By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
Held in Nashville, Tennessee, the third and final Presidential Debate was objectively far more productive than the former one (and in my opinion, the town hall substitute events, too). With only twelve days left in the campaign, this debate was the final opportunity for both candidates to make their case to remaining voters on the national stage before the November 3rd Election Day finish line. Unlike the first debate, in this debate, Trump remained somewhat diplomatic for at least the first 30 minutes (albeit the bar for civility was pretty low), and moderator Kristen Welker swiftly and dominantly guided the discussion to allow for a broad coverage of topics. Below, I offer a summary of the candidates’ dialogue on broad issues to the best of my ability.
Coronavirus: Asked about the quickly-increasing COVID-19 numbers both across the country and specifically in the state of Tennessee (both in case totals and in deaths), Trump responded by stating that essentially the worry was not necessary, (falsely) claiming that national mortality numbers are down and spikes either are “gone” in certain states or will soon be “gone.” Countering Trump, Biden emphasized that anyone responsible for 220,000+ deaths should not remain President and offered general plans for both economic support and encouraging mask wearing.
Notably to me, in this questioning series, Trump spoke once again about the therapeutic drugs used to treat his own bout of COVID-19. calling one of them a “cure” and claiming his resulting immunity from the disease, but not once acknowledging the privilege that came with his treatment, doctors, and the ability to recover so quickly without a dollar coming out of his pocket.
Additionally, Biden blamed Trump in this section for his economic response to COVID-19 and himself would not rule out potential future shutdowns if necessary. He also reminded Americans that in order for businesses to succeed, they need financial support to open safely and securely. In his rebuttal, Trump mentioned Democratic governors across the country and said that the virus just “went away” for his son Barren and does so for young people generally. As such, Trump emphasized his desire to reopen schools, saying that “the transmittal rate to teachers is very small” (which came across to me as quite insensitive).
Trump was asked as well about his negative comments regarding Dr. Fauci, which he responded to by walking them back and mischaracterizing Fauci’s positions on mask-wearing as the science evolved.
Also, Trump said that while the virus isn’t about to end, we’re learning to live with it. Joe Biden brilliantly and poignantly responded by stating that actually, we’re dying with the virus.
U.S. Election Interference: Asked about how the American government should respond to countries that interfere with U.S. elections, Biden said that countries should and “will pay a price” for obstruction of safe and secure elections. Biden also noted that Trump is unwilling to take on Putin directly.
Trump did not answer directly with his response towards countries who interfere with U.S. elections, and he instead brought up Biden’s son Hunter and his financial involvements, which I feel have no substance in this election discussion. Biden and Trump went back and forth discussing foreign finances and transaction and the topic shifted away from U.S. election interference entirely.
Healthcare: Kristen Welker first asked Trump to speak to his plan regarding replacing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) if it were to be ruled unconstitutional by a newly majority-conservative Supreme Court. Trump began his answer by emphasizing the success he feels his administration achieved by removing the individual mandate, but other than that he was generally incomprehensible and did not offer any specifics for a replacement healthcare plan. He adamantly stated that pre-existing conditions “will always stay,” but Biden countered that by saying that indeed those with pre-existing conditions would not be covered if the ACA were to be repealed.
Following that exchange, a debate ensued around Biden’s healthcare plan which would include the creation of a public option to offer automatic enrollment, a reduction in premiums, compete with private healthcare companies, and pressure drug companies. Trump tried to equate this public option to socialism, which was INCREDIBLY frustrating. To be clear: a public option simply means a choice between public and private healthcare for every citizen with the goal being that more people will have access to affordable and useful healthcare.
Poverty and Minimum Wage: Asked why the Trump Administration could not pass a much-needed COVID-19 relief bill recently, Trump deflected any blame onto Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress. He also claimed that the House bill was a way to take money from “our people’s pockets” to “people who come into our country illegally.” Biden expressed visible frustration with the accusations and reminded viewers that McConnell couldn’t get the needed Republican votes in the Senate to pass the Hero’s Act. In this moment, Biden used this somewhat-cliché line (which he had already used in the debate): “I don’t see red and blue states, I see the United States.”
Biden also expressed his support for raising the minimum wage and talked about it as a necessity, even considering current economic conditions. Trump disagreed and said that raising minimum wage should be up to individual states because it would help many small businesses. Biden countered that by making a resonant point that no one should work a steady job and still fall under the poverty line.
Immigration: Trump was asked specifically about the 545 children reported to be remaining at the border, unable to locate their parents after having been separated from them by his Administration’s policies. He did not offer a specific plan for reuniting those children with their parents and instead blamed “coyotes” for bringing children to the border and the Obama administration for creating “cages” for the children. Biden once again became visibly impassioned about the issue of children being wrongly separated from their parents and spoke about his own immigration policy plans for undocumented people seeking citizenship as well as Dreamers.
Race: For this topic, both candidates were asked to speak directly to families who have to have “the talk” with their Black and Brown children regarding race-based targeting. Biden responded first and tried to offer his concern by acknowledging that he as a parent did not have to worry about the same things for his children that Black and Brown parents do, regardless of their wealth or financial status. He said bluntly: “The fact of the matter is there is institutional racism in America” and added that up until Trump, America had been constantly moving the social needle towards inclusion.
Asked the same thing, Trump said that he understood the concern and then without pause turned the topic immediately to Biden and blamed him for the effects of his 1994 Crime Bill, which Biden later admitted had its faults. Responding to the accusations regarding the Crime Bill, Biden also expressed his support for ending jail time for drug-based arrests and instead implementing rehabilitation programs.
Also in this questioning segment, Trump memorably said that “no one has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump (with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln).” Biden bluntly stated that “‘Abraham Lincoln over here’ is one of the most racist Presidents in history.” Trump didn’t get his sarcasm and got angry and lost as a result.
Climate Change: The final topic of the night was climate change, and both candidates were asked how they would combat climate change and support job growth simultaneously. Trump comically responded by saying that he indeed does “love the environment” and wants to obtain the “clearest water” and “cleanest air.” However, he offered no plan to reach those goals and simply says that compared to China and other “dirty” and “filthy” countries, America is clean. Trump also expressed his dissatisfaction with the Paris Climate Accord and justifies his pulling out by saying that it would take away American businesses. He did not, however, suggest a way to maintain businesses amid a changing climate. Also, in this section, Trump comically said “I know more about wind than you do” and “solar doesn’t quite have it yet.”
Biden answered by drawing a sharp contrast with Trump, calling climate change an “existential threat to our humanity” and is something that we all have a moral obligation to address. Biden noted that his climate plan includes building 50,000 charging stations for electric cars on highways and making millions of buildings and homes energy efficient. Both of these objectives will create and sustain jobs in the process, and Biden added that he has support from both Wall Street and “every major environmental group and labor group.”
Although fracking affects a relatively small portion of the voting population, it impacts folks in Pennsylvania, which is of course a key state for both candidates. Therefore, fracking took up more time than it probably should’ve; both candidates emphasized they would not ban fracking, and Trump attacked Biden on changing positions on that issue (Biden claimed he has never said he would ban fracking, which is false because he said he would work towards it in the primaries). Notably, Biden did say that he wanted to work towards transitioning away from oil industry reliance and towards renewable energy sources over time to reach net-zero emissions. Trump tries to capitalize on that and evoke fear in voters in oil industry areas immediately following Biden’s statement. After that though, asked about environmental issues that disproportionately affect people of color, Trump offered a non-answer and Biden said restrictions on environmental impacts should be put in place to protect vulnerable communities.
Overall: Generally speaking, in examining all of the topics covered and responses offered, I would generalize the debate in this manner: Trump looked backward and focused on the past (both his own positive actions as well as Biden’s negative actions), while Biden looked forward and offered plans and possibilities that would seek to restore hope and progress. Trump tried to instill fear in voters by saying things like “if you vote for Biden, all these bad things will happen to you and your communities,” whereas Biden tried to instill hope by saying “by voting for me, we can do all of these good things together.”
For political nerds, Presidential Debate nights are like big movie premiers for most people. They’re super exciting! So, thanks for reading, engaging in democracy, and now that you’re equipped with information… go vote!