I have never witnessed such an unintelligible debate, and I participated in high school debate for three years.
In all seriousness, the presidential debate Tuesday was a repulsive reminder of our polarized political climate. There was no winner, only varying degrees of losers.
The American people were the biggest losers last night.
President Donald Trump’s blatantly fascist remarks coupled with former Vice President Joe Biden’s inability to form a coherent rebuttal gave way to a muddled debate beyond the moderator’s repair. It was like watching the demise of American democracy in an arena filled to the brim with toxic masculinity. Trump was the primary instigator, but both candidates abandoned talks of substantive policy when presented with the opportunity to one-up the other’s attacks, leading to nonstop interruptions.
While Biden outperformed Trump by default, he struck out on valuable opportunities to call out Trump’s unfathomable comments beyond a statement of “that’s not true.” Trump’s comments deserved a response reflecting far more abhorrence.
Asked plainly whether he would denounce white supremacy, Trump refused to state his condemnation. Trump told the Proud Boys, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to “stand back and stand by” because “somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left." The Proud Boys took Trump’s remarks for what they were — an endorsement.
Unsurprisingly, this was not the only time Trump encouraged vigilante justice.
Trump urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” He suggested this is necessary to ensure a legitimate election.
Earlier this month, Trump supporters staged a rally at a polling center in Fairfax, Virginia. Donald Trump Jr. referred to this sort of mobilization as the president’s “army for election security operation” and proceeded to call on every able-bodied man and woman to “enlist.” The campaign even created an eerie website for the occasion.
The Trump campaign is laying the groundwork for voter suppression by calling on supporters to take the election into their own hands.
To make matters worse, Trump might have the Supreme Court in his back pocket. There is nothing the American people can do if he decides to jam his nomination through the Senate before the election. The election could easily come down to the courts.
Biden deserves credit for generally maintaining his composure while debating a human air horn, but he was too complacent, which translated to a downright lack of enthusiasm. Biden prioritized his optics which ultimately stifled the charisma young voters were promised. His inability to deliver a powerful answer in his allotted speaking time undermined him.
If you were actively engaged in those 90 painstakingly slow minutes, you are undoubtedly on the precipice of insanity regardless of your political affiliation. If you are an undecided voter, estimated to be 11% of eligible voters, the debate may have driven you to abstain from the election altogether.
Early post-debate polling numbers show four in five voters characterized the debate as generally negative. 69% of voters said they left the debate annoyed whereas only 17% said they left informed. A poll released last week found seven in ten voters viewed the debates as not at all important or just somewhat important in determining their vote.
At best, the debates create a false sense of safety for Democrats in the upcoming election.
The catastrophe witnessed by the nation clearly demonstrates how counterproductive another presidential debate would be. Even if stricter measures like muting a candidate’s microphone are adopted, the screaming match would ensue albeit in a slightly muffled fashion. It is unlikely that last night’s spectacle will sway undecided voters moving forward. It would be better for voters to address their candidates directly through televised town hall events.
The polls indicate the debate failed to make a significant impact on voters, and that’s putting it lightly. All the debate did was humiliate Americans everywhere. In a year marred by COVID-19 and economic turmoil, a show of further executive incompetence is the last thing we need.
Katelyn Balakir (she/her) is a junior studying policy analysis and world political systems. She is a member of Indiana Model United Nations.