A Brit’s Take on the 1st US Presidential Debate
I really wasn’t planning to write this article today, but it’s one of those that I could barely stop myself typing as I watched the US presidential debate here in the UK this morning.
It was certainly compelling — but probably not for the right reasons.
I am known as an economic writer, not a political one, but the two often do go hand in hand, which, depending on which school of economics you subscribe to, is either a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, I may not be especially qualified on the political front having never held any office greater than a non-sabbatical role at University, but I am a reasonably intelligent observer and have been following British and American politics for years.
In fact, I have a habit of staying up all night to see election results for reasons I am not entirely sure of. Maybe it’s the outcome, but perhaps it’s more about the show and the journey to get there, but in any case I can’t stop myself. This debate was no different.
As a fifty year old white middle class male, the pollsters will tell me I have a natural bias for one candidate or the other, but actually I don’t know what it is myself — such is the weird science that now lies behind modern elections. And being British it means it’s entirely irrelevant since I can’t post a vote anyway.
In any case, as Chris Wallace, the chosen moderator from Fox news (Is that Trump’s favorite network? Or is that the one he doesn’t like? I forget now) introduced the debate he seemed calm, succinct and in control. However, that wasn't to last very long.
Right from the off, it became clear that neither candidate was really going to answer any questions, especially Trump who used his well practiced and extremely irritating “I’ll just shout you down and keep talking over you with false accusations, random (unrelated) information and completely made up “facts” to win by attrition” tactic that seems, incredibly, to have served him so well throughout his life.
Is he really that intimating in real life that everyone just gives in to him and lets him do that? Why?
Even Wallace was not immune from the “Trump Effect,” backing down when challenged on more than one occasion and allowing Trump to talk through anyway. I don’t think it was through any bias per se, it seems to be more like a genuine fear of what would happen if he made his challenge stick.
On several occasions, in fact, Trump gave Wallace permission to carry on by giving him a magnanimous “go ahead” when he wanted to move to the next section. Just who is moderating who here?
This would never happen on Jeremy “Politician’s Nightmare” Paxman’s watch, but you’d have to be British to understand that reference. In fact, the point at which Wallace “challenged” (I use the word very loosely) Trump about his tax returns, the latter was able to brush it aside with ease. Paxman would have simply repeated the question, with increasing intensity, until it was answered, no matter how long it took. And he wouldn’t give a crap if Trump didn't like it or threatened his job.
I’ve always believed that debates should be iron-clad, incorruptible and, above all, terrifying events for the candidates, rather than what now appears to be a shouty reality TV show. They should step into the ring knowing that any false claims, lies or even exaggerations will be publicly disproved at any time.
For example, if one of the candidates made a claim the other disputed, the proceedings should be stopped and the facts checked by a team of entirely impartial checkers, there and then. If it’s a false claim, the candidate gets a black mark. If it’s true and the opponent denied it, they get the black mark. Get three and you lose speaking time. Get more and you’re probably finished anyway.
That said, with Trump’s notorious lies now totally over 20,000 according to, well, numerous sources (all undoubtedly “fake news”) it would be a long, long debate, which he would still probably win as this plays nicely into his “wear them down by attrition” tactic.
So, while Trump came across, once again, as a bullying, narcissistic, ego-centric and, frankly, unhinged maniac, Joe Biden came across a rather dodgery, but nevertheless lovable grandfather who’s been let out for a while to play politics.
His age was apparent at times, and although I had seen selected soundbites where this was also implied, this was the first time it really struck me. This is an unremarkable career politician who is best suited to be a Vice-President (he has plenty of experience in that role) or any other role where he has a direct supervisor he can check with.
I will admit there’s something quite likeable about the man, but only in the way I’d like to bring him a cup of hot chocolate and chat about the old days. (Well, that and the fact he’s not Trump.) I really wouldn’t wish the presidency on him, not now. I’m simply not confident he’ll be able to take it. I’m genuinely worried for him.
He was no match for Trump’s aggressive and off-putting constant interruptions, but, to be fair, could you really get a point across under those circumstances? Trump interrupted a total of 73 times according to the BBC and other outlets and when you consider Biden only spoke for 43 minutes, that works out at one interruption every 35 seconds.
That’s tough for any candidate to deal with, especially Biden who lacks that natural authority to manage it, but the bigger question is, why did Wallace let this happen in the first place? Take control, man. It’s your show. If either candidate is out of line (Biden did some interrupting too, just not as much), you bring them back in, fast and hard.
Overall, this debate was either by design or accident a poorly managed embarrassing mess for the candidates and the country. America has suffered badly in terms of credibility and international standing over the last four years and very few politicians take Trump seriously, even fewer (if any) like the man.
He is a disaster as a businessman, president and, most importantly, as a human being. However, there’s no denying he is popular among right wing nationalists and certain other groups, but there’s also no denying that his popularity is finally waning.
Of course, other world leaders will still welcome him and deal with him because he represents the most powerful country on earth. At least for now, although I’d be surprised if that is still the case by the end of this decade should the wall building and isolationist policies continue.
But could Biden really do any better? I'm not sure he could last four years of trying to fix the mess he’s been left, he just doesn’t appear to have the strength, charisma or drive to do it. Hell, I'm not even sure he’ll make it through the debates, assuming there are any more.
So, where does that leave us? Or, more appropriately, you, as Americans?
Of course, here in the UK we have our own problems, but they pale into insignificance when compared to what you’re dealing with right now.
I would add, however, that I don’t wish to come across as anti-USA because it’s not the case. It’s a country I’ve visited many, many times, often for extended periods, both through work and pleasure and there are many great things about it that I love.
But, I have to confess, I could never live there; too many rules, not enough health service* and, right now, too much uncertainty, division and lack of leadership.
As a Brit watching on, I sincerely hope you find your way through and emerge stronger than ever, but right now as a voter, you’re between a rock and a hard place.
One of these men will be President of your great country.
Either way it’s a terrifying thought.
You have my sympathies.
The US healthcare system is now ranked 37th in the world, between Slovenia and Cost Rica according to the latest WHO data. The UK is 16th, and France (as usual!) is first.
This is a personal opinion piece and should not be inferred to be the opinion of any company or organization I am associated with.
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