A US Presidential Debate or a Brawl of Barking?

While President Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump reported positive for COVID-19 yesterday, and former Vice-president Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden reported negative, let us analyze the recently held first Presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29.

Was it a Presidential debate, or a brawl of barking, to say mildly, between the two prominent debaters? It was a sheer chaotic scene. None of them pronounced what they intend doing for the people or the country if they are elected. This has been the stark feel that one got on watching the first of the scheduled three debates, between US President Donald Trump of the Republican Party and former US Vice President and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, which was telecast worldwide.

The bitterness between them was evident right from the beginning. Joe Biden was already there at the podium when Donald Trump arrived on the stage and took his position. While there was there no customary handshake or a warm hug between them due to COVID-19 precautions, the candidates didn’t seem to care about having a non-physical gesture. Though Biden stretched his hands in a gesture, he quickly took back as Trump was cold to respond. Of course, they are sworn rivals!

The 90-minute war of words began right earnest between the two contestants from the time a seasoned moderator Chris Wallace briefed them before the debate, the modalities to be followed, and asked them to go ahead with their pleadings. Soon, shouting akin to near-barking began and, much to the annoyance of Joe Biden, Donald Trump started interrupting at every stage. Irritated by Trump’s frequent interruptions, Biden blurted out: “Will you shut up man… You are the worst president America has ever had.” Even calling Trump a liar and a clown, Biden said: “The fact is that everything he (Trump) said so far is simply a lie. I am not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he is a liar.”

As the bitter debate was in progress, an irritated host Fox News’ Chris Wallace, in an effort to cool the debaters down, appealed to them: “Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you.” But as Trump pointed out his accusing finger towards Biden, Chris Wallace firmly told Trump: “Frankly, you have been doing more interrupting.”

Trump and Biden also clashed over the Supreme Court vacancy, the administration’s handling of the corona virus and the debate was marked by frequent interruptions and insults by both the candidates.

The debate being dominated by a clash over the issue of racism, the moderator asked Trump, if he was willing to condemn the white supremacists and militia groups, Trump initially said: “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing. I am willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” When Trump was asked to clarify his stand, he said he wanted to know the name of the group, Biden intervened and named the group as “Proud Boys” known as far-right outfit that has been designated as hate group. To that Trump pointed out to the left-wing anti-fascist movement called “Antifa” and said it was not a right-wing problem, and it was a left-wing problem, clearly implying that he would not condemn white supremacists. But Biden accusing Trump of trying to do everything to generate racist divide and hatred, said this President talked about helping African Americans, yet one in 1000 African Americans was killed because of the Corona virus. But one in 500 African Americans would be killed by year-end, if Trump did not act immediately and come to their rescue.

In retaliation, Trump attacked Biden for his role in authoring the controversial 1994 crime bill which had allegedly contributed to mass incarcerations. Trump claimed that he was letting people out of jail now and added: “You have treated the black community as bad as anyone in the country. You called them super-predators and you have called them worse than that.” But Biden, responding to that allegation, said, “I never said it.” Recalling Trump’s past remark that there were “good people on both sides,” in reply to query what he thought about a women was being killed in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Biden said, “No President has ever said anything like that,” suggesting that Trump was siding with white supremacists. Biden said: “It is about equity and equality. It is about decency. It is about the Constitution. And we have never walked away from trying to seek equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America, but we have never accomplished it. Yet, we have never walked away from like he (Trump) has done.”

Chris Wallace referred to a report in the media that Trump had paid only $750 as personal income tax in 2016 and 2017, and asked him when he would make his personal income tax details public, the President said he would eventually release them. “You will get to see them.” Taking advantage of the situation and in an attacking mood, Biden said: “Trump does take advantage of the tax code and pays less tax than a school teacher.” But Trump took it lightly and said that all business leaders do the same, unless they are stupid.” Claiming that he had paid millions of dollars as income tax, he described the media report that he paid just $750 as income tax in the year he was elected US President as “wrong.” When Biden insisted on him to show his tax papers, Trump said: “I paid $83 million one year. I paid $27 million one year. You will see it as soon as it is finished. You will see it.”

With regard to the election process, Trump has been apprehensive of the fairness of outcome of the mail-in ballot system, which has been found credence by majority of voters because of the COVID-19 pandemic fear. The election process did become as another major issue for the debate particularly for Trump, who would not favor the mail-in ballot system. He said that he would not accept the results of the elections if it went against him when all the ballots were counted. The reason — he doubted that all unsolicited mail-in ballots would be subject to fraud and the results of the election should be declared on the Election Day – November 3 – itself. In fact, he asked his supporters to go to the polling stations on the day of the election.

At the conclusion of the torrential debate, the moderator asked both the contestants if they would honor the election results, Trump was clear in not giving a guarantee for peaceful transfer of power, should he lose the election. “This is not going to end well,” Trump said. Trump criticized the US election system pointing out at some stray instances of electoral discrepancies.

In a rage of anger during the debate, Donald Trump mentioned India twice while arguing with Biden. As Biden started cornering Trump on the US government’s response towards the COVID-19 pandemic and the US emerging as the worst-affected country in the world, Trump attempted to shift the blame towards China and India. Trump said: “We don’t know how many people died of Covid-19 in China, Russia, India… because they do not give straight answers; they don’t give real numbers.”

Trump’s memory was very short. He conveniently forgot when he had profusely thanked India for shipping 50 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to the US for treating Covid-19 in April. This was India’s biggest export of the drug to any country that followed a request by Trump to Modi to release supplies of hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for the respiratory disease.

In India, the US Presidential debate has found an echo, when an ‘influential’ Opposition party leader raised an issue against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Senior Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram hit out at Narendra Modi over Donald Trump mentioning India during the Presidential debate. Chidambaram tweeted: “Mr. Donald Trump clubs India with China and Russia and accused the three countries of hiding the number of COVID-19 deaths. He also accused the three countries for causing the most air pollution. Will Modi hold another ‘Namaste Trump!’ rally to honor his dear friend?” After returning from the jail, Chidambaram doesn’t seem to mind firing a ‘salvo of sarcasm’ against Narendra Modi every now and then.

While the first US Presidential debate was a debacle and disastrous, the peoples of the US and the world would wait and watch how the other two forthcoming debates would shape up and influence the voters to elect the next US President. As of this writing, President Trump reported that he was going to be admitted at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to get better care in recovering from COVID-19. Let us hope he recovers soon and gets ready for a little polite debate on October 16, if it is going to be held!

– 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: (Morry Gash / Pool Photo)

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