signed in 2018 which reforms federal prisons, sentencing laws, attempts to decrease the federal inmate population and maintain public safety. But other times it seemed as though he could not provide any substantial information for what he’s done for the black community in America, nor did he answer the question in detail at all.
Biden came back at him stating that The First Step Act, which Trump takes credit for, was based off of a law initiated by Obama but was not implemented during his term. He stated that Trump commuted 20 peoples sentences while the Obama Administration commuted over 1,000, and hit other great points when talking about future prison reform ideas. Under his administration, he would offer $20 billion to states that are willing to abolish mandatory minimums and set up drug courts.
“No one should be going to jail because they have a drug problem,” said Biden. “They should be going to rehabilitation, not to jail. We should fundamentally change the system and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
In rebuttal Trump said, “but why didn’t he do it four years ago?” and continues to harass Biden for not doing anything as the former Vice President. But besides The First Step Act and meeting with families, he did not provide any evidence or facts showing what he did for the black community, which makes him attacking Biden pointless. Trump then continued to come after him and said he said he ran for president because of Biden. This ultimately turned the focus away from race and their feelings about each other became the main topic of debate. It got to the point where the moderator had to remind them of what the topic at hand was and bring them back to it.
“President Trump I want to stay on the issue of race…President Trump we’re talking about race right now and I do wanna stay on the issue of race…,” said Welker. After being dismissed by not only Trump but Biden as well, she spoke up once again. “Alright, gentlemen I want to stay on the issue of race, okay? Mr. President we’re gonna continue on the issue of race…”
After regaining the candiates attention, Welker directed the next question to the president and brought up controversial things he has said or done such as his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and reposting a videos of a man chanting “white power.” He responded by explaining when he first heard of the BLM movement, they were chanting inappropriate things to law enforcement officers and said he believes he has a great relationship with all people. “I am the least racist person in this room,” he said.
Welker followed up by asking what he should say to Americans who feel that his rhetoric creates more racial tension to which he replied,
“I don’t know, I don’t know what to say. I got criminal justice reform done and prison reform, and opportunity zones. I took care of black colleges and universities, I don’t know what to say. They can say anything…”
Although what he said he has done may be true, it does not work as an excuse for things he has said or done in the past and he failed to address them at the debate. It was a great opportunity for him to acknowledge what he has said or done in the past did and apologize to anyone he may have offended. However, Biden was the one to do just that. He was asked about crime bills he supported in the 80’s and 90’s that contributed to mass incarceration rates due to drug possession that continue to affect families to this day.
He referred to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which he wrote to help combat the drug war and fear of the newly created drug, crack-cocaine. However, the law was passed with all 100 senators in support of it. “It was a mistake,” he said and reiterated that people should not be going to jail for having a drug problem. He owned up to his mistake and is now offering solutions and structure reform to help combat this issue. Throughout this section, Biden took responsibility for what he’s done in the past while also looking ahead into the future. President Trump strayed away from the questions with his responses and constantly attacked his opponent rather than show what he has done for people of color in America and what he plans to do if he is re-elected.
The seventh and final topic covered is one of the biggest issues in this day and age; climate change. Along with immigration and race, Biden presented himself much better compared to President Trump and was stronger with his responses. He described his environmental agenda and potential ideas he has when it came to combating climate change and creating jobs. Trump however, only pointed out the issues he had with Biden’s plan or bragged about carbon emissions. On top of that, he did not support anything he was saying with scientific facts or statistics, rather spewed information out of his mouth that was unnecessary or irrelevant.
For example when talking about building renovations, his entire argument was that Biden is going to destroy old buildings and “…build new buildings with little, tiny, small windows, and many other things and many other things.” When discussing wind power, his argument was that it is expensive, creates more carbon emission fumes than natural gas, and “…kills all the birds.” He does not cite a single source or provide a single statistic or dollar amount to support his claims.
When supporting his argument, Biden on the other hand has numbers and statistics for what his plan entails and cites general sources such as Wall Street, labor unions, and environmental agencies.
If Trump came in prepared with attributions and relevant statistics, the conversation would have gone an entirely different way. Biden’s plan for the environment and climate change isn’t any better because he provided third party sources, but because he had a structured plan that was detailed and progressive. When you compare how both of them presented their plans it is obvious Biden either memorized a bunch of numbers and names or he really knew what he was talking about.
Environmental racism was also a big topic in this section. People of color are much more likely to live near oil refineries, chemical plants, or hazardous waste sites. Welker describes how in states such as Texas, residents who live near those types of sites are worried that the plants and waste produced are making them sick.
President Trump was asked why those residents should vote for him and his response did not answer the question and was irrelevant to what he was being asked. He said the residents are making more than they have ever had before, “…a tremendous amount of money.”
Biden’s response was the exact opposite because it was fact based and educational. He used a term called “fence lines” which are residential buildings that live within a range of chemical plants that pollute the air and environment. “The fact is those fence line communities, it doesn’t matter what you’re paying them,” Biden said. “It matters how you keep them safe. What do you do? And you impose restrictions on the pollutants coming out of those fence line communities.” Throughout this section, Trump continuously went after Biden with no factual evidence and nothing to support his own claims while Biden was prepared and gave structured responses to the questions asked.
I was genuinely surprised with how well the debate went, especially in comparison to the first one. Kristen Welker had incredible unbiased questions and follow-ups that challenged both of the candidates and ultimately gave the viewers a lot of new insight. From an unbiased journalists perspective, I do have to say that I don’t think anyone “won” this debate but rather Joe Biden had a stronger performance and seemed to have a new sense of confidence and drive that I haven’t really seen from him before. He played on the defense and offense throughout the debate and for the most part was able to juggle curve balls thrown at him and stay on track. I do think he needs to work on playing on the defensive side a little more and controlling his temper. President Trump I feel also had a strong performance but I’ve seen him do better. He had a hard time answering the questions fully and was always on the offense, something that I do think benefits him. But I also think that if he learned how to play defense a little better he can give himself enough time to think of a solid argument and rebuttal. He knows when to bring certain things up and quite frankly he knows how to make people mad. However, you can see that he also gets frustrated quickly depending on the situation and attacks way too much. Election day is next Tuesday, November 3. No matter who you are voting for, just vote.
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