Some reflections on the first presidential debate


As I tuned in to watch the first presidential debate, I found myself wearier than I was when the Democratic nomination race began.

The fatigue stemming from months of pandemic-induced isolation, cautious hope during a reckoning on policing and racial justice, and seething anger directed at Republican leadership after their hypocritical behavior following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, left me more uncertain about our country’s future than I’d ever been in the quarter century that I’ve been on this planet.

I hoped for direct questions and uninterrupted speaking time to begin to close the book on our president’s dishonest disaster of a first term. I wished for a compelling argument for change that we need to address the social, economic and environmental problems pushing us to the brink.

The debate was a train wreck, but through Trump’s frequent interruptions and vacuous rants, there arose a compelling argument for an alternative that, although we not the one I favored back at the beginning of the race, is now the best we’ve got in the most consequential election of my lifetime.

Within the first 10 minutes it became clear that rather than using his bully pulpit to advance a cohesive platform seeking to heal a nation torn apart by racial injustice and a global pandemic, President Trump used it to become — well, a schoolyard bully.

From constantly interrupting Joe Biden to bulldozing the moderator, what was in theory supposed to be a rational discussion of policy and pragmatic action quickly disintegrated into blustering and barbs. Decorum and moral decency were thrown out the window as Trump stooped to making fun of the former vice president’s son’s drug problem, and undermining his nearly half-century of public service.

As a viewer, it was tedious to sit through Trump’s relentless tantrums, and like Chris Wallace tried to remind both debaters, the American people would have been better served if they spoke about substantive issues.

But as always, it’s Trump’s way or the highway. And as Biden put it succinctly: “He doesn’t let me finish because he knows I have the truth.”

Trump was right about one thing, though. He was right to call out the former vice president for his drafting of the 1994 crime bill. Although this bill included provisions for an assault weapons ban and the powerful Violence Against Women Act, it served as a catalyst for causing the national prison population to soar. We see its reverberating effects in the violence carried out by police today, and this is not the only ghost from Joe Biden’s past.

I wasn’t alive for the Anita Hill hearings that Biden presided over, but I was when Christine Blasey Ford bravely testified against Brett Kavanaugh. The efforts from senior lawmakers to cast doubt on her story stem from a long line of men like Mr. Biden who don’t always use their power to lift up the voices of those sidelined.

Joe Biden also was an enthusiastic supporter of the 2003 Iraq invasion, one based on evidence built on falsehoods and deception, ultimately costing the people of Iraq hundreds of thousands of lives.

Biden has enabled some shameful episodes in American history, and we who hope for lasting and just change in this country should never forget this in order to hold him and his policies to a higher standard.

I wish dearly for Joe Biden to defeat Donald Trump in just a few weeks, because for all of his flaws and missteps throughout a long career in politics, he is immeasurably better than his alternative.

Regarding the climate, under Biden’s plan, we would invest more than $2 trillion in his first term into building a green economy and working toward a net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

Trump calls for “better forest management” to combat devastating forest fires and slashing regulations while taking the country out of the Paris climate accords.

Biden calls for “law and order with justice,” having mental health professionals present during 911 responses, and a promotion of community policing.

Trump ends racial sensitivity training and bolsters the ever-increasing militarization of our nation’s police force.

Biden urges Americans to wear masks and social distance to save thousands of lives, while Trump downplays the coronavirus and disregards basic health measures which contributed to the recent White House outbreak.

Trump tells his Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” calls for his supporters to watch the polls on Election Day (a thinly veiled appeal for voter intimidation), and is one of the most blatantly dishonest high-ranking public servants in recent memory.

Biden represents a semblance of hope during this time, of a chance to address some of the real challenges of the 21st century instead of wishing for a return to the days when white supremacists acted with impunity.

The choice this November may not be the most inspiring one, but it is one we must all make if we want to fight to redeem the soul of America.

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