Jacob Lafarga is a history senior pursuing a teaching credential. The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
On the night of Sept. 29, America was treated to a spectacle for the ages. The first presidential debate — if we can call it that — was held in Cleveland, Ohio featuring the incumbent, President Donald J. Trump, and his competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden. Some would argue that moderator Chris Wallace also joined in on the fun. In a debate filled with insults, cheap shots and utter chaos galore, one man came out on top.
I should preface this by saying that I did not expect President Trump to participate in these debates. I had no evidence for this, other than how he conducts himself daily, but I was pleasantly surprised by his willingness to take stage. I thought, maybe for a second, the President would actually adhere to some gentlemanly conduct and decorum; participate in the fostering of some structured, productive environment for discussion. I was quickly disillusioned and made to look a fool in my own mind at the utterance of his first word.
It went something like this: Chris Wallace (poor guy) would ask Trump a question. Trump would reply in his patented syntax, you know, where he says something like: “Well you know, Chris, nobody really understands this issue, nobody does. I do, but nobody else does, especially not the Democrats. It’s an issue the likes of which nobody has ever seen, nobody. But we’re going to take a look at this issue, and we are going to do it better than anyone in the history of the United States has ever done, believe me.”
Admittedly, I’ve never really been bothered by the way the President speaks. It is in stark contrast to his predecessor, one of the most gifted speakers of all time, but I myself struggle to find the right words for things on the spot at times and end up sounding like an idiot (though perhaps the President should be held to a slightly higher standard than myself).
But no, it wasn’t the Trump-speak that made it awful, it was the Trump-lies and the Trump-interruption and the Trump-bullying.
Roughly every eight in ten times it was Joe Biden’s turn to speak, Trump would interject with something along the lines of, “You are so wrong, Joe,” or a “You work for the radical left, Joe” or a “Your son Hunter is a cocaine addict, Joe, and you’re the last in your class.” Poor Chris Wallace had to tell him to shut up every time, and Biden actually did use the phrase: “Will you shut up, man?” Aside from that anomaly, Joe was relatively cool and composed. Presidential.
Unlike my more liberal friends who seem to be “settling” for Biden, I’ve been a big Joe Biden fan for several months now. I acknowledge he seems to have lost his sharpness a bit. This was part of the reason I had voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. It was evident in the first ten minutes or so of the debate, where Joe seemed unprepared for Trump’s verbal-blitzkrieg strategy (if we can call it that) and would not provide clear answers to questions about topics like court-packing.
As the night progressed, however, we saw a change in Joe. He started to resemble the sharper Joe who served as Vice President for eight years, not the “dementia Joe” we’ve come to know over this past year. He answered almost every question competently, especially compared to his opponent (who failed to provide a clear denunciation of white supremacist and far-right militias), and the questions he dodged seemed more part of a deliberate strategy than comprehension difficulties. More effectively for the audience, he adopted a technique where he would occasionally look directly into the camera, point and say “For you all at home…” He spoke to all Americans while Trump spoke to the Proud Boys.
Whenever Trump was on the attack, Biden smiled, maybe in disbelief, but he still looked in control. Trump smiled maybe once. He was angry and took things too personally.
Was Biden flawless? No. Even after recovering from his first few painful minutes, he struggled primarily with later questions about the protests. He refuted Trump’s accusation that he opposed law and order and wisely made clear that he does not support defunding the police, something most Americans oppose.
However, Trump made him look foolish to Americans concerned with law and order when he brought up all his endorsements from law enforcement across the country, which Biden lacks. Wallace also made Biden look weak by pointing out that Biden had failed to convince Democrat-run cities to more effectively combat rioters. Regardless of whether or not the President deliberately adds fuel to the fire, he at least gives the illusion that he is concerned about law and order with his use of federal troops.
Nevertheless, Joe Biden prevailed, and most of that can be attributed to his competitor. Since the debate, some have accused Chris Wallace of being partisan in favor of Biden, supposedly evidenced by Wallace giving Biden easier questions. Yet, had Trump handled the pandemic better, paid more in federal taxes, not advocated for voter suppression, not acted like a child, and denounced white supremacy, Biden wouldn’t have been given so many freebies.
Biden won the night. Hopefully, he does the same in November.