An American Nightmare

On a night which saw American politics dive deeper into the divisive and destructive fray, is anyone really a winner from last night's debate?

SEPTEMBER 30th, 2020

President Donald Trump and Former Vice-President Joe Biden battle in the first presidential debate - © Getty Images


hat was a s***show,” said CNN Correspondent Dana Bash, moments after the most brutal, unsavoury and shocking American Presidential debates in history. “Apologies for being crude. But that is really the phrase I’m getting from people on both sides of the aisle on text and the only phrase I can think of to describe it.” She concluded. After 90 minutes of insults and constant interrupting, where any arguments simply became noise, it’s hard to see how the first of three debates could be described in any other fashion.

Hosted by Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace, it wasn’t long for the debate, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio, to quickly descend into complete chaos. From the offset the argumentative and hectoring tone was evident as both men sparred over healthcare, resulting in Joe Biden calling President Trump a “clown”.

Highlights from the first Presidential Debate - © Sky News

As the debate moved onto the Supreme Court, the rancour continued, with Biden refusing to confirm whether he would try to expand the overall number of judges. With Trump consistently interrupting any attempt for the Democratic nominee to answer, Biden eventually retorted: “Will you shut up, man? Later adding: “Keep yapping, man.”

Naturally Trump responded with similar anger, saying: “The people understand, Joe. Forty-seven years [in politics], you’ve done nothing. They understand.”

Whilst the pair battled over all manner of subjects, one exchange has since dominated conversations across the globe. Asked by Chris Wallace if President Trump was prepared to condemn white supremacists, he initially stated he would. Yet when pushed further to denounce the far-right group, Proud Boys, by name, he shockingly sidestepped. Mr Trump said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

Mr Biden responded to the President’s comments, saying: “This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division.”

Trump’s refusal to condemn the far-right group received almost universal criticism, including Van Jones. Immediately reacting to the debate, the political commentator said: “Only three things happened for me tonight. Number one: Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy. Number two: The President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy! Number three: The Commander-in-Chief refused to condemn white supremacy on the global stage in front of my children, in front of everybody’s families.”

President Trump made shocking comments failing to condemn white supremacy - © Getty Images

Jones didn’t stop there, however. He also alluded to a disturbing reaction from the Proud Boys group online: “He gave a wink and a nod to a racist Nazi murderous organisation that is now celebrating online, that is now saying ‘We have a go-ahead’. Look at what the Proud Boys are doing right now online because The President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy.”

That alluded reaction stated by Jones was the inclusion of President Trump’s words dominating a new slogan for the far-right group, “Stand back. Stand by.” Furthermore, accounts linked to the Proud Boys’ group posted onto the social media app Telegram, saying: “Standing down and standing by sir,” and included the caption beneath a video of Trump’s comments “God. Family. Brotherhood.”

Although Trump’s comments were arguably the lowest moment from the debate, it hardly reached the echelons of popularity. Joe Biden was declared the winner by most political commentators, yet for some Democratic voters his performance was nowhere near good enough.

“He’s going to need to do a better job if he wishes to punch through with voters. Last night was a screaming match and whilst that was expected with Trump, Biden effectively rolling in the dirt beside the President didn’t go down well with voters,” said one Democrat commentator.

Democratic commentators claimed Joe Biden would have to "do better" next time around - © Getty Images

Irrespective of who was victorious last night, it was hardly a victory to celebrate. Over 100 million viewers tuned in to watch the political car crash and most were left with little confidence of a prosperous and peaceful future for the country. “What a mess, a joke, a disgrace – there are not enough words to describe this catastrophe,” tweeted one viewer.

“I cannot believe that this is the best America can offer the world – what an embarrassment,” claimed another.

What became apparent as the dismal 90 minutes excruciatingly continued, was irrespective of political loyalty, there was only one loser from the whole sorry affair – the American people. As these two candidates hurled insults, name called, screamed, shouted and interrupted endlessly, you couldn’t help but feel deep sympathy for the American populace. They simply didn’t deserve this pantomime without a punchline, though the most worrying question for both Trump and Biden, of which both now face, is will their performances impact voter turnout?

It has long been touted that those voters who remain undecided have the power to swing this election either way, and instead of convincing them to vote blue or red, both Biden’s and Trump’s camps are deeply worried that they could now choose to stay at home. Capri Cafaro, Former Ohio Senator and Democratic Leader, claimed on Good Morning Britain: “For undecided voters left in America, I think that maybe after they saw last night's debate, maybe their decision is to sit at home and that is sad. It's because this debate was such an absolute disgrace.”

The Former Senator went further claiming that Biden wasn’t “forceful enough” and didn’t make a “strong enough case for himself”, especially when it came to the coronavirus pandemic, a sentiment shared by many Democratic voters. “That should’ve been an easy win for Biden. Trump has made a mess of the pandemic, and yet his argument for the economy came across stronger than Biden’s criticisms.”

The President and Former Vice-president take part in the first presidential debate in the 2020 election - © Getty Images

Among the Republican camps, Trump also didn’t manage to exude confidence. “He looked rattled to me, defensive and up for a brawl,” said one Republican commentator. “Obviously you’d expect it from Trump, but many supporters are feeling his attacks are becoming too personal.”

The debate was the first of three to take place in the runup to the election – dubbed as the most important in America’s history – yet after last night, is there an appetite for anymore?

Whether there is or isn’t, neither Democrats nor Republicans can celebrate this morning. This disgraceful show last night was, not only unpresidential, but an insult to the democratic process which has been diluted over the past four years. A “s***show” it may have been, but it was one that neither Trump nor Biden can risk happening again.

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