The first presidential debate shows bleak future for American politics

I fear that the coverage covering the first presidential debate will revolve around the astounding lack of civility. The two candidates were often unable to restrain themselves from speaking over one another.

President Donald Trump was openly belligerent and disrespectful, while former Vice President Joe Biden made occasional mistakes and was silent after the moderator reminded him of the rules. There was a period in which Biden attempted to simply ignore the president’s rambling nonsense when Trump attempted to speak over him and instead address the American public and moderator Chris Wallace, but he always gave in and commented on Donald Trump’s claims instead of making his own. This was obviously a tactical mistake on Biden’s part, as Trump wins debates not by being correct and having better opinions, but by proving that he is stronger than his opponents and able to push them around. But outside the messy, unclear words of two grown men shouting over one another and a frustrated moderator frequently having to interrupt the two men in the same way a parent interrupts squabbling children, the debate still had some important content.

After the first public meeting of the two candidates, one thing has become abundantly clear: one side stands for small, meaningless change that is more concerned with treating symptoms than root causes of America’s vast array of issues, and one side seeks to use every tool in his arsenal to stoke fear and hatred, with the intention of generating maximal profit and maintaining the violent social hierarchies which benefit him the most. 

During the debate, Trump asserted that the Obama administration had been so ineffective that it could not fill judicial appointments, something which actively clashes with the reality that Obama’s appointments were blocked by McConnell’s Senate in the same way that they blockaded his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Trump essentially attacked Biden’s leadership for not being able to exploit his position of power as effectively as his own party. Biden had no real response to this, nor the questions about ending the filibuster. In recent memory, the ability of a small group of senators to entirely halt the process of any political mechanism that they disagree with has been one of the most egregious issues of the American republic. Biden had little to say on these systemic problems, instead imploring the people to vote in better senators.

Trump criticized Biden for his part in the 1994 crime bill, which is an apt criticism — the bill has highly problematic elements which massively increased the incarcerated population in the U.S., expanded the national shame that was the war on drugs, expanded the death penalty, and incentivized a larger, more violent, and less socially productive police force. But again, this criticism came from a president who gassed peaceful protestors for a photo-op and who accused his opponent, just minutes later, of being too soft on crime and being unable to say the words “law enforcement.” Trump was directly responsible for the fact that more federal executions took place in 2020 than the last 57 years combined, as the practice was nearly abolished at the federal level until the Trump administration, so suddenly pretending to be the understanding and compassionate candidate seems entirely like an attempt to reappropriate the progressive wing of the Democratic Party’s criticism of Biden during the primary. This attack from the entirely wrong side of the political aisle should serve as a reminder that strongmen and authoritarians like the current president do not have beliefs, they have enemies. They do not care what they need to do or say to gain power, so long as it works. 

After the posturing and the difference in favorite color are accounted for, Trump and Biden really do agree on quite a bit. They are both proponents of the police state lacking any accountability to the citizen, and if anyone is so angered by the extrajudicial executions which have been occurring of racial minorities in the streets of the United States that they feel the need to lose their civility, their anger should be entirely discounted because they are not angry in the right way. Violence has no place in protest, unless it is coming from the hundreds of bad apples who incite it by instigating fights and being needlessly violent with people who have yet to commit crimes.

Both of them are massive supporters of exploitative capitalism, with Trump preferring the crony capitalism variety and Biden trying his darndest to raise corporate taxes while being remarkably silent on the true issue of the American economy, that being that although GDP and the value of the markets may have risen dramatically, the vast majority of Americans have not seen their wages rise and have not benefited from the economic boom the country has ostensibly seen. While a public health insurance option would certainly be swell, no one should be forced to choose between crushing debt and their life — it does not address the true issue. The United States has staggering wealth inequality, and the vast majority of those at the top have found themselves there by siphoning wealth out of their workers and destroying competition with their preexisting hoards of wealth. This is not something that can be fixed with a few additional public programs. As necessary as those programs may be, they cannot be the main objective.

The difference between the two men is that Biden has a respect for the American system of government, as flawed as it may be. Trump does not.

Biden cares if his actions are, at the very least, criminal. Biden wants to help but simply lacks the imagination and the leadership; he cannot escape the neoliberal mind prison he was raised in. Trump does not care about morals, ethics, civility, compassion, or empathy. To Trump, America’s enemies are numerous, they seek to destroy America out of a hatred for freedom, and it is the moral prerogative of the straight, white, Protestant American to destroy them. That is why, in the middle of the debate, he refused to condemn white supremacy, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.” When asked to condemn racism, he said someone has to do something about those antifascists. When asked about racism, he called for suppression of political dissidents. When asked to condemn the greatest criticism of the president over the last four years, he named an overtly racist, misogynistic, racist, far-right, fascist organization that has been involved in multiple instances of political violence. He named the mechanism. He named the target. There are no two ways about it, Trump knows who his real supporters are, the true believers, the red laces, the patriot militias. He wants his Brownshirts to know that they are heard, so he gave them a shoutout on national television.

There is no debate on who the correct choice is. One man condemns white supremacy, the other man thrives on it. One man believes in climate change, the other is, at the very best, indifferent. One man is at the very least trying to do what he thinks is right, the other is doing what he thinks will make a profit. To my fellow seniors, swallow your pride and vote. He is not the best option, but he is the only option we have left.