“Shut up, Man” and Other Thoughts on the First Presidential Debate

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I was really on the fence as to whether I was going to watch the first presidential debate. I have already voted via absentee ballot, so nothing anyone said was going to make me change my mind. There are a ton of things I could have done instead of watching the debate that would have been far more pleasant. Waxing the hair on my upper lip, for example. Burpees, which are the world’s worst exercise. Accidentally inhaling a bug while biking. “But our democracy,” I thought to myself. “It’s important to be an informed citizen,” I told myself. “Maybe,” and here’s where my optimism will make you laugh, “the debate will actually be reassuring.”

Reader, it was not.

My first thought was, “who on Earth picked out those ties? Are stripes in? I don’t like them.” My next thought was, “oh, God. I live in this country and I’m invested in its future.” That’s an unenviable position to be in—almost as unenviable as the position Chris Wallace was in as the moderator of this debate. Wallace came off as rather ineffectual, but when faced with two senior citizens shouting at each other I think he did his best.

The first topic of the debate was Trump’s recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the late Justice Ginsburg’s position on the Supreme Court. Trump and Biden proceeded to shout at each other for several minutes. Trump seemed to think she’d be great, although he was rather vague about what she would be great at. Biden said she seems like a perfectly nice person, but that she’d be bad for healthcare and women’s rights. There was more shouting.

The segment on Covid-19, guaranteed to be contentious, was somehow worse than I expected. 200,000 Americans have died, and more than a million people have died worldwide. And yet, should we believe scientists? Should we wear masks? What about vaccines? Obviously, a vaccine would be incredible. In the past, however, it has taken years to develop vaccines. Will we have one by the end of the year? Personally, I doubt it. I would be skeptical of anything pushed through without proper testing. FDA protocols exist for a reason, and that reason is to protect consumers.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what happened during the section that was supposed to be about the economy. There was more shouting. Wallace had reached the point of exasperation where he was smiling but clearly didn’t mean it.

“Race and Violence in our Cities” is a segment title that had me nervous. Very, very nervous. Trump is clearly racist, and Biden is too, albeit more passively. (I am firmly in the camp that believes you can’t just be not racist; you have to be anti-racist.) I am not convinced that either candidate said any useful during this segment. On the bright side, I learned that I’ve been pronouncing antifa incorrectly this whole time. On the downside, Trump equivocated and refused to denounce white supremacists. Again. Yeah, I’m just as shocked as you are.

The section where they were supposed to defend their records was basically just more shouting.

In a surprising move, Wallace then brought up climate change in the wake of the California wildfires. I wasn’t aware it was going to be discussed tonight. Maybe he was hoping this would shut Trump up while he had to recall statistics. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I would estimate—and this is just a rough estimate—that 100% of what Trump had to say about climate change was false. He strenuously insisted that he wants clean water. This is the man that, in 2019, repealed Obama era expansions on the 1972 Clean Water Act. Then he rambled about computers in cars? Trump insists that the environment and the economy need to be balanced. However, the way this is explained in 100-level environmental science classes is that an economy exists in a society, which exists in an environment. Everything rests on the environment—without it, you can’t have a society or an economy.

Biden said some stuff about green jobs and rejoining the Paris Agreement which is all very well, but the Paris Agreement lacks teeth. There’s no real enforcement. We need something stronger. He also insists he doesn’t support the Green New Deal. Major eyeroll.

The final section (thank God) was on election integrity (yikes). Biden was actually rather coherent here, pointing out that there’s no evidence that mail-in ballots are more likely to be fraudulent. He was also insistent about voting, which I agree is one of the most important things you can do. Trump’s response was to accuse Hillary Clinton of trying to implement a coup and announce that “this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen before.” He described it as “a rigged election.” This is incredibly dangerous rhetoric. It’s as if, when asked how he would ensure election integrity, Trump said, “I won’t.”

Trump refused to say he would wait for the election results to be independently verified before declaring victory. Biden simply said, “yes” when he was asked if he would wait for independent verification.

I know there have been a lot of “I don’t know who won the debate, but the American people lost” jokes over the years, so I’m not going to make another one. However, watching this debate gave me heartburn. I imagine Chris Wallace feels the same.

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