A Painfully Simple Choice

The only truly surprising part of Tuesday’s presidential debate was the frightening realization that none of it was entertainment.


photo courtesy of Scott Olson / Getty Images

Tuesday night’s presidential debate made it clear that there is only one responsible choice.

Let’s start here: The first presidential debate of 2020 was an absolute disaster. 

I was not looking to change my views Tuesday night when President Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden walked on the stage in Cleveland. I went into the debate knowing that I dislike both candidates’ views on a variety of policies. If I were 18 years old, I would vote for Joe Biden because he displays basic human decency (in most cases) and comes across as a genuine person. The bar is below the floor. 

Chris Wallace, Fox News anchor and moderator of the debate, started the night by bringing up the Supreme Court. In less than two weeks after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, President Trump announced that Amy Coney Barrett would be her replacement. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), almost immediately after RBG’s death was announced, said that the Senate would vote on a replacement. The final sentence of McConnell’s statement on her passing was, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

In response to Wallace, Trump replied, “Elections have consequences.”

Biden replied, “We should wait to see what the outcome of the election is.”

Under this president we become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent.

— Joe Biden

In March of 2016, both McConnell and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were openly against Barack Obama’s attempt to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. They argued that it was already too far into the presidential race. 

This is a clear example of hypocrisy from the Republican Party under Trump. Obama tried to appoint Garland nine months before the 2016 election. Now, with fewer than four weeks until the upcoming election, the party that once said we should not appoint justices during the presidential race has decided that Trump deserves an exception.

Wallace then moved onto the issue of healthcare by citing Trump’s disapproval of Obamacare, otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“You have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Wallace said, “but you have never, in these four years, come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare.”

To this, Trump responded, “Of course I have,” and then criticized its individual mandate, calling it “the most unpopular aspect of Obamacare.”

As Trump failed to directly answer Wallace’s question, the moderator asked him, “What is the Trump healthcare plan?”

Trump responded, “I’m cutting drug prices… drug prices will be coming down eighty or ninety percent… nobody’s done it.” 

The President even claimed that his policies have made drugs like insulin “so cheap…like water.” But this is simply not true. In the United States, insulin still retails for an average of $350, despite being relatively inexpensive to make. 

Wallace then began the segment on COVID-19.

Biden used his speaking time to offer statistics about the cases and deaths, and he called Trump out for saying, “It is what it is,” and undermining the severity of the coronavirus from the beginning. Biden added, “Get out of your bunker and do what needs to be done now to save lives.”

Trump shot back at the Democratic contender by saying that the United States should not be portrayed as the worst in the world in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths because there is no way to know the real numbers in countries like Russia, China, and India. He also compared the severity of COVID-19 to the H1N1 pandemic that the Obama/Biden administration had to deal with. 

As far as the coronavirus goes, it is a waste of time to focus on the faults and corruption of other countries that might be doing poorly when we could be focusing on how far behind we are compared to less corrupt countries that are doing much better than we are. It was also foolish of Trump to compare COVID-19 and H1N1, as the flu pandemic caused around twelve thousand deaths and the coronavirus has led to over two hundred thousand deaths (and counting).

Instead of saying how he will slow the ongoing spread of the virus, Trump said, “[Biden] wants to shut down the country. I want to keep it open.”

Biden responded, “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis.”

It is deeply unsettling that the president of the United States has failed to realize or at least acknowledge that matters will not be made better by ignoring our most urgent problems.

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.

— Donald Trump

The debate’s next topic was no less concerning.

On September 27th, The New York Times released Trump’s tax information covering over two decades. One allegation in the report stated that, in both 2016 and his first year in office, Trump only paid $750 in federal income tax, and by 2024, he will owe $300 million in loans.

When Wallace asked how much Trump paid in federal income taxes in the past year, Trump replied, “I’ve paid millions of dollars in income taxes… and you’ll see it.” He offered no details regarding when the country will actually see proof of his claim.

In the same segment, Trump brought up the controversy surrounding Biden’s son, Hunter, to which Biden replied, “My son did nothing wrong.”

The sudden change of subject also prompted Biden to bring up Trump’s calling Americans who died in war “losers” and “suckers.” Sudden changes of topic were a running theme Tuesday night.

Biden replied, “My son [Beau Biden] was not a loser.” Beau served in the military and died of cancer in 2015.

When Biden mentioned Beau’s name, Trump replied, “I don’t know Beau,” and continued to talk about Hunter Biden. 

Wallace then moved on to a topic that many Americans were awaiting — racism in the US.

Biden said, “It’s about equity and equality, it’s about decency, it’s about the Constitution,” and he reminded viewers of Trump’s reaction to the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia when Trump said, “there were very fine people on both sides.” Trump’s “very fine people” included the self-proclaimed neo-Nazis who had attended the rally.

In response, Trump brought up the 1994 Crime Bill, authored by Biden, that provided incentive grants to qualifying states to expand correctional facilities and the country’s already broken prison system.

This was the one time throughout the entire debate that I actually agreed with Trump. Biden’s crime bill caused Black Americans to be criminalized and brutalized even more than they already had been. But because Trump failed to offer a way to fix the issue of systematic racism, it seemed like the only reason he brought up the bill was to attack his opponent.

Perhaps the most jarring moment of the debate occurred when Wallace asked Trump to condone white supremacy. Trump hesitated. He asked Wallace to specify whom he wanted the message to be directed to. Wallace said, “White supremacists,” and Biden added “the Proud Boys.” 

Trump went on to say, “Stand back and stand by” to the Proud Boys, which excited the far-right, neo-fascist group’s members on social media.

The whole spectacle was appalling, and though it may not have changed the minds of most Americans, it did in fact clarify a few things.

A few things were made more clear once this debate was over. 

I wish that I could only see our predicament as entertaining. In reality, however, lives are at stake.  In reality, our very democracy may be at stake.

First, instead of running on the progress that he has made in the last three and a half years or what he plans to do in the future, Trump has decided to attack, interrupt, divert, and disrupt.  The plan will likely remain unchanged heading into subsequent encounters.

Second, Biden should not have stooped to the same level by saying “Shut up, man” or calling Trump a “clown,” though it was arguably justified in light of Trump’s unrelentingly rude display.

Third, Trump evidently would rather criticize decisions that Biden made thirty years ago than actually fix — or even acknowledge — the problems that persist under his presidency.

Fourth, both candidates will do what is necessary to appeal to their base. I would argue that Trump’s base can be more dangerous in terms of extremist groups, but it is frustrating on both sides. It was obvious that Biden was told to avoid saying certain things in order to please a more moderate audience. Somehow, though unsurprisingly, Trump continued to accuse his opponent of being a dangerous radical. For both candidates, however, appealing to their supporters was more about what was left unsaid.

And lastly, the debate left many of us frightened, myself included. I wish that I could only see our predicament as entertaining and humorous. In reality, lives and democracy are at stake. 

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are both far from ideal, but the choice here is painfully simple. When choosing between a candidate who has no plan and another who does, a candidate who routinely breaks all norms of integrity and another who strives to tell the truth, and a candidate who seeks to divide and another who aims to unite, we must — for the sake of our families, our communities, and the future of our country — choose the latter.