First Trump-Biden debate epitome of US chaos, sharp social division

By Zhang Tengjun Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/30 15:23:32

US election debate Photo:VCG

"This debate was like the country: Everybody's talking. Nobody's listening. Nothing is learned. It's a mess."

This is what most Americans feel after watching the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden on Wednesday. 

The debate is arguably the most chaotic presidential debate, much more chaotic than what we saw in 2016. It was full of personal attacks and disruptions, which jeopardized the audience's viewing experience and had nothing to do with in-depth and serious discussion about concrete policies. If the 2016 presidential election debates were contests between different genders, Wednesday's debate was an all-out hostile confrontation between two 70-year-olds. There is no value for appreciation, and the American audience must have felt disappointed. 

Such chaos is an epitome of US politics and a representation of the sharp division within US society. Trump and Biden are just representatives from the two opposing sides. Regrettably, from this debate, there was no sign that such confrontation and social divergences could be bridged, no matter who takes the reins.

As for China agendas, Trump took aim at China by blaming China for the raging COVID-19 epidemic and US economic woes. But he did not entangle himself too much in the issues but mainly targeted Biden. But in the following debates, especially on foreign policy, it is believed China will be the main agenda. 

Biden is anticipated to attack Trump over China-related issues. Trump may make China the scapegoat of his inability to deal with the epidemic, blast the business ties Biden's son has with China and even accuse China of helping Biden to win the election. The topics relating to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and the South China Sea may also be put on the table, and the two candidates will criticize each other for being not tough enough on China.

The two also engaged in finger-pointing when debating racial issues. Racial issues are triggered by the fundamental divergences over US values and where the US heads within its society. Such divergences are implacable. What is worse, the US leadership is intensifying the divergences, making conflicts between different races more difficult to resolve.

From the first debate, we saw chaos and disorder. This posed difficulties even for moderators. Whether chaos and disorder will continue in the following debates is worth observation. It is unlikely that Trump will give up his personal attacks on Biden. He may behave more irritable and rush to make his so-called October surprise. 

There's only one month to go before the final election. At the current juncture, the number of voters who have not decided whom to vote is not many. The impact of debates on them seems limited. When the epidemic is still fermenting, Americans care more about whether the two candidates feel the same as they do and whether they can propose feasible solutions. In the next debates, the one who gets closer to voters will be the one who wins. 

It will be a big test for the two candidates. The US is divided enough, while there is no clear hope from either the two hopefuls. Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that Wednesday's debate was "the most discouraging, most depressing, most troubling 90 minutes" he can recall. "If you are not worried about the future of this country you were not watching."

The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.


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