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The final presidential debate: Decorum at last?

By Tobili Hatcher

Just 12 days (*at time of writing*) before the most important election in American history, President Donald J. Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden stepped onstage together for the second and final Presidential Debate, held on October 22nd in Nashville, Tennessee. With a new, loose set of rules put forth by the Commission of Presidential Debates, Trump and Biden had a much more civilized conversation than the “hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck” the country was forced to sit through just four short weeks prior. Although there wasn’t plexiglass to separate the two candidates; there was muting of the mics to help mitigate the yelling and talking over one another that was ever so present four weeks before.

Moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, social media’s clear winner of the debate, was present to enforce the rules better than Fox News’ Chris Wallace or USA Today’s Susan Page ever could have imagined. It’s important to note that Welker is only the second African American female to have ever hosted a general election presidential debate. This has been done only once before by Carol Simpson in the 1992 town hall between former President George H.W. Bush, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

However, we’ll have the conversation about the large gender gaps in politics and the even larger racial gaps in politics another day.

Welker was able to put the two 70+ year old men through their paces on a wide range of topics. Although this wasn’t our first time through the ringer, she picked the final six topics to be: fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership. Although American’s have been watching the two major campaign teams talk on these six topics for weeks, it was the first time the Commission on Presidential Debates released the moderator’s topics beforehand; which was nice to help reporters and writers, like myself, organize their notes and tweets in advance.

To be completely honest, this debate surprised me in more ways than one. Although I’ve made up my mind on who I will be voting for more than six months ago (hint: it’s not Kanye or Trump), I’ve been watching these debates not with the intention of being swayed to one side or another, but instead to see how these two white old men would be able to present themselves to the general public, particularly those who identify as women, voters of color, and/or undecided.

Based solely off of the debate that took place this past Thursday, I must admit, Trump sounded like he had his shit together. Now granted, when fact checked, it can be seen that he was lying straight through his yellow, crooked teeth. But even I must confess, it was the most coherent I’ve heard him since he first put in his bid to run for President five years ago. If you didn’t know what was going on in the country or didn’t take the time to fact check what he was saying for yourself, Trump sounded like he knew what was going on and had everything under control.

But the novelty of Trump’s civility quickly wore off once I began to listen more closely to his words. From him misconstruing COVID statistics, not being able to stay on topic – ever – and comparing himself to the “great” Abraham Lincoln; there was a lot to digest and uncover. However, I will say that the most memorable line that came out of Trump’s mouth was when he had the gall to say he was the “least racist person in the room.”

I personally didn’t see the room he was in, but I can guarantee you that Trump’s claim was most certainly not true. This tweet from the Breakfast Club most accurately describes the thoughts and range of emotions that went through my mind.

Swiftly moving onto Biden.

It’s fair to say that he also had a much better showing at this debate than he did previously. Much of this had to due to the fact that there were far fewer interruptions and he had a chance to elaborate more on his policies and plans. This was also Biden’s last chance to assert his dominance and really show the American people that he is running as his own person and not just former President Obama’s Vice President of eight years.

Biden was able to do that a few times throughout the debate, notably during discussions on healthcare and on the topic of immigration and deportation. Biden was able to speak to his own health care plan, “Bidencare”, which would act as an additional public option to the current Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the country currently has in place. It’s worth noting that Biden and many of the other former Democratic nominees have been chastised and criticized for their attempts at either adding on to ACA or for trying to change the American healthcare system. However, at least one side has ideas on how they would want to implement change. The Trump administration, and Republicans to an extent, have yet to present the People with anything.

Yet, there they are, the Republican Party, trying to take away healthcare from millions of Americans. During a pandemic. It truly doesn’t get any better than this.

Aside from Biden’s sharp answers and quick quips in response to the President’s broadly unproven claims, he was also able to do something that not many politicians find themselves doing–admitting that he made a mistake. This particular mistake was in reference to the 1994 Crime Bill and its accompanying laws that pushed for increased rates of incarceration. At the time, the bill successfully went through Congress and there was a lot of support for it from both sides. However, over the past two decades, opinions on the bill have shifted and its long-term effects on black and brown communities can be seen. Watching Biden step forward and admit his mistake was heartwarming for some to watch. However, for those who have been personally affected by the bill, it was not enough to fully trust Biden or his stances when it comes to the topic of race in America.

One topic in which both candidates seem to have a hard time in finding solid footing is climate change. Now, don’t get me wrong. At least I can go to sleep at night knowing that Biden at least believes in science and doesn’t answer every climate change question with the words “immaculate air” and “immaculate water” every chance he gets. We also can’t rule out the fact that Trump does in fact, “love the environment”, but I also don’t think that’s a good enough reason to follow Trump’s lead either. Although Trump claims that we have “the cleanest air, the cleanest water and the best carbon emission standards”, I don’t think that simply saying we have the greatest resources means that we truly do.

Although Trump is trying to save the economy the best he can, it’s also important to realize that climate change is a long-term issue. There won’t be an economy to save or jobs to work if the world doesn’t survive. Political scientist Larry Sabato said it best: “Climate is a long-term concern, as opposed to joblessness, which is today, or a pandemic, which is today.”

With that in mind, when looking at both candidates, Biden seems to have a sounder plan – rejoining the Paris Agreement, his firm belief in the Green New Deal, and implementing policies that would make the U.S. more climate-friendly. All of these things would have long-term positive effects on the economy and overall standards of living. Whereas Trump has not offered any clear ideas on where the country is heading in terms of climate change and what we can do to at least slow down the process to buy us more time.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this debate between former VP Biden and current POTUS more than any other debate or town hall we’ve seen thus far. It was nice to see some sense of normalcy and cordiality between the two men. It was also a treat to see Welker have a fair chance at moderating the debate and not spend the entire time trying to act as referee for the pair. As the race towards election day heats up, it’ll be exciting to see where this election takes us. Although I’m equally as petrified as I am intrigued about the most important election in U.S. history, at least I can hold my head up high and say that America did have that one civil debate that showed old, white men are in fact capable of keeping it together and providing a front to the world.

And that is just enough to keep me going as I head to the polls to do my civic duty–vote.


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