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Column: First debate a low point for political discourse

On Tuesday Sept. 29, the two primary candidates for President of the United States met for their first of three scheduled debates. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met for the debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderated.

Throughout 2020, polls have depicted the race as relatively static, with Biden consistently holding what amounts to a slim-to-moderate advantage. That will likely remain unchanged moving forward.

That said, the viewing experience was abysmal, replete with bickering matches and, particularly in the case of Trump, talking over the other or the moderator. Many who are not particularly enthused with either candidate will regard it as a low point in American political discourse.

Trump found some of his most visible success in pressing Biden on the subject of social unrest and rioting in major cities, which Trump characterizes as a problem endemic to “Democrat-run” cities and states.

Trump seemed to have Biden on the ropes, but likely terminated any positive momentum gained with an incredible moment regarding groups like Proud Boys or other white supremacist organizations. When asked to denounce these groups and their role in any criminal activity, Trump seemed incapable of doing so, offering one of his patented verbal self-owns by commenting that the group Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by” before launching into a tirade about left-wing violence.

This, along with several non-sensical comments about voter fraud (throwing ballots into the river?) and an inability to remain civil and quiet for longer than 15 seconds at a time, manifested the Trumpian Trifecta of public speaking: One part conspiracy theory, one part inarticulate rambling and one part mind-bendingly inappropriate comment.

But the night was not without some real success for Trump, who exploited the policy divide amongst members of the Democratic party by forcing Biden to disavow some of the progressive wing’s more important projects. This was a boon for Trump, strategically speaking, as it puts stress on the already tenuous relationship between Biden’s campaign and voters who would’ve preferred a candidate like Senator Bernie Sanders.

Biden can probably count his performance at the debate as his primary victory for the night. Though coverage and opinion on his mental acuity vary across the political landscape, Biden entered the night to some question about his ability to perform in the debate.

Generally, Biden seemed composed and articulate, though he struggled to counter many of Trump’s more off-the-cuff comments. Notably, Biden did conjure up some vintage Biden moments (I’m old enough to remember the verbal thrashing he handed Paul Ryan eight years ago – where does the time go?) and capitalized on them.

His scathing assessment of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was a particular high point for Biden – it was one of a few notable segments where Biden was able to drive a point home with little effective rebuttal from Trump.

In the end, the likely result of this debate was both candidates being able to reify their supporters’ perception of themselves and little else. It would be fair to say that Trump controlled much of the tone and pace of the debate, even if he did so with the school-yard tactics that are a hallmark of his public speaking.

But Biden generally held his own and had no major gaffes. Little will change regarding voter sentiment, meaning that the night was somewhat of a Biden victory by default. Still, it’s hard to declare a real “winner” in an event like this.

The quote I will remember most from this debate didn’t come from either of the candidates but the moderator. During a verbal skirmish between the two candidates, one of many that rose to an absolute cacophony, we found our tired moderator, Wallace, shouting “Stop, stop, stop, STOP!” to bring the debate back to a semblance of order.

In that moment, shouting “Stop” at the two men who effectively represent either side of our massive political divide, Wallace did a better job speaking for the American people than either candidate. There may not have been a clear winner of the debate, but there was a clear loser, and it’s all of us.

Written by Robert Davison,Staff Writer. Photo courtesy of pexels.

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