The first presidential debate quickly devolved into a chaotic mix of vicious personal attacks, repeated interruptions and unadulterated lies as Joe Biden squared off against Donald Trump on Tuesday night.
While there were a number of telling and unfortunate moments sprinkled throughout what CNN’s Dana Bash called “a shit show,” one of the lowlights was when Trump refused to outright condemn “white supremacists and militia groups.”
He also had some real kind words for the Proud Boys, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has recognized as a hate group.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left,” he said.
And in case there was any doubt about Trump’s message, NBC News reported that the Proud Boys were celebrating on their online platforms.
Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris reacted in part by saying that Trump was “dog-whistling through a bullhorn.”
Jessica Byrd, of the Frontline, an election initiative from the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project and the Working Families Party, reacted to the debate in part by highlighting Trump’s clear and apparent racism.
“When asked what he will do about racial injustice in America, Trump reverted to boasting about the extremist and law enforcement groups that support his campaign. Moreover, when presented with the simple task of condemning white supremacy and white militia groups, he couldn’t – a stark insult to the millions of Black Americans and people of color facing police brutality, the overwhelming brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and systemic racism in our schools, prisons, and workplaces every day in this country, and their allies who believe in justice and want to move the nation forward. In fact, he issued a rallying cry to one violent white nationalist group, telling them to “stand back and stand by,” Byrd said Tuesday night in an email. “His callousness toward millions of Americans and complete disregard for the systemic injustices our communities face is more than enough proof for why we must come together to vote him out of office. Another four years of Trump means another four years of shameless white nationalism and fascism. Our democracy cannot survive that.”
Ben Jealous, President of People For the American Way, openly condemned Trump’s “racial hatred and bigotry” and said the debate was further proof he’s not fit to be president.
“Tonight in Cleveland, Donald Trump stood on stage and lied and deflected for 90 minutes straight. He did not give the American people the truth about his disastrous handling of COVID-19, his scheme to destroy health care with his Supreme Court nominee, his part in stoking racial hatred and bigotry, or the economic hardships that tens of millions of Americans are facing because of his failed leadership,” Jealous said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “Watching Trump tonight, we are all reminded that on his watch, 200,000 Americans have died of coronavirus, we still have 13 million people out of work, and racism and hostility have gained a new foothold in public discourse and in policymaking. Nothing Trump says in a debate can erase his incompetence, narcissism and corruption. Tonight was just more evidence that we need to support the Biden-Harris ticket to hand Trump his walking papers and lead us out of the mess he and his enablers have created.”
Aside from further confirming that he is a racist, Trump threatened (again) to remain in power no matter the election’s results; he tried in vain to convince people that he acted quickly enough on the coronavirus; lied that he never encouraged people to ingest and inject bleach as a purported cure for COVID-19; kept interrupting Biden to the point the Democratic nominee had to tell the president to “shut up, man;” he tried to shame Biden for wearing a mask during a pandemic; and pushed a baseless, hurtful conspiracy theory about Biden’s son.
And that’s not the half of what Americans witnessed in an unfortunate display of the democratic process at work.
Biden came into the debate clinging to a slim polling lead of just two percentage points, according to the most recent Harvard CAPS-Harris survey.
“The poll shows the race closing to 2 points with likely voters and 4 points with leaners as the president showed improvement in the economy that dipped below double-digit unemployment and hit the theme of curbing unrest on which he gained,” Mark Harris, the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll director, said.
However, for what it’s worth, a collective average of polls released over the past week showed Biden was enjoying a lead of more than six percentage points over Trump with just 35 days left until the election.
Trump has managed to switch his campaign’s narrative from 2016’s role of voter suppressor to purportedly being the victim of voter suppression this time around with unsubstantiated claims of Democrats “rigging” the election.
Ahead of the debate, there was a growing curiosity over not if Trump was going to get personal with Biden, but how and when he would. The president was expected to attack Biden’s son, Hunter, over his work in Ukraine; claims of wrongdoing that have long been debunked. But as the world knows by now, the president is no friend to the truth and freely lets lies fly no matter the topic.
Trump has also been pushing an unproven claim that Biden was using first performance-enhancing drugs, then anti-anxiety drugs and challenged the Democratic nominee to take a drug test. Biden, of course, declined, leading Trump to disingenuously tweet, “I wonder why?”
While those allegations were far from fact, there was one report that was probably much closer to the truth: that Trump’s 2016 campaign tried to “deter” Black people from voting via the controversial big data company Cambridge Analytica.
Somewhat related, Trump’s former campaign manager for his re-election was also in the news for all the wrong reasons. Brad Parscale, who has since been demoted to an adviser for data and digital operations, previously targeted Black voters with “dark posts” to diminish Black voter turnout for Hillary Clinton while working as the Trump campaign’s social media director.