Debate clash in Cleveland

Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2020 in News

Debate clash in Cleveland

Donald Trump and Joe Biden at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first of their presidential debates. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

by Gina Hamilton

At the first of three presidential debates, held September 29 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace had his work cut out for him. President Donald Trump (R) and Vice President Joe Biden (D) came out swinging. It was not a pretty sight.

There was a very good reason for that. The two candidates had agreed in advance that for each question, each candidate would get two minutes to address the question without interruption, followed by a period of time of "open discussion."

With the very first question, however, it was clear that Wallace would not be able to control Trump's interjections and interruptions, which occurred repeatedly throughout the debate.

A CBS post-debate poll of debate watchers described the most prevalent emotion after watching the debate was "annoyed", 87 percent. Only 17 percent felt that they were "informed".

And that should tell anyone smart enough to avoid the debate in the first place everything they need to know about this particular event.

Supreme Court 

However, there was an attempt, on the part of Wallace and Biden, at least, to discuss the issues. The first issue, which got somewhat short shrift, was the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court. In spite of the fact  that in February of 2016, Merrick Garland wasn't even given interviews by most senators, Trump announced that "We won the election, and elections have consequences." After the Garland nomination was stymied eight months before the election, Biden questioned the pushing through of the nominee mere weeks before the  election. "The American people should have the right to have a say," he said. "Wait until the outcome of the election." Trump said that the people had spoken by not replacing the Senate in 2018.

Biden said that the fate of the Affordable Care Act hung on this nominee, who has written opinions considering it unconstitutional. He said that 20 million people would lose insurance and that 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would be left unprotected. Trump denied that 100 million had pre-existing conditions, but a fact check after the debate showed that the number believed to be suffering from pre-existing conditions lay somewhere between 65 million and 140 million.

Biden was asked if he planned to pack the court by increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices or ending the filibuster, refusing to commit to either option.

COVID-19 and Health Care

The next question involved COVID-19. Biden said that the U.S. currently had more than 200,000 dead, with seven million infected, about 20 percent of the world's dead from COVID-19, with only four percent of the population of the planet. Biden said that Trump had no plan, even though he knew in February how serious it was.

Trump almost immediately began interrupting Biden, complaining about how the Obama administration handled H1N1 influenza, and blaming COVID-19 on China, even though he had, early on in the pandemic, praised Chinese president Xi Jinping about his transparency. He claimed, without evidence, that if Biden had been in office there would have been millions dead. Trump said that there would be a vaccine "within weeks"; Biden countered that both Dr. Redfield of Trump's Centers for Disease Control and Moncef Slaoui, head of Trump's vaccine "Operation Warp Speed" program, both have stated publicly that a vaccine would not be widely available until summer or early fall of 2021. 

Trump retorted that it was a "political thing", stating that he disagreed with both of them, and saying he believed that many Democrats are opposed to a vaccine prior to the election. Biden said that Americans should trust the scientists, while Wallace asked him about VP nominee Kamala Harris' fear that public health experts are muzzled and suppressed. Biden responded that not all scientists work for Trump and are dependent upon him for their jobs.

Trump said that Biden was reluctant to open schools and businesses, and Biden responded that it was unsafe, since a federal program was terminated that would have provided teachers and students with masks, and there was no financial support for small businesses to reopen safely.

Trump was asked, point-blank, about his much touted plan to replace the ACA. He refused to provide specifics, despite numerous redirections by Wallace. Biden acknowledged that the public option in his expansion program would be for people who would otherwise be eligible for Medicaid.

Trump's Taxes

On the issue of his taxes, Trump denied that he paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, despite Wallace's attempt to have him divorce the income tax from other taxes he might have paid. All Trump would say is that he paid "millions" of dollars in tax. He said he would release his taxes "at some point."

"Inshallah (as God wills)," Biden said sarcastically.


Trump described the post-COVID economic recovery -- which has still not returned to pre-February levels -- as a "V" shaped recovery. Biden said it was more of a "K" shaped recovery, with millionaires and billionaires bouncing back quickly, while the middle and working classes continued to suffer.  "People who lost their jobs are people working on the front lines," Biden said. "One in six small businesses are now gone."

Trump responded that he brought back football -- a fact check after the debate suggested he played a marginal role at best. And just prior to the debate, the Tennessee Titans had eight incidents of COVID-19, also sidelining the Minnesota Vikings who had recently played them.

Also on the economy, Biden acknowledged a plan for $4 trillion in new taxes on families earning more than $400,000 per year, and increasing corporate taxes to 28 percent. Biden said that more  jobs were created in Obama's last three years than in the first three years of Trump's administration. He also said that manufacturing -- including auto plants in Ohio that had been lauded by Trump as successes, "went into the hole". Trump attempted to refute the assertion that manufacturing has again collapsed in the midwest, however, a post-debate fact check showed that only one manufacturing plant opened during Trump's presidency, while eight assembly plants moved to Mexico and four to Canada during the same timeframe.

A stern warning

Trump again interrupted to deny Biden's assertion as Wallace again tried unsuccessfully to control the direction of the conversation, then Trump tried to change the direction of the conversation to Biden's son Hunter, who had worked for Burisma, a Ukranian energy company, in 2016 and 2017. With Wallace desperately trying to stop Trump's questioning on this issue, Biden gave Trump a stern and thinly veiled warning: "Do we want to talk about families and ethics? I don't want to do that." Trump apparently got the message; he did not bring up Hunter Biden and Burisma again.

Racial tensions and unrest, and law and order

From there the issue went to racial tensions in America. Trump accused Biden of being anti-law enforcement, which Biden hotly denied, and Trump pressed, saying his "radical left" base wouldn't let Biden be in favor of law and order. Trump said again that he had done more for Black Americans than any president other than Abraham Lincoln.

Biden said that America had never walked away from trying to provide equality for everyone. He criticized Trump's use of the phrase "very fine people on both sides" during the Charlottesville white supremacy rally, and shooting tear gas so that Trump could do a photo op at a Washington DC church, scattering a group of peaceful protesters outside the White House after the death of George Floyd, calling it a "dog whistle". In the meantime, Biden said, one in a thousand Black Americans have died because of COVID-19, and it will soon be one in 500.

Biden acknowledged that there is systemic injustice, and this raised the issue about whether justice can be equally applied. He suggested convening a panel with all stakeholders, including police and social justice activists.

Trump was asked why he ended racial sensitivity training for federal employees. He said because it was racist, revolutionary, and "taught people to hate our country."

Biden said that despite several race riots during the Obama administration, notably in Ferguson and Baltimore, the murder rate had fallen during the last administration, and has gone up under Trump.

When Trump began speaking about the threat to the suburbs, Biden called it a dog whistle, and said that he must not have been in suburbs lately, because they are all fairly integrated. "The real threat to suburbs is COVID-19 and environmental issues," Biden said.

In response to a question from Wallace about Biden's plan for "reimagining policing", Biden made it clear that he believes police need more money, and faulted Trump for cutting $400 million to municipal police, but said he would make sure police had the right personnel to deal with the problems they are facing, such as psychologists or psychiatrists to help deal with mentally ill suspects and domestic violence counselors to help with those issues. He said that he does not believe violence is ever appropriate during protests, and people who engage in rioting and looting must be held accountable. He also said that police officers who engage in the type of actions that led to the summer's unrest must also be held accountable.

Trump interjected, asking if Biden had ever called mayors or governors of affected communities and asked them to send in National Guard troops. Biden said he was not in public life, and it would be inappropriate. Wallace then asked Trump if he had ever condemned white supremacy or militia groups.

Trump did not provide a clear answer. Wallace asked again if he would encourage some of the right wing extremists to stand down. In a statement that will be examined with great concern, Trump said, "Proud Boys. Stand back and stand by."

Climate change

After a garbled discussion with Trump involving global climate change, in which Trump downplayed the role that mileage standards have helped with carbon emissions and insisted the western wildfires were caused by leaf litter, rather than global warming,  Biden discussed his plan for renewable energy, which Biden said would make the US carbon neutral by 2035, and both Wallace and Trump questioned the cost. Biden said that his plan would create millions of good paying jobs, and would upgrade and weatherize homes using a series of tax credits. "It'll be cheaper than dealing with the effects of floods, hurricanes, and rising seas," Biden said.

Election results and transfer

Wallace asked pointedly if the two would commit to accept the election result, whatever it is. Biden assented; Trump claimed that there were likely to be fraudulent ballots, and called on his supporters to become poll observers. Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

It is unlikely that most observers got more information about either candidate's positions during this "debatacle." Trump's attempt to subvert the questioning and giving many misleading or outright false answers meant that Biden, too, was unable to fully participate. But Biden came across as more presidential, more concerned about the issues, and better able to handle the slings and arrows of what could come up during a presidential tenure  than Trump, who appeared petulant, bullying, whiny, and unable to handle the most basic standard of presidential comportment. 

Perhaps the next debate will feature  a small button on the  desk of the moderator to take control of out of control moments -- a mute button. We'd all have appreciated such a precaution tonight.





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