First US presidential debate reveals polarization, anger, tensions

Washington - By Shabtai Gold and Eliyahu Kamisher, - A bruising, chaotic 95-minute debate between US President Donald Trump and Democratic contender Joe Biden descended into bitter personal attacks, with the candidates seeming to talk over each other as much as they finished sentences uninterrupted.

The first of three debates was hosted on Tuesday by journalist Chris Wallace, who tried to focus on policy issues such as health care, the coronavirus, Supreme Court appointments and climate change.

However, he was repeatedly thwarted by the candidates, and disproportionately by Trump, who again and again attacked Biden's mental faculties and the former vice president's family, though both men interjected with biting insults. Biden called Trump a "clown."
"Gentlemen," Wallace exclaimed at one point. "I hate to raise my voice but why should I be any different than the two of you," he said, in a paternalistic tone as the yelling on stage sunk into jejune asides and an overall sense of rudeness.
"Frankly, you've been doing more interrupting," Wallace said to Trump, the Republican candidate. "Sir, please stop," he pleaded repeatedly to the president, at one point conceding that it was becoming impossible to keep track of the discussion.
"You're the worst president America has ever had, c'mon," Biden said, sounding particularly frustrated as Trump repeatedly praised his handling of the coronavirus and the economy, despite 200,000 deaths and a labour market which has haemorrhaged millions of jobs.
The debate also delved into family - taboo topic for typical presidential debates - with Trump accusing Biden's son Hunter, of benefiting over complex business dealings in Russia and Ukraine, as well as the younger Biden's drug problem.
Biden said he was only holding back when it came to attacking Trump's family, but pulled no punches regarding the man himself.
He accused the president of being a "puppy" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, among a slew of jabs, including insinuating that the real-estate-mogul-turned-president is a tax cheat, and calling the incumbent a "racist" who inflames divisions.
"This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division," Biden said. "He just pours gasoline on the fire."
The segment of the debate on racism and policing was one of the most intense episodes of the night. The issue has been forefront in the US since the police killing of George Floyd, a black man, in May.
Trump declined to directly condemn white supremacist groups when asked by the debate moderator and told the Proud Boys - a far-right extremist group - to "stand back and stand by" in what critics say is dog whistle for racial violence.
"This is not a right wing problem, this is a left wing problem," said Trump, who has previously come under fire for not forcefully condemning right-wing hate groups.
The debate - which largely went down as expected, even if it was particularly heated - also saw Biden say that he would accept the election result, whatever it was, while Trump went on an extended diatribe about election fraud, never committing to accepting a loss.
"This is not going to end well," Trump said, in a comment that is stoking fear of unrest after November 3rd. "I hope it will be a fair election," he added.
On economic policy, Trump sought to differentiate himself as the leader who wants to get the economy running again after the lockdowns.
"He will shut it down again, he will destroy this country," Trump said of Biden's approach, without any hint that he was being hyperbolic, during the debate in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Democratic challenger said the Obama administration left Trump a "booming" economy, but now, the US is "weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent." Biden said.
The debate over coronavirus was probably the moment many viewers hoped would give them clarity on policy, but it too ended with insults.
Biden demanded that Trump get "smart" about his response or many more people will die, promising a more coordinate strategy if elected in November.
"Don't ever use the word smart with me... There is nothing smart about you, Joe," said Trump.
The president insisted it was thanks to his policies that a vaccine would soon be developed, while Biden cast doubt on whether he could trust inoculations coming out of White House-led projects- a microcosm of the stark divides haunting the country.
Prior to the debate Trump's campaign painted the 77-year-old Biden as mentally deficient and physically unfit, setting a low bar.
The former vice president largely held his ground without major gaffs, in a win for the Biden campaign, regularly laughing off personal attacks, even if there was no stand-out moment or charismatic outburst from the Democratic.
An instant poll of viewers by broadcaster CBS found that most felt the first presidential debate had a "negative" tone while only 17 per cent said they received a positive vibe from the face-to-face.
Specifically, 69 per cent of those surveyed saying they were "annoyed," and only 17 per cent say they felt the discussion "informed" them. A majority of viewers thought Biden won, the poll found, though the Democrat held a lead heading into the debate.

Wednesday, September 30th 2020
By Shabtai Gold and Eliyahu Kamisher,

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