Welcome to the first presidential debate of 2020: No, this is not an episode of Black Mirror — it’s real life!
In tonight’s debate face-off between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, chaos ensued in the first 15 minutes when Fox News moderator Chris Wallace had to literally ask both men to take his questions “seriously” going forward. But as Trump’s many interruptions, racial references to COVID-19, and “socialist” jabs had him occupying the spotlight, many were left wondering one thing: How is Joe Biden doing?
It’s a simple enough question, but also nearly impossible to decipher in the midst of what shall forever be known as Scream Fest 2020™. And yet, despite all the chaos and perhaps to the surprise of many, Biden is holding his own — or, at least, doing the best that he can. When Trump started the night by saying that the Democratic party was embracing “socialist medicine,” Biden quickly retorted, “I am the Democratic Party.” And in that moment, he set the tone of the rest of the debate: He would answer question to the best of his ability, he would not interrupt Trump, but he would also refuse to be railroaded by a screaming 74-year-old billionaire.
In some of Biden’s more impressive moments, he spoke eloquently about the coronavirus pandemic, and the need to listen to scientists, wear masks, and flatten the curve — all of which Trump refuted. But Biden did not back down to Trump’s attacks and references to the swine flu epidemic of 2009: “This is the same man who told you by Easter this would be gone away. By the warm weather, it’d be gone — like a miracle. And by the way, maybe you could inject some bleach into your arm,” Biden said.
Biden also clearly addressed the movement to combat racism against Black people in America. While he said he did not support the movement to defund the police, Biden did paint a clear picture of systemic racism in education, work, and policing, demanding that security systems change to allow psychologists and social workers to respond to 9-1-1 calls. But when Trump even attempted to state that he was trying to protect Black communities, Biden immediately cited Trump’s statements about white supremacists at the 2017 Charlottesville rally, where the president said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
“No one, no one, should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background,” Biden said. “There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don’t think so, I’m prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line and it was, it was really unfortunate.”
After a lengthy back-and-forth (scream-and-scream?) about climate change, Wallace asked both Biden and Trump about how fair the upcoming election will be, alluding to Trump’s mission to derail mail-in voting as a whole. And this was perhaps Biden’s most measured and divisive moment: He pleaded to the American people to vote — not even for him — but just to vote. “He’s just afraid of counting the votes,” Biden said, looking straight into the camera.
And by comparison, Trump continued to trail into a hundred different tangents, attacking Biden and shamelessly refusing to condemn white supremacy. But in the end, all anyone watching could thing was: Will you shut up, man?
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