Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 25, 2020
The best part of the night is that it is over — the confrontations, some forceful attempts at bullying, the rewrites of history, actually even practically the last time we have to see Donald Trump and Joe Biden together on the same stage.
Hey, we’re already voting, and those last-second pitches and attacks felt like water off a duck’s back. Worse than obnoxious behavior may be irrelevance.
Basically, what we got in a calmer debate was a collision of visions. Trump sees a business-dominant America, even in a pandemic, with fewer federal programs and individual responsibility to take care of oneself — except for areas where he has an interest like abortion. Biden embraces bigger government services, health care, environment and caring for the vulnerable.
But what they mostly did was attack each other’s character.
Trump likely did not persuade new voters. Biden may have done so, but certainly did not lose any.
The hard part was sitting still while they went at it, trying to remember that Hunter Biden isn’t running against Xi Jinping for U.S. president. At some points, you wondered whether they could agree on what color the stage was.
The winners: The threat of the mute button and pre-debate coronavirus testing.
Losers were accuracy, and any consistent belief in our institutions.
The biggest focus, of course, was on the candidates’ demeanor, on how an infantile Trump would react to new rules to shut the microphones to ensure both could be heard, on whether Biden was ready for the inevitable questions about his son arising in recent days and on whether Trump had a good answer for questions arising from disclosures that he paid more to the Chinese government in taxes than to the IRS.
A Reasonable Start
It started reasonably enough, with plenty of by-play. Trump seemed to have taken his politeness pills. It heated up over time.
The approaches to coronavirus predictably set the tempo once again: Trump praised himself and his government; Biden said anyone who allowed 220,000 deaths from virus should not be returned to office. Of course, neither guy can stop the pandemic, but they split on the role of leadership, which, after all, is the main qualification for the job. At issue here: Who’s got a plan?
In truth, at this point of the campaign, replaying the past months seemed old. Trump’s plan: Live with contagion, and open businesses quickly. Biden: Rapid testing and making resources available to open businesses and schools.
The message to voters was to apply a truth test to all the issues being raised.
That truth front got difficult quickly, since Trump turned national security questions to the Hunter Biden matter as if that has proved the most important issue of the election. Biden effectively shoved several sharp attacks into his pre-planned remarks about security, though they were equally oblique at times.
Trump re-played his victim card, again, about how he was spied on by the Obama administration, facts notwithstanding. Biden insisted there was nothing unethical with his son’s dealings in Ukraine. There was similar foot-shuffling about Trump’s investments in China and elsewhere.
Truth was elusive. I doubt if there was anything understandable here for any voter turning in for the first time. It certainly wasn’t dipositive to any vote choice. It was Biden who took the adult role here in returning the focus to policy-making.
On health care, there was discernible disagreement, and the usual Trump promise for a non-existent plan but at least it was put forward as politicians might normally do — until Trump threw fracking into the mix for a confusing minute.
Economics was a policy minefield, with each cherry-picking familiar facts, figures and emphases to underscore their party differences.
Immigration statements reflected long-standing biases over issues like separating children from parents. Trump’s easy answer: Blame Biden-Obama and then coyotes, not his own policies to rip children from parents. Biden’s answer was simpler: Blame Trump. Trump never showed a whit of caring about what has left 545 children from being reunited with family.
Race provided an invite to empathy, with a plea to talk to Black parents. But Trump didn’t take the bait, choosing instead to make clear that he does not want America defined by its institutional racism, praising himself, and mischaracterizing Black Lives Matter. Biden offered a much more straight-forward, realistic picture of racism, and again saying he erred in supporting a 1994 crime bill that boosted Black imprisonments.
Judge character in this race, said Biden, pointing to Trump and calling him a liar who has stoked the fires of racism. Sure, said Trump turning to Biden and calling him a corrupt politician, and insisted he is not racist.
Then Trump stood on a record of ignoring climate change and eliminating environmental regulations as providing us with crystal clear water and protection of U.S. businesses. Biden had to point out that science tells us that global warming is an existential threat to the planet. As a debate, it was merely a repetition of what we know about each candidate, except for knocking down buildings and taking out windows.
Trump wants Success — — for successful people. Biden wants Unity, dignity and less divisiveness.
Trump’s best case: Joe, why didn’t you do it before?
Biden’s best case: Trump is ruinous to the country.