Image Credit: Patrick Semansky, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/, no changes made.
On September 29th, US voters were given their first glimpse of President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, engaging in what was meant to be a debate about policy, ideas and the future prospects of American citizens. Rather than learning more about each candidate’s plans for office, the debate was defined by personal insults and tit-for-tat squabbling between the two candidates. The long and tiresome game of insults included Trump’s taunt that “there’s nothing smart about you” and Biden responding by labelling the President a “clown”. The fundamental problem for Biden was that by participating in these shallow and personal exchanges, he himself had become part of the circus of American politics. Neither of the two candidates took the moral high ground or stepped back from the bickering.
Controversy over who won the debate remained absent from polling undertaken by news outlets after the debate, which initially showed overwhelmingly that Biden had performed better in the eyes of the majority of voters, with Ipsos and FiveThirtyEight’s polling indicating that 60% viewed Biden as performing well, a contrast to 50% that said Trump had performed badly. Forbes’ finding that 69% of voters felt more annoyed and exasperated after watching the political affair suggests that there was disillusionment with the lack of a roadmap that offered both positivity or visionary idealism.
The political encounter resulted in voters feeling more frustrated than upbeat, as the debate didn’t diverge from the status quo of both candidates’ past exchanges. Biden predictably attacked Trump’s record on dealing with COVID-19; although this wasn’t surprising considering that the president increasingly ignores advice about wearing masks and has previously downplayed the severity of the virus.
Trumps’ reluctance to condemn white supremacists again is a further indication that the US has a president that is more concerned about appealing to the attitudes of his core vote, than dealing with racist attitudes and action that has fuelled recent race riots.
It is ,therefore, not surprising that 83% of viewers, according to a CBS News and YouGov poll, perceived the tone of the debate as negative. A consistent and recurring pattern that had emerged by the end of the night was that neither candidate had defied or changed the voter’s opinions of their policies or character.
The best show that these two candidates could produce was what Daniel Deptris has aptly termed as a ‘national embarrassment’. Pragmatism, truthfulness and imagination were all missing from a debate of one-upmanship. Political jostling and Trump’s strategy of ‘attack, attack, and attack’ could be accepted as the new norm of American politics. Although Daniel Hanaan from The Daily Telegraph made the pertinent point that ‘your words are a form of action’ if you are President of the United States.
It remains to be seen as to whether the next presidential debates will offer the American electorate and democracy a more civilised and rational debate about the future of their nation. With Trump’s most recent refusal to attend an online virtual debate, this insult driven performance could be the only taste the American people experience of what both candidates had to offer.