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An Analysis of the Final 2020 US-Presidential Debate

The second and final US presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden was held on Thursday, 22nd October 2020 in Nashville, and moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News.

The debate started with Welker setting out the rules: the discussion would cover six topics, and at the beginning of each segment, each candidate would have two minutes to answer the moderator’s first question.

After the last debate, which was characterized by multiple interruptions and cross-talks – mostly from President Donald Trump’s side – each other’s microphones were muted when one candidate was talking within these two-minute segments.  When one candidate exceeds his two-minute limit, their microphone would be turned off. After that, both candidates’ microphones will be turned on again for the discussion.

Then, they started with the first major topic of the debate, which was unsurprisingly, once again the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

I. The Fight against the Coronavirus Pandemic

Starting the segment with Trump, he was first asked how he would lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis.

Trump gave a recap of the last months during the pandemic and the measures taken, which, as he stated, included closing up “the greatest economy in the world” to fight the “horrible disease that came from China”.  He referred to the worsening situation in Europe, where we can see the spikes and many other places in the world. He says that there have been spikes in the US as well, for example, in Florida and Texas, but according to him, they are down now, and there is a vaccine coming soon. According to him, “it’s ready”, and it will be delivered within weeks.

He also referred to his own COVID infection, for which he was treated in hospital and stated that people are getting better. He also claimed that other world leaders had congratulated him for his handling of the pandemic – but failed to mention who congratulated him.

When Trump’s two minutes were up, Welker asked Biden how he would lead the country out of this crisis.

Biden stated that there are over 220.000 dead American’s due to the Virus and that anyone who refuses to take responsibility for that should not remain president of the United States. He also stated that the expectation was to have another 250.000 deaths in America due to COVID until February 2021 and that the current president has no plan whatsoever on how to tackle this crisis.

Regarding specific policies on how to handle the crisis as the future president, Biden asserted that he would make sure that everyone is encouraged to wear a mask and that rapid testing is implemented. Also, national standards should be set up on how to open up schools and businesses safely and give them the financial resources to do that.

Regarding the aforementioned vaccine, the moderator asked Trump whether it was sure that there would be a vaccine in the following weeks, to which Trump responded that it is not a guarantee but that it will be in until the end of the year. He further explained that there are a few companies, naming Johnson&Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer, as well as others who are allegedly “doing very well” and have a vaccine developed within the coming weeks.

Following up, moderator Welker mentioned that even Trump’s own officials say that it could take well into 2021 until a vaccine is developed, and even then, wearing masks and social distancing would continue until 2022. She, therefore, asked the president whether his timeline was even realistic – to which he confidently asserted that his timeline was more realistic than of his own officials. According to him, the military is lined up and ready to distribute the vaccine as soon as it is released, and the logistics for this task are there. However, he fails to explain if and how a vaccine will be available that soon and if it would be available to all Americans equally.

Welker, turning to Biden, asked him how he would give Americans the confidence to take the vaccine against the Coronavirus, given that only about 40% of Americans say that they would take it. Biden responded that he would ensure that it is transparent and that the scientists have closely looked at it. He also reiterated that President Trump has no plan, and there is no guarantee that there will be a vaccine available to all Americans.

In his defence, Trump argued that there are learning more and more about the Virus and are opening up the country. He also criticized Biden, who allegedly called him xenophobic when Trump first closed the country for “heavily infected” Chinese travellers. Biden countered that Trump is xenophobic, but not because of shutting down the country – he called him that in a different context.

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Trump within this segment also continued blaming China for the spread of the Virus and argued that “we are learning to live with it”, to which Biden sarcastically answered that we are “learning to die with it”.

Regarding the different strategies in dealing with the crisis, Welker addressed Biden and stated he said he would support another shutdown if scientists recommended it. Therefore, she asked him what he would say to Americans who fear that the costs for the economy, the higher rates of hunger, depression, and domestic and substance abuse outweigh the risks of exposure.

Biden answered that he would “shut down the virus and not the country”. He argued that there need to be specific standards in order to be able to open up. If you do open, you have to give the people the capacity to do so safely, he argued.

Regarding the opening of schools, Trump said that he wants to open the schools, as he claimed that the Virus is not dangerous for young people, and the transmission rate from school children to teachers is very low. Additionally, he asserted that they had opened the country. Otherwise, they would not have a country anymore.

The discussion within this segment continued circling around the prominent issues of opening the countries and how to do it. Trump continuously claimed that shutting down the country only exacerbates the problem and accused Biden of wanting to shut down the country again and ruin it. It became once again clear that the two have very different stances on the issue. While Trump seems to want to open the country without further ado, Biden is aware that you need certain measures in place to ensure that it can open up safely.

They then moved to the second major topic, national security.

II. National Security

The moderator started with the issue of the security of the elections and referred to the news released by intelligence officials the night before the debate that both Russia and Iran are working to influence the election. Both countries are said to have obtained voter registration information, and Iran has sent intimidating messages to voters in Florida.

The first question went to former vice president Biden. He was asked what he would do to end this threat. Biden said that he made it clear before that any country that interferes in US elections will pay the price for it if he was elected. Biden also criticized that president Trump has not said anything about it to Putin.

Biden also stated that Trump’s friend Rudy Giuliani is used as a Russian pawn and that he does not understand why the current president is unwilling to take on Putin. He further ensured that any country that interfered with US elections and thereby with US sovereignty would pay the price under his administration.

Welker then asked Trump the same question, namely what he would do with regard to ending foreign interference.

Trump first countered what Biden said, alleging that Biden supposedly received 3.5 million US-Dollar from Russia and stated that he never got any money from Russia. He further claimed that nobody has been tougher on Russia than he had been. He also accused Biden of receiving lots of money from Russia.

Biden responded to Trump’s accusation, ensuring that he had never in his life taken any money from foreign sources. He blamed Trump for paying taxes in China and having bank accounts and doing business there while accusing him of allegedly taking money from foreign sources – which is untrue, Biden said.

Biden then also addressed the issue of taxes, saying that he himself always released his tax returns, while Trump has never released a single tax return. He, therefore, asked Trump what he is hiding and why he is not willing to show them. Biden also claimed that foreign countries are paying Trump a lot.

Trump answered that he will release his tax returns “soon” and that he wants to show how successful his company is. He also argued that he prepaid “millions and millions” of Dollars of his taxes.

Biden criticized that Trump has been saying that he would release his taxes for the past four years but has never done so. He claimed that Trump was therefore either not paying his taxes or that his taxes were very low.

In his response, Trump claimed that for the past years, he had been subjected to a phoney witch hunt by the Democrats and that no president had ever had to go through what he went through. He also criticized that they spent 48 million US-Dollars on an investigation on him and that they did not find anything.

Following these mutual accusations, Welker addressed Biden, saying that there have been questions over the work his son Hunter Biden had done in China and Ukraine while Biden has been vice-president. She, therefore, asked Biden whether there was anything unethical or inappropriate about these relationships. Biden responded that there was nothing unethical. Regarding Ukraine, Biden stated that every single person that testified during Trump’s impeachment said that Biden did his job “impeccably” and that he carried out US policy. He then referred to Trump, saying that he was the one who made mistakes in Ukraine by pressuring the Ukrainian government to say something bad about Biden, which they would and did not do. Also, regarding China, Biden pointed to Trump and stated that the only one who made money was the current president.

The moderator then referred to recent news that Trump’s company has a bank account in China and asked Trump how voters could be sure that he had no foreign conflict of interests.

Trump responded by saying that he had been a “businessman doing business”. The bank account she referred to had allegedly been closed in 2015 before he even ran for president.

Welker then asked Biden whether he would, as a president, make China pay for not being transparent when it comes to the Coronavirus pandemic, since Trump had indicated he would do, and if so, what that would look like.

Biden stated that he would make China play by the international rules, unlike Trump has done. He then also criticized Trump for embracing “thugs” like in North Korea and Russia and that he poked fingers at US allies and friends.

Trump was asked what specifically he would do to “make China pay”. Trump claimed that China is paying billions and billions of dollars and that he just gave 28 billion dollars to American farmers. Trump also mentioned that he charged China 25% on dumped steel because it was killing the US steel industry. He did not really indicate how he would make them pay for the pandemic, however.

Welker then switched to the topic of North Korea. She stated that Trump had met with the North Korean leader three times and that he taunted the reality that there had been a long-range missile test. North Korea has also rolled out its biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile and continues to develop its nuclear arsenal. She then asked Trump whether he saw that as a betrayal of the relationship he forged.

Trump stated that shortly after the election, he talked with Obama, who allegedly said that the biggest threat to the US was North Korea and that they might be at war with them soon. However, Trump claimed that in the meantime, he had a different kind of relationship with Kim Jong Un and that there was no war.

The moderator addressed Biden and mentioned that North Korea conducted four nuclear tests during the Obama administration and asked why he was sure that he would be able to reign in this persistent threat.

Biden ensured that he would make it clear that they had to be part of the deal, and he would continue to make sure that the US-controlled them so that they could not hurt the US.

Biden then blamed Trump again for embracing thugs like the North Korean leader.

Welker also asked Biden, who stated earlier that he would not meet with Kim Jong Un without preconditions, whether there are any preconditions under which he would meet with the North Korean dictator.

Biden replied that he would meet with him if Kim Jong Un would agree to draw down his nuclear capacity.

As the next major topic, they moved to the American families and the economy.

III. American families and the Economy

Welker stated that one of the issues that were most important to Americans was healthcare. The Affordable Care Act, which provides health insurance for 20 million Americans, is currently going to be brought before the Supreme Court and might be overturned. If indeed it is overturned, 20 million Americans may lose their health insurance.

She, therefore, asked Trump what he would do if those people had their insurance taken away.

Trump responded that he terminated the individual mandate within Obamacare, which no one thought was possible. He claimed that Obamacare is no good, no matter how you run it. He, therefore, wants to abolish it. He also wants to come up with a brand-new, better healthcare that would also protect people with preexisting conditions.

The moderator then asked Biden what his plan for healthcare is, in case ACA is ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Biden stated that he would then pass Obamacare with a public option, which would then become Bidencare. He would also ensure to reduce premiums and drug prices. Lastly, he asserts that he supports private healthcare, and he would ensure that no person under private healthcare would lose it, and argued that they have also not lost their private healthcare under Obamacare.

Biden also claimed that there is no way that Trump ensured the protection of people with preexisting conditions and claimed that the president has no plan for that.

As a follow-up, Welker asked Biden what he would tell people who are concerned that his healthcare plan takes the country a step closer to a country where the government runs the healthcare system entirely.

Biden calls these concerns ridiculous. He said that there would be a public option, and that would not make it socialist. Biden further stated that healthcare is a right, not a privilege and that he was proud of his plan as it was endorsed by major labour unions.

Welker moved on and stated that more than 12 million people in America are out of work and that more than 8 million people have fallen into poverty. Women and people of colour are hit hardest. Currently, Washington is fighting for a relief bill. She, therefore, asked Trump why he had not been able to get them the help that these people needed. Trump argued that it was because of Nancy Pelosi, who did not want to approve anything. According to Trump, the Republicans are ready and willing, but Nancy Pelosi uses it as leverage because she thinks it would help her politically.

Biden interjected that the Republican leader in the Senate stated that he would not be able to pass it because he does not have the Republican votes.

Welker followed up with Biden’s statement, asking him why he had not been pushing the Democrats to get a deal for the American people. Biden countered that he had been pushing them, and the democrats had been pushing as well.

The moderator then moved to the issue of minimum wages and asked former vice-president Biden whether he thought it was the right time to ask for a raise of the minimum wage.

Biden argued that he indeed thinks so, because eventually the small businesses will have to be bailed out too, and they should start bailing them out now.

Trump instead argued that raising the minimum wage will not help, and there should be a state option for this as every state is different. Raising minimum wages would, in his opinion, not help small businesses.

They then moved to the issue of migration and families within this context.

Welker stated that the current administration separated parents from their children at the border. More than 4000 children were separated. The US cannot locate the parents of around 500 children, and she, therefore, asked Trump how these families will ever be reunited.

Trump argued that children are bought here by coyotes, cartels and criminals. And they used the children to get into the country. However, he does not really answer how he will reunite the kids.

Biden rectified that these kids who came to the US came with their parents, and they were separated at the border to make it a disincentive to come to the States in the first place. Biden further stated that this behaviour violates any notion of who America is as a nation.

The moderator then asked Biden why the people should trust him with the immigration overhaul now after the Obama administration failed to deliver on the key promise for an immigration policy.

Biden argued that they made a mistake to get it right, and it took too long. He also stated that during his administration he would make sure that the DACA kids are certified immediately again to be able to stay and get a path to citizenship.

The two candidates then continued the argument for a few minutes. Trump claimed that the former Obama administration built these cages that the immigrant children are now detained in. They also argued about the catch and release policy, which Trump argued is a disaster, as criminals would come in.

They then moved on to the next segment, race in America.

IV. Race in America

Welker asked the vice-president to speak directly to families of colour, who are in constant fear that someone of their family would be targeted by authorities simply because of the colour of their skin and asked if he understood why these families fear for their children.

Biden responded that he does indeed understand why. He stated that he, as a white male, never had to explain to his children how they should behave when they are being pulled over by the police. But black parents constantly have to explain to them how to behave because otherwise, they are in danger. He also stated that this is because there is institutional racism in America.

Trump received the same question as Biden. He also claimed to understand why black parents fear for their children. He then attacked Biden, saying that in the 47 years Biden spent in government, he had never done anything, except in 1994, when he harmed black communities, calling them super-predators. Trump further claimed that no one has ever done more for black communities than he himself has, with the possible exception of Lincoln.

Biden defended himself and said that he had never said what Trump accused him of. Biden also stated that we should fundamentally change the system. No one should be going to jail because of a drug problem, for example.

Trump then asked why Biden did not do it four years ago and stated that he and former President Obama are the reason why Trump ran for president four years ago.

Welker then moved back to the issue of race and stated that Trump described the Black Lives Matter movement as a symbol of hate. She then asked Trump what he says to Americans who claim that the kind of language the president uses is contributing to a climate of hate and racial strife.

Trump defended himself, stating that the demonstrators, in the beginning, chanted terrible slogans. He also indicated that he is the least racist person. He, unfortunately, failed to answer what he would tell Americans who fear that his language further fuels hate in the country.

Biden countered that Trump is one of the most racist people and that he fuels racism.

Welker then referred to the crime bills Biden supported in the 80s and 90s, which led to the incarceration of tens of thousands of young black men for small amounts of drugs they had in their possessions. She then told Biden to speak to the families of these young men and tell them why they should vote for him.

Biden acknowledged that the bill passed in the 80s on drugs was a mistake and that he has tried to change it ever since. However, he also argued that someone should not be sent to jail for a drug problem. Instead, they should be sent into treatment.

Trump continuously asked Biden why he did not implement all the plans he apparently had in the eight years when he was vice-president. Biden responded that back then, they had a Republican Congress and could barely pass anything.

Welker then moved to the next segment, which was climate change.

V. Climate Change

Welker opened the topic by stating that both candidates have very different opinions on the issue. Trump said that environmental regulations had hurt jobs and the economy. Biden said that he sees addressing climate change as an opportunity to create new jobs.

She, therefore, asked both how they would combat climate change and at the same time support the creation of new jobs, starting with Trump.

Trump talked about all the different programs they have in place and argued that they are working so well and that they have the best carbon emission numbers in the past 35 years. He then claimed that he took the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement because it would have cost the US trillions of US dollars.

Biden stated that global warming is an existential threat to humanity and that we have a moral obligation to deal with it. We will pass the point of no return in the next 8-10 years. Four more years of Trump will destroy the climate even further, Biden argued, because Trump eliminates all the regulations set in place.

Biden also claimed that his climate plan would create millions of new good-paying jobs.

Trump criticized the Biden plan and argued that the plan would not create as many jobs a Biden claims and it will destroy the country.

Biden countered that he does not know where Trump came up with his number. But he argued that every major environmental and labour groups endorsed his plan.

Touching on the topic of fracking, Trump accused Biden of wanting to ban it, while Biden argued that he never said that he would ban fracking.

Welker then referred to the fact that families of colour are far more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical factories and that they worry that these plans are making them sick. Since the Trump administrations rolled back regulations on these factories, she asked Trump why these families should give him another four years in office.

Trump argued that these families are employed in these factories and are making a lot of money.

Biden responded that these people live on the frontlines. He also argued that these communities need to be kept safe. He acknowledged that he would plan a transition from the oil industry to renewable energies.

They then moved to the final segment.

VI. Leadership

Welker asked what Trump would say to Americans who did not vote for him if it were his inauguration day.

Trump said that we have to make the country as successful as it was before the “plague from China” came in. He had the best employment numbers among Hispanics, blacks, Chinese, etc. Success is going to bring us together, Trump claimed.

Biden, who was asked the same question, responded that he is an American president, and he would therefore represent all Americans. He will choose science over fiction, hope over fear, and choose to move forward because there are enormous opportunities to make things better.

All in all, one can say that this debate was much more civilized than the first presidential debate. The fact that the other candidate’s microphone would be switched off while one candidate was speaking during the 2-minute segments was likely the main reason for the orderly course of the debate. Generally, one may say that, while Biden attempted to present himself as a president who would take care of all Americans, despite class and race, and was able to come up with proper measures and policies he would take, Trump made empty promises (for example, regarding a possible vaccine) and could not clearly state which measures he would take, regarding healthcare, the Coronavirus etc. Trump rather praised his handling of the pandemic and his way of governing the country through the past four years while failing to give (truthful and accurate) examples of what exactly he allegedly achieved.

Sources

CNN (2020): Final Presidential Debate – Full Video, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/10/23/final-presidential-debate-full-video-dbx-vpx.cnn, accessed 27.10.2020

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