The final US Presidential debate, 12 days before the scheduled November 3 elections that was held on October 22 night was very smooth, well organized and hence meaningful. The debate was held in the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The contestants and Presidential hopefuls — Republican nominee and incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden — were this time well disciplined, and unlike the shouting and interrupting each other during the first debate that was chaotic on September 29.
The seasoned NBC reporter, Kristen Welker, who was the moderator, needs to be appreciated, for ably conducting the debate. She announced rules and the topics for the debate. The topics included, Trump handling of Carona19 pandemic, immigration, racism, environment, Obamacare, employment and minimum wage issue, Trump’s soft corner of North Korea, his not filing tax returns, and corruption charges.
As a final word, when Kristen Welker asked both the contests to sum up their views and say what they would say at their inauguration to those Americans who didn’t vote for them on the Election Day, Trump said: “We have to make our country totally successful as it was before the plague (COVID-19) came in from China. … Success is going to bring us together, we are on the road to success.” As if to mock at Biden, Trump added: “If he (Biden) gets in, we will have a depression the likes of which we’ve never seen.” Biden said: “I will say I’m the American President, I represent all of you whether you voted for or against me. … We’re going to choose to move forward because there are enormous opportunities to get better.”
At the start of the debate, when Trump was asked to field the first question of the debate that how he would lead the country while the coronavirus was moving forward, he did not offer many specifics but said: “We have a vaccine that’s coming… within weeks and the virus will go away.” Speaking about his “personal experience” contracting the virus, he said: “I had it and I got better.” In spite of the number of cases going up and the deaths continuing, Trump repeatedly said: “We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner on the pandemic.”
Saying Trump should be held responsible for COVID-19 deaths, Biden said: “Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America. The expectation is that we will have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year.” If elected, Biden said, he would encourage mask wearing, provide for nationwide rapid testing, set national standards for reopening schools and businesses and give them the wherewithal to do that. I will take care of this. I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan.”
Trump accused Biden of wanting to keep the country shutdown during the pandemic, saying, “All he does is talk about shutdowns.” “We have to open our country. It’s a massive country with a massive economy. Biden wants to shut down the country altogether. He wants to close the country; he is one person in our massive bureaucracy to shut it down.”
Trump accused Biden of having surreptitious dealings in China and Ukraine, so it wasn’t a surprise he brought them up on the debate stage. Trump alleged: “You (Biden) were Vice President when some of this was happening. I think you owe the American people an explanation… you need to clean it up and talk to the American people.”
Biden responded by saying, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source in my life,” and then he brought up a New York Times report that revealed Trump has an account in a Chinese bank. Biden then went after Trump on his taxes pointing out, “I have released 22 years of my tax returns. You have not released a single solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling to? Foreign countries are paying you a lot. Russia is paying you a lot. China is paying you a lot. And you have hotels and business all around the country, all around the world.”
Trump responded that he had spoken to his accountants about releasing his tax returns when the audit of them was complete. “I get treated very badly by the IRS, very unfairly. But we had a deal done, as soon as we’re completed with the deal, I want to release it,” Trump added. Biden mocked Trump’s answer. “He’s been saying this for four years. Show us. Just show us. Stop playing around,” Biden said.
The moderator asked Biden and Trump what they would do about North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. Biden argued saying that Trump “legitimized North Korea” through his friendly relationship with Kim Jong-un and compared it to “making nice with Hitler before World War II.” Biden further added, “What does he (Trump) do? He embraces guys like the thugs… like North Korean leader and the Chinese President and Putin and others and pokes his finger that of all our friends, all of our allies.” Biden said he would only meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if he agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Trump responded that Kim “didn’t like Obama” and suggested that the US was on the road to war before he (Trump) became president. “We’re not in a war, we have a good relationship,” Trump added. Trump responded that the Obama administration Biden had been part of “left me a mess.” “There was a very dangerous period the first three months. They left me a mess and Obama would be the first to say it,” Trump said, adding his outreach to Kim averted a potential nuclear war.
With regard to the question of a $15 minimum wage, Trump and Biden had divergent views. While Biden said he supported a federal minimum wage, Trump said the wage should be left to states. It should be a state option. Alabama was different from New York. New York was different from Vermont. Every state was different, Trump said. He claimed many businesses would have to fire employees if the federal government mandated a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Biden said that the first responders were risking their lives and their minimum wage during the pandemic should be at least $15 an hour. “Anything below that puts you below the poverty level and there is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage businesses go out of business,” he said.
Trump was asked about a report that hundreds of missing migrant parents, who were separated from their children, but he defended his immigration policies. “The children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people… and they use them to get into our country,” Trump said. He added that migrant children “are so well taken care of” and accused Biden and former President Barack Obama of doing “nothing except build cages.” Biden argued that the Trump administration is deliberately separating migrant children from their parents “at the border to make it a disincentive.” “They got separated from their parents,” Biden said, adding it “violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
The moderator asked both candidates if they understood why Black parents have to have the so-called ‘talk’ with their young people growing up. “Do you understand why these parents fear for their children?” Biden said: “The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America. And we have always said– we’ve never lived up to it; we hold these truths to be self-evident; all men and women are created equal. Well guess what we have never ever lived up to that.” Trump turned the question into an attack on Biden for the 1994 Crime Bill that Biden authored which “put tens of thousands of Black men in jail.” “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump,” Trump said, claiming credit for bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation passed by Congress in 2018. “I had to twist so many arms. It was not a pretty thing,” Trump said.
Following Trump’s claim that he’s “done more for Black” Americans than any President except Abraham Lincoln, Biden unleashed a torrent against the President. Biden said: “Abraham Lincoln — here is one of the most racist Presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire.”
Biden and Trump expressed divergent views over climate change. Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change when it took office in 2017. Trump said: “I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs, thousands and thousands of companies because of the Paris Accord, it was so unfair.” He said that China, Russia and India would be allowed to continue polluting while the US would have been required to invest billions in transitioning to renewable energy sources.
Biden said the US had “to move toward a net zero emissions” by phasing out the fossil fuel economy. He added: “Climate change and global warming are an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation. We are told by all the leading scientists in the world.” Biden said his plan to shift the US to clean energy was endorsed by environmental groups and labor unions because it would create new jobs.
The changed format for the final Presidential debate has proven to be a great success. And both the contestants have presented their views in a restrained way; it is now anybody’s guess about the poll results.
Because of early voting and mail-in ballot systems have been in effect, an estimated 45 million American voters have already exercised their franchise.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.
Picture Credits: chicagotribune.com / The New York Times