Who won the (1st) presidential debate? Not the US citizens for sure.

30 September 2020 /

3 min

“Will you shut up man?”. Probably something that we would never hear during a presidential debate in Europe. No shake-hands (COVID-19) but if they could have done it? I prefer not to think about it. Four years ago, I watched the same debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. In 2020, we are closer to a “food fight”, as the BBC argues, than a debate. After one and a half hours, is there anything interesting to get from this debate? Let’s try.

Constant interruptions but at least they both are vigorous candidates 

To be honest, I was among the ones who thought Joe Biden would make confusions and mistakes. But “Sleepy Joe”, as Donald Trump calls him, was not here today. Both candidates kept interrupting each other. Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden a total of 73 times. As the moderator, Chris Wallace (from Fox News) struggled to control the debate, if we can call it that way. By looking at the social media, watchers are getting desperate but at least they agree that both candidates are vigorous and forceful, despite their old age (Trump is 74 and Biden 77).

No insurance that Trump will accept the presidential result

About the peaceful transfer of power, Chris Wallace asked them if they promise not to make a preemptive claim of victory when votes will still being counted. Answers: a simple “Yes” for Joe Biden, while Trump declared “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully”. At least he is coherent with what he recently said about mail-in ballots. “If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” he added. The role of the Supreme Court (including the not-yet-confirmed nominee Amy Coney Barrett) should settle any disputes arising over mail-in ballots in the November election. But is his answer enough to ensure Donald Trump will not use any uncertainties to claim victory? Not for now.

What about politics, social affairs, climate change, the response of how to manage coronavirus? 

For us Europeans, this debate was the opportunity to get some insights into what are the priorities for both candidates. Even though the first debate is known to be the occasion to prove the ‘ruthlessness’ of the candidates, never has politics been so sidelined as it was last night. About the pandemic, Trump called to reopen the economies with measures whereas Joe Biden sustained that “we cannot fix the Economy until you fix the COVID crisis”. By looking a lot to the camera, to the American citizens, he tried to prove that he is close to them. Did it work? Not if we look at social media.

But when the candidates were asked to prove why they are the candidate to address racial tensions and policing, both candidates tried to destabilize each other by mentioning the previous declaration from the 1980s and 1990s. “Citizens of this country want law and order” Trump argues. While charging Biden that he cannot say “Law and order”, Biden countered: “I have been very clear. Violence should be prosecuted”. 

About climate change, Bill Clinton’s famous line from the 1992 presidential campaign came to my mind: “It’s the economy, stupid,”. Still relevant today when it comes to how today’s presidential candidates argued about environmental issues. To be honest, just keep in mind that both candidates didn’t explain how they would reduce emissions or slow global warming but they would do more to protect the economy.

From a European point of view, the American elections are crucial importance given the links between the European Union and the United States (trade, diplomacy, among others). It is with great interest that we follow the debates to understand the main ideas and conceptions of the candidates about the international role of the US. If a candidate calls for the closing of borders, this will affect the taxes imposed on European products, for example.

However, this debate was only a fight between two candidates who had prepared to bicker each other. As seriously as they took it, I would have preferred a more political debate.

I had prepared a series of questions to write the answers of both candidates, to check how they diverge on different topics. After tonight, I checked my (almost) blank paper and the first thing that came to my mind was: “One presidential debate down, two more to go”.

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