The key takeaways from the first presidential debate between incumbent President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The first presidential debate, riddled with interruptions and name-calling, covered a wide range of topics from the supreme court vacancy to the pandemic to racial injustice but did not produce coherent and constructive arguments from either side of the podium. The candidates offered more bile and tormenting comments than proposed policy changes for Washington.

With Fox News anchor Chris Wallace as moderator, the debate began with the controversial supreme court vacancy. Wallace questioned the justifiability of the Republican attempt to rush in a new Supreme Court Justice weeks before the presidential election, citing the precedent set during the Merrick Garland nomination. Dodging the question, President Trump responded by describing the qualifications of his SC nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Trump went further to elaborate his executive right to fill the supreme court vacancy, explaining: “A president is elected for four years. We are not elected for three years.” Biden responded: “I’m not opposed to the Justice, she seems like a very nice person” but explained that the American people should have a say in who the supreme court justice ought to be. Postponing the nomination until after the presidential election would accomplish that goal. 

Regarding his stance on packing the court, Biden ducked every question of whether he approves of doing so, which could change the entire composition of its current conservative-leaning majority. 

Regarding the pandemic, Biden attacked Trump’s “failed” COVID-19 response, citing the preventable loss of over 200,000 Americans and the daily increase of 40,000 COVID-19 cases. Biden recalled a quote by President Trump who regarding the coronavirus said: “It is what it is.” 

President Trump fired back, claiming that if Biden were president, the number of American lives lost would be over 2,000,000. Trump argued that his administration successfully produced an abundance of medical gowns, masks, and ventilators for the American people, ending his claim by asserting “[Biden] could never have done the job.” 

The debate turned personal with Biden telling the president of the United States to “shut up” and later calling the president a “clown”. 

President Trump reciprocated the attacks by attacking Joe Biden’s son, who supposedly struggled with drug abuse. Trump said: “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.” This onslaught prompted an immediate emotional response from Biden where he said: “[Hunter has] worked on it. And I’m proud of him”.

In regards to climate change and environmental awareness, Trump said: “I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water, and do whatever else we can that’s good.” But amplified the idea that we should not hurt the economy during the process.

Biden responded saying: “The first thing I will do [if elected president], I will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.” Biden proposed a plan that would supposedly create millions of jobs in America and at the same time promote the use of clean energy.

Both President Trump and Vice President Biden agreed to accept the results of this year’s election, albeit President Trump said on the condition that “it’s a fair election”. 

Notable quotes of the night:

  • Joe Biden in response to Trump saying the democratic party wants to go socialist with medicine: “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party.” 
  • Trump when he asked to condemn white supremacy and far-right extremist groups: “Sure, I’m prepared to do that. But I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. If you look, I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” After being promoted to explicitly do so, Trump said “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
  • After Trump explained his healthcare plan, Biden said: “[Trump] has no plan for healthcare. … The fact is this man has no idea what he’s talking about.”
  • After Biden claimed that Trump needed to “get smarter,” Trump lashed out: “You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me… Don’t ever use that word. Because you know what? There’s nothing smart about you, Joe. Forty-seven years you’ve done nothing.”

The first presidential debate lasted roughly 95 minutes but produced practically no policy nuance that would convince the minds of undecided voters. Die-hard Trump fans strongly believe the President had an amazing first night, while enthusiastic Biden supporters claim the ex-vice president successfully won the night. I, however, claim that neither candidate had a successful night and that the debate was a setback for the entire United States. Both Trump and Biden owed the American public answers to preeminent administrative questions, clarifying their positions on important issues. We were given nothing, though. The American tradition of open dialogue and constructive argumentation was at a loss that night. The great Douglass-Lincoln debate that characterized American deliberation for the last century no longer represented American politics. We, as a nation, are at a loss.

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