On COVID-19 and Racism: Biden and Trump are Polar Opposites
The Moderator and New Rules Produce a Real Presidential Debate
Thanks to the masterful moderating skills of NBC correspondent Kristen Welker, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden actually debated important issues at the second and final 2020 presidential debate, held in Nashville Oct. 22. That was the most notable achievement of the night, a feat accomplished by one of the few women of color to have ever moderated a presidential debate. New rules established after Trump’s unhinged performance during the first debate meant that the mics of both candidates were muted during the first two minutes of each topic. That enabled the audience to actually hear what the candidates had to say with minimal interruptions.
By debate time, 47.1 million Americans had already voted early, 23 million of them in battleground states, the Washington Post reported. Running 8 to 10 points behind Biden in the polls, Trump’s challenge was to appeal to any remaining voters who hadn’t made up their minds. Both candidates had an opportunity to clearly articulate their views on the issues and their vision for the nation. Joe Biden came across as honest and knowledgeable, a person who could ultimately conquer the coronavirus pandemic and begin to address the US epidemic of systemic racism and police brutality.
Trump Offers Nothing New
In contrast, on two critical issues, COVID-19 and systemic racism, Trump had nothing new to say. He was well versed in his campaign talking points. But when it came to answering the hard questions, his responses were often evasive and dishonest.
On the coronavirus pandemic, Trump repeated a litany of fiction passing as fact, such as the notion that if he hadn’t stopped travel from China to the US, 2.2 million people would have died. “In fact,” Aaron Blake of the Post noted, “one model said that many could die, but only with precisely zero mitigation — which is an extremely low bar to brag about clearing.”
Trump claimed that the US mortality rate is lower than that of other countries. Not true. With a total of 8.4 million Coronavirus cases and 223,000 deaths, the US stands at the top of the list. In terms of the death rate per 100,000 population, the US is in the top 20.
Nevertheless, Trump said his administration is doing an incredible job on the pandemic. In fact, he asserted, “I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do.” Instead of a plan, he reverted to the dangerously misleading mantra he’s had since the early days of the virus, that “it’s going away” and that “we’re rounding the turn.” He also promised that a vaccine would be available in early 2021.
But the facts tell a different story. Two days before the debate, New York Times reporters Sarah Mervosh and Lucy Tompkins reported that “a third surge of coronavirus infection has firmly taken hold in the United States” with an average of “59,000 new cases a day…The virus is now simmering at a worrisome level across nearly the entire country.”
Trump said, “We’re learning to live with it.”
“Learning to live with it?” Biden countered incredulously. “We’re learning to die with it!” We have “220,000 Americans dead,” he added. “Anyone responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president.”
“Think about what he knew in January, and he did not tell the American people,” Biden said, reminding viewers about Trump’s revelations to Bob Woodward. “We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan,” he said.
Biden said he would take a comprehensive approach to fighting the virus that would include encouraging everyone to wear a mask, developing national standards to safely reopen work and schools, mobilizing necessary resources, and utilizing rapid testing and contact tracing.
Race in America
Throughout the debate, Biden and Trump offered starkly different views on every issue from national security, to climate change, to American families. Not surprisingly, one of the most striking areas of difference was on race in America.
Moderator Welker asked each of the candidates to speak directly to African American families who face daily fears about their children being harassed or even killed by police. She asked the candidates if they understood the talk Black parents have with their children to prepare them for the probability that they may be targeted for the color of their skin.
“I do understand this,” Biden said. “I never had to tell my daughter to put her hands on top of the wheel” if she were stopped by the police while driving, or to not “reach for the glove box because you might get shot.”
“There is institutional racism in America,” Biden said, adding that the country has “never completely lived up to” the promise of full inclusion. He pledged to provide better minority access to schooling, jobs, and the means to accumulate wealth. While Biden’s response wasn’t perfect, it was light years away from the reply given by his opponent.
Trump replied with a “yes” and then refused to answer the rest of the question. Instead, he attacked Biden for the crime bill he passed in 1994 that Trump said “did such harm to the Black community.” Then he repeated his outrageous claims that he has “done more for the Black community” than anyone “since Abraham Lincoln,” and that he was the “least racist person in the room” at the debate. Trump touted his criminal justice reform bill that commuted the sentences of 20 Black men, “opportunity zones” in Black and Hispanic communities, and funding for historically black colleges, very modest “achievements” that most historians wouldn’t place in the same category with those of Abraham Lincoln.
Biden countered that he and President Obama had commuted the jail sentences of over 200 African American men. He also acknowledged that the crime bill had contributed to the incarceration of young Black men. “It was a mistake, and I’ve been trying to change it since,” he said. “People with drug problems need to go into treatment,” not jail. Biden said he planned to eliminate mandatory sentences for drug problems. Biden also sharply criticized Trump as “one of the racist presidents we’ve ever had.”
In the candidates’ closing statements on leadership, Biden came out ahead of his opponent. Trump reminisced about the great “job numbers” he had “before the plague hit” and promised to cut taxes. In contrast, Biden said that a vote for him represents “hope over fear,” and “science over fiction.” He promised to “deal with systemic racism and grow the economy through clean energy.”
“Character, decency, honor, and respect are on the ballot,” Biden concluded. “You haven’t had that for the past four years.”