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OP-ED: Debates and the American election

  • Published at 09:55 pm September 28th, 2020
Trump Biden
Who will come out on top?REUTERS

The debates between Trump and Biden will be unlike any we have seen before

Debates between candidates for the presidency started in 1960 during the campaigns of Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. September 29 is the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and will last for 90 minutes.

This first debate will take the form of the moderator asking questions to the candidates, to which they will respond and then comment on the answer of the other candidate. The second debate between Biden and Trump will take place on October 15. This debate will take the form of people asking questions (people and questions will be identified in advance). 

The third and last debate will take place on October 22 and this will go back to the moderator asking questions. There is also one debate for the potential vice presidents that will be held on October 7 and will take the form of questions being asked by a moderator.

Are these debates important in shaping the outcome of the election? I think not, although there are endless arguments about this. The debates can be interesting. The debates between Kennedy and Nixon I watched carefully. 

Kennedy was very worried that Nixon would take a strong anti-Castro position, pinning Kennedy in the position of being weak in his opposition to Castro. Both knew that the United States was preparing a secret invasion of Cuba.

Kennedy announced that if he were to become president he would support opponents of Castro to overthrow his government and take Cuba out of the hands of the communists. Nixon replied that this was against international norms and he would never do such a thing. 

The first debate will be moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. Fox News of course is strongly pro-Trump and anti-Biden. To show how little trust is left in America, I believe that Fox News will give Trump the questions before the debate to enable him to prepare good answers. Trump and Fox News are both without principles.

This first debate will be organized in six sections of 15 minutes each. In each section, Wallace will ask the candidates questions and the candidate will have two minutes for their response. Then the other candidate will have an opportunity to respond. This sounds like there will be time for four questions in each section.

The six sections cover:

  • The Covid-19 crisis

  • Race and protests including the violence that has developed.

  • The appointments to the Supreme Court

  • The economy

  • The records of Trump and Biden

  • The integrity of the election

There are a few things that one can be confident will happen. Trump will not follow the rules: He will interrupt Biden. Trump will not follow the time rules and will try to take more time than he is allowed. Trump will lie and make up statistics and facts. 

Also Trump will personalize his answers attacking Biden and his family with all kinds of accusations and claims. Trump is a bully and he will from the start attempt to bully Biden. I have little confidence that Wallace can control or even wants to control the situation.

Trump’s objective will be to demean Biden and get him to lose his temper. Trump is always accusing Biden of being too old for the job, lacking energy, and being unable to think accurately. This will be a central feature of Trump’s attack on Biden.

Notice that in my view, Trump is uninterested in the issues. Trump is not going into the debate to convince people that his plans for the future are superior to Biden’s. Indeed as far as anyone knows, Trump has no plans for anything except playing golf. 

On the economy and Covid-19, Trump seems to have nothing to offer at all. On the race problems and the violence and riots, he will present himself as the law and order guy, his implicit racism shining out. 

When it comes to the Supreme Court he will defend his right to nominate someone; he will attack the integrity of the election by mouthing off again on the mailed ballots and the fake election fraud.

How should Biden handle this bully? This is an interesting question. Trump’s niece Mary says Biden should call him “Donald” all the time. This, she says, will drive him crazy. Other suggestions are humour and jokes that demean him. 

In my view, the debate will depend on Biden not losing his temper; Biden should not deal with Trump’s lies but concentrate on the issues to demonstrate his intellectual abilities and to bring out the deeply serious problems that have engulfed the United States and how Trump’s attempt to deal with the pandemic and the subsequent economic and social consequences have failed. 

Biden can express confidence in the integrity of the voting process and express sadness that Trump is so uncooperative in trying to solve problems to have a free and fair election. Again, no arguments here. Biden can defend his record very well; he has served the United States for a long time compared to less than four years for Trump.

One should remember that matters of foreign affairs are not taken up in this debate. I think those will be covered in the final debate.

Bangladesh is a country where there is a lot of interest in the debate among young people. The debates that one is used to seeing are not what is coming up on Wednesday morning. 

We will see a cruel bully who is quite stupid and mentally undisciplined attempting to use a collection of lies and false statements to demean a good and decent man. This will be evident to everyone.

Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

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