First Presidential Debate 2020


Allyson Eng, Staff Member

The first of three presidential debates occurred on the night of September 29, with the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, facing the former vice president, Joe Biden. With fifteen minute segments dedicated to six various topics, each candidate was allotted two minutes to respond individually before the question was open to both of them to properly discuss. However, the debate quickly unraveled due to Trump constantly interrupting his opponent, precipitating several inappropriate outbursts to be made by Joe Biden. Thus, with a myriad of insults and offensive remarks embedded among the political disputes between the candidates, the winner of the debate is subjective depending on the mindsets of the observers.

The first segment was dedicated to the Supreme Court and Trump’s nomination to take over the vacant seat. “We won the election, and therefore we have the right to choose [Amy Coney Barret] […] the Democrats wouldn’t even think about not doing it […] the only difference is to try and do it faster,” Trump said. Trump refutes the opinion of the Democrats that a nomination during an election year is an abuse of power, so Biden uses his two minutes to further explain the Democrats’ opinion. “The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is, and that say occurs when they vote for United States senators […] and the president of the United States. They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already,” Biden said. 

The next topic was Covid-19, to which the candidates were to describe why they are better equipped to deal with the situation instead of their opponent. Biden begins with statistics depicting the excessive number of people contracting and perishing from the virus. “[Trump] has no plan. […] He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was [and that it is] a deadly disease. […] He said he didn’t tell us or give people a warning of it because he didn’t want to panic the American people. You don’t panic, he panicked,” Biden said. Biden’s plan was to distribute adequate gear to prevent the disease from spreading, and to assist people with their businesses by providing them with funds. “If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died, not two-hundred thousand,” Trump said. The candidates also argued over the production of the Coronavirus vaccine: the president disagreed with his own scientists and believed that “[…] there’s a possibility that we will have the answer before November first,” Trump said. Biden answers the question with “[…] maybe having the vaccine done by the end of the year, but the distribution […] will not occur until sometime beginning or the middle of next year to get it out – if we get the vaccine,” Biden said. 

The subsequent segment focused on the economy, to which the president and former vice president argue about whether to keep the economy open or shut it down again. “[…] we closed [the economy down] and now we’re reopening, and we’re doing record business. We had 10.4 million people, in a four month period, that we’ve put back into the workforce. […] [Biden] will shut it down again, he wants to destroy this country,” Trump said. Biden utilizes pathos to his advantage in this segment, as he speaks directly to the camera, “But you folks at home, […] how are you doing? […] You can’t fix the economy until you fix the Covid crisis,  and [Trump] has no intention of doing anything to make it better for you all at home, in terms of your health and your safety,” Biden said. Hence, the use of empathy in Biden’s statement enhanced the impact of his words by building more of a connection with the audience, compared to Trump who solely used logistics. 

By the fourth segment, Trump was asked to clarify whether or not he payed $750 in federal income taxes between 2016-2017. In response, Trump refutes the statement by claiming to have paid millions of dollars in taxes, although evidence of this claim has not been provided. “[Trump] says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. […] that’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts,” Biden said. By changing the tax system, sufficient investments would be made to help the people that are struggling financially, and to prohibit people from cheating the tax system.

The penultimate segment prompted the candidates to elaborate on why they should be trusted to deal with race issues. “[…] we have never walked away from trying to acquire equity for everyone and all of America. […] We have never accomplished it – but we have never walked away from it like [Trump] has done,” Biden said. Furthermore, Biden depicts Trump’s reaction of using teargas on people peacefully protesting for Black Lives Matter where he went to a church and held a Bible in his hands. Biden also describes the method he would use to prevent other racial tragedies from happening: to “[…] call together an entire group of people at the White House, everything from the civil rights groups and police officers, the police chiefs, and we’re going to work this out,” Biden said.  Trump then accuses the former vice president of using the term “super predators” to refer to African Americans; however, Biden did not actually use that phrase. A prominent moment during the debate occurred when Trump dismissed condemning white supremacists. “I’m willing to do anything – I want to see peace. […] Who do you want me to condemn? Proud boys: stand back and stand by,” Trump said.

Finally, the last segment allowed the candidates to summarize everything that they had discussed previously to convince America to vote for them. “[…]There has never been an administration or president that has done more than I’ve done in a period of three and a half years. […] The greatest before Covid came in – the greatest economy in history – the lowest unemployment numbers,” Trump said. The president continues emphasizing how the economy is steadily recovering to prove his case. “When I was vice president, we inherited a recession, I was asked to fix it, I did, and we left [Trump] a booming economy, and he caused a recession,” Biden said. He provides statistics that depict how violence in America has increased by fifteen percent since Trump became president which has led to more division in the country. The candidates also discuss several other topics such as climate change and how to make the elections fair. 

Therefore, because the debate was chaotic and unprofessional at times, neither of the candidates can unanimously be proclaimed as the winner. As there are two more debates left, there could be a different outcome where one candidate performs more successfully than the other. Nonetheless, Americans are preoccupied with deciding on how they will vote, and the subsequent debates will be anticipated.