Presidential Debate 22nd October 2020
President Donald J Trump (Republican)
Former Vice President Jo Biden (Democrat)
Venue: Nashville, Tennessee
Tennessee sits in ‘rattle through’ as well as ‘fly over’ America. Your humble author has visited the state but has no recollection of it. Previously, rail fares in the US were so low, especially at weekends, that a gentleman might be tempted to cancel the milk and papers, turn off the gas, water and electricity, lock his apartment and use the railway company’s coffee, hot water and toiletries for a 2,000 mile round trip to nowhere in particular. It was cheaper than staying home. I’m not mean, I’m careful. Bigly mileages ensued. Simpler times. Therefore, all I can tell you about tonight’s venue, the Curb Event Centre, Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee, is that it lies between Chicago and New Orleans and that, if it sits beside a railway line, I’ve been past it.
Decades ago, myself and a young Kristen Welker (Moderator) followed each other about. A native of Philadelphia (as was the real-life version of this struggling author’s fictional character ‘Tammy’), Welker attended Harvard University, a sleeper train trip away from Philly for the both of us. Her first media position was at WLNE in Providence, Rhode Island. An excellent weekend break destination, Providence’s historic quarter and Brown University are walking distance from the railroad station. Newport Naval Station and Martha’s Vineyard are bus trips away.
Kristen moved to KRCR in Redding, California. The rails that pass through connect weird Portland to the surf and turf at Del Mar. Later, she worked for NBC in Burbank. Long-suffering readers may recall the six-hour daily commute from a Motel 7 in San Diego.
Providence Rhode Island railroad station enjoys a circular waiting room. The pair of us have sat there on our respective travels. The floor is of granite tiles leading to a central marbled feature. An inscription separates the textures. It is from Robert Louis Stephenson. Myself and Kristen have thought upon it.
“For my part,
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
I travel for travel’s sake.
The great fair is to move.”
Decades later and a mighty ocean apart, myself and Miss Welker, on behalf of our respective audiences, are reunited in pondered dilemma. Where goes America? In what direction does she move?
* * *
The Nashville debate set was of tasteful shades of blue, topped with a representation of a bald eagle centred within a row of stars. The eagle’s talons carried a banner emblazoned with a motto, “The Union and the Constitution Forever.” Beneath it stood the candidates, directly behind them, enlarged scripted passages. Thankfully, the text described the constitution of the United States, rather than Hunter Biden’s emails or Donald Trump’s locker room talk.
As the contest began, Moderator Welker informed us of some new rules to be enforced after the farcical previous debate. She somewhat optimistically informed us that the American people wanted to hear every word and then posed the first question.
“The country is heading into a dangerous new phase.” You bet, Jo Biden could be the next President. Excuse me for interrupting. She continued, “Since the two of you last shared a stage, 16,000 Americans have died from covid. How would YOU lead the country during the next stage of the crisis?”
With a lack of interruptions and with microphones being cut off after two minute and thirty-second segments, clear and separate approaches emerged between the two candidates.
President Donald Trump (Republican) blamed China for the global pandemic. A vaccine would be available soon, even within weeks. He cited his personal experience of having been hospitalised by the virus and said that the whole country couldn’t be closed down. Life had to go on. Ninety-nine percent of those infected survive. We couldn’t all lock ourselves up in the basement, “Like Joe does”.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s (Democrat) position was to blame Trump. The President had been slow off the mark, there wasn’t a plan. Biden pointed at the camera, addressed the viewer directly and repeated his ‘empty chair at the table tonight’ speech in reference to the deceased.
In their responses, both candidates took care to namecheck the important swing states. There was some point-scoring, Biden claimed that Trump had gone to Wall Street at the start of the pandemic and forewarned them to sell short.
“You’re the one who goes to Wall Street and raises money Joe,” retorted Trump. “And every time you do, you’re doing a deal.”
The next question regarded the security of American elections. Kristen had breaking news. Russia and Iran had voter registration data and Iran had sent intimidating messages to Florida voters. She did not cite any evidence. She went on to claim that during the last two presidential elections there had been electoral interference from America’s adversaries.
Biden blamed Russia and China and stated that he would make sure that they paid a price. Biden continued by criticising Putin. Trump responded by saying that Biden had taken $3.5 million dollars from Putin, channelled to him by the Mayor of Moscow’s wife. Biden denied this flat out while pulling his ‘will you listen to this guy’ face.
Trump had been tough on Russia via NATO and through the application of sanctions. It was the Obama / Biden presidency that had been soft of Russia at the time of the Russian annexation of The Crimea.
Now on to the subject of money, the candidates traded accusations. Where were Trump’s tax returns? The American people needed an explanation. Trump retorted through Biden’s bothers and children befitting financially when Biden was Vice President. His brother via Iraq, his son, Hunter, in The Ukraine.
“You live very well Joe, houses all over the place,” Trump mocked, before continuing that Hunter Biden hadn’t had a job for a long time but as soon as Biden became Vice President, Hunter was on $183k a month with a Ukrainian energy company, despite no energy experience. One hundred percent dishonest, claimed Donald Trump. Biden’s son, brother and other brother were, “Sucking it up like a vacuum cleaner.”
On the subject of character, Donald Trump’s failings are legend. They are well publicised, less so his opponent’s.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1942. He was educated privately at Archmere Academy, Delaware, before studying law, first at the University of Delaware and then at the University of Syracuse. After graduation, he began a political career. Decades later, he ran for president. His Republican opponent being George WH Bush and the year being 1987.
Biden was forced to drop out of that campaign following ‘disclosures about his plagiarism in law school’ and ‘his exaggerations about his academic record.’ He had claimed that he had three degrees. In fact, he had one dual major in history and political science. He’d also claimed to be in the top half of his class. Rather, he was near the bottom. As for plagiarism, according to the Washington Post of 18th Sept 1987,
“Syracuse University Law School had allowed him [Biden] to repeat the course — after initially flunking him for lifting without citation five pages from a published law review.”
Subsequently, Biden has been a senator for 47 years.
Back in the debate, the former Vice President again addressed the viewer directly while pointing at the camera, “It’s not about his family or my family,” he said. “It’s about your family.”
He mentioned being sat around the table in Scranton, Pennsylvania, concerned about worldly issues, such as debating whether to buy new tyres or send the kids to university.
Biden claims that he was raised in Scranton. Although he lived there as a child, his home is really Claymont, New Castle County, Delaware. Why pretend otherwise? Scranton is more of a working-class place. Claymont is too middle class and too close to the Washington DC beltway and the swamp that lies within it. Scranton is also an opportunity to namecheck Pennsylvania, an important swing state. Delaware is already in the bag, being 60-40 Democrat.
The next question was about North Korea. The Moderator attributed to them a big new missile. Donald Trump declared a good relationship between himself and Kim Jong-un and, importantly, there is no war on the Korean peninsular. Biden was unconvinced. “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe,” he quipped as he struggled with the ‘geo’ part of geopolitics.
The candidates were moved on to the Affordable Healthcare Act. A rather technical debate followed, difficult for those outside America to understand, lost on this reviewer. Suffice it to say, Biden preferred a type of socialised health care not called ‘socialised’ but ‘Bidencare’. Trump preferred to preserve a system in which 180 million Americans have private health care and the others don’t.
* * *
At this point, an observation. Rather like our very own ITV, the debates were better when they were worse. Do we want to see remarkable acting and clever storylines or wobbly sets peopled by embarrassing old hams? Likewise, this debate lacked The Donald pacing about behind Hilary while Bill was being caught on camera pop-eyed at the mention of ‘investigations’.
* * *
As well as affordable healthcare, Washington is fighting over a Relief Bill. “Mr President why haven’t you been able to get them [Americans going without] the help they need?” asked Kirsten Welker.
“Because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to approve it, I do.”
The debate then moved to America’s toxic divisions over race, starting with immigration before segueing towards the abyss. Immigration rules had previously separated children and adults at the border. The rules had changed but 500 children remained apart from their parents. They were brought here by bad people, said Donald Trump, coyotes, gangs, cartels. The Democrats had built the cages illegal immigrants had been kept in.
Welker reminded Biden that the Obama administration had presided over a record number of deportations. Biden took the opportunity to commit to a pathway to citizenship for eleven million undocumented people. The Moderator asked about ‘the talk’. A talk that, she claimed, parents of colour have to have with their children regarding their safety at the hands of law enforcement.
Joe Biden awarded himself a superior knowledge of the situation of people of colour as his daughter is a social worker. This is disingenuous. Since he became Vice President, his daughter Ashley has had a series of well-paid non-jobs in the social issues sector. He also cited his constituency of Wilmington, these days an overwhelmingly black area. Which votes Democrat no matter how useless the candidate, he forgot to add.
Trump replied that no one has done more for the black community than himself. Perhaps with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, he added as an afterthought. There’d been no criminal justice reform under Obama. Under Trump, there are Opportunity Zones, funding for tremendous black areas and black and Hispanic colleges. Long term funding that Obama had never allowed.
The Moderator quoted Trump as saying that Black Lives Matter was a symbol of hate. The first time he had seen them, he stated, they had been marching down the street, goading the police, chanting, “Pigs in blankets, fry them like bacon.” A terrible thing.
Biden called him a racist and referenced quotes about ‘Mexican rapists’ and ‘Muslims being banned from America because they’re Muslims’. Trump fired back. Biden’s crime bill had resulted in the incarceration of large numbers of blacks because of the possession of small amounts of drugs. Your humble reviewer feels forced to ask, is that a bad thing? Perhaps the guilty shouldn’t have done it?
The penultimate section was about global warming. Trump mentioned a plant a trillion trees project. America now had the best carbon emission numbers ever. Look at China, Russia, India, ‘filthy’. He had left the Paris accord to save businesses, as America was treated disproportionately badly by it.
Jo said the magic words, “Existential threat to humanity”. There was a point of no return in eight to ten years time. He has a climate plan, millions of well-paid jobs, 50,000 EV charging stations. At this point, he was reading from a card on his lectern. He would create millions of jobs by cleaning the environment. You don’t say. How’s he going to pay for it? He didn’t say.
His plan is an economic disaster, replied The Donald. It was AOC’s (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) plan and she knows nothing about the climate. It would cost $100 trillion. It was the craziest plan. Whole buildings would be knocked down because the existing windows are the wrong size. We are energy independent for the first time. Wind is very expensive, kills all the birds and making the turbines creates fumes. It will kill the economy.
Not realising how deep into the racial abyss we already were, Kristen surprised me with the next point. “People of colour are more likely to live next to chemical plants.”
“That’s because they work in them and make good money,” Donald observed.
“It doesn’t matter how much you pay them, it’s about keeping them safe,” preferred Joe.
“You gonna close them down?”
“I’d transition, yes.”
Which was Donald’s opportunity to start a nursery rhyme of swing states with big hydrocarbon industries, “You hear that Texas, Penn-sylvania, O-hi-o?”
The final question was about leadership. What would you say to Americans who didn’t vote for you? Both of them would just repeat what they’d been saying for the last hour and a half, Kristen, don’t encourage them.
With only two minutes allowed, Donald would cut their taxes, Biden would do everything for everybody.
On that note, the Moderator called things to a halt by thanking everybody in sight, including me. “And most importantly, thank you to those watching tonight,” she said while looking straight at me through the camera, Jo Biden style. This time it worked. As she spoke, the years rolled back. My hair grew back. My teeth repaired themselves. I lost a stone in weight. Even Jo Biden hadn’t promised that. I know who gets my vote. Kristen! Was there a knowing glint in her eye too? A what a happens in the waiting room, stays in the waiting room twinkle? There might have been.
But Jo wasn’t finished. Determined to spoil the moment, after putting on his mask and groping a lady of a certain age in a floral dress (presumably his wife), he approached the moderator’s desk and bent himself in half while placing his hands on his knees. Despite the mic being off and her back being to the camera, I could tell what was said. Was she thanking him for watching? No way. “Back off or get maced, creep.” He does have a reputation.
* * *
Was there a winner or a loser? Does it matter? The real contest will be decided by voting, we hope. My contacts in America these days are few and as partisan as you would expect, given that country’s exceptionally polarised politics. Quizzing them reveals nothing of the zeitgeist, merely which trench they have chosen to climb into. More likely, the difficult days ahead are better predicted by completing that verse of Stephenson,
“The great affair is to move;
to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly;
to come down off this feather-bed of civilization,
and find the globe granite underfoot
and strewn with cutting flints.”
© Always Worth Saying 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file