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The First Presidential Debate: ‘90 Minutes of Chaos’

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage Wednesday, Sept. 29 for the first of three presidential debates. The first, unfortunately, resulted in “90 minutes of chaos,” according to the New York Times. 


Throughout the course of the debate, Trump and Biden argued issues revolving around seven key topics: the Supreme Court, healthcare, COVID-19, the economy, Trump’s federal income taxes, race and climate change. 


Although a majority of the debate was spent spewing insults and arguing candidates’ credibility, a few key takeaways were provided concerning candidates’ platforms. 


Joe Biden talks with voters
Photo by Phil Roeder from Flickr


Supreme Court 


On Sept. 26, President Trump formally announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals as the next Supreme Court nominee, following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. 


Since his announcement, significant political controversy has arisen, leading the Supreme Court to be a hot topic right at the start of the debate. 


During the debate, Trump explained the need for a “phenomenal nominee” like Coney Barrett. Trump said that “elections have consequences,” further expressing his belief that he should be allowed to fill the vacancy as he was elected for four years, not three. 


On the other hand, Biden said, “The American people have a right to say who the Supreme Court nominee is,” expressing a desire to wait until after the election to fill the vacancy on the court.




When it came to healthcare, Trump and Biden tended to focus on very different aspects. 


President Trump explained his plans for decreasing drug prices — specifically insulin — by 80% to 90%. He said that insulin would be “so cheap, it’s like water.” 


Biden shared his plans to continue to expand the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, which was put into place during his time in office. 


Biden said that 20 million Americans currently receive healthcare through Obamacare, and “[Trump] has never offered a plan.” 


“Obamacare is a disaster,” Trump said. Trump and the Republican party have repeatedly claimed that Obamacare will end private insurance, yet have not presented a strict plan to tackle healthcare in the United States. 




When asked, “Why should people trust you to address the COVID-19 crisis,” the two candidates heatedly argued why their approach would be more successful. 


On the Democratic side, Biden said there are 200,000 Americans that have been killed by COVID-19, and 7 million have been infected. 


“We in fact have… 4 percent of the world’s population, 20 percent of the deaths,” Biden said. “40,000 people a day are contracting COVID… When [Trump] was presented with that number, he said, ‘It is what it is.’” 


Trump began his argument by placing the blame of the pandemic on China. He said, “It’s China’s fault,” and “a very political thing” when commenting on his handling of the pandemic. 


Biden later went on to target President Trump by saying he was the same man who told Americans to inject bleach into their systems to kill the virus and the same man that said the pandemic would be gone by winter. 


“The public can trust science but can’t trust President Trump,” Biden said. “His own CDC director says we could lose as many as another 200,000 people between now and the end of the year. And he said if we just wear a mask, we can save half those numbers.” 


The topic later turned to the concept of holding political rallies in the midst of the pandemic, in which Trump expressed his support for the individuals showing up to his rallies. 


“We have tremendous crowds,” Trump said. “We’ve had no negative effect, and we’ve had 35,000 to 40,000 people at these rallies.” 

Donald trump at a rally
Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr




The economy presents a difficult political issue in times of a global pandemic. President Trump and the Republican party have argued that they had to shut the economy down because of the “China plague,” and have compared further shutting down states to being in prison. 


However, Biden focused on the fact that President Trump is the first president to have fewer jobs in his administration than when he entered the Oval Office. 


“He can’t fix the economy,” Biden said, claiming that Trump has done nothing to help small businesses. 


Federal Income Taxes


The topic of the president’s federal income tax was an unexpected issue on the floor of the first 2020 presidential debate — just a few days after the New York Times reported that President Trump only paid $750 in federal income taxes during the year of 2017. 


“I’ve paid millions of dollars in taxes,” Trump said when asked whether it’s true he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2017. 


Biden went on to express his disbelief in Trump’s statement. Earlier in the day, the Biden Harris campaign had released each candidate’s 2019 tax return forms. 


“I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts,” Biden said. 


The Biden economic plan intends to focus on “big government, big taxes and big spending” — proposing more than $4 trillion dollars in new taxes  over the span of a decade to individuals making more than $400,000. 


Race & The Black Lives Matter movement


Throughout the debate  — and the course of 2020 — race and the Black Lives Matter movement have been of prominence in politics. 


Biden began his argument by recounting the evening of the killing of George Floyd — explaining that President Trump had the U.S military use tear gas on a peaceful protest outside the White House. 


Biden also said that Trump has “used everything as a dog whistle” to initiate racial hate. 


“It’s about decency, it’s about the constitution,” Biden said. 


On the other hand, Trump criticized Biden by claiming that he previously called African Americans “super predators” in 1994, therefore discrediting his claims to be on the side of the black community. He further stated that he does not have the support of law enforcement. 


“The people of this country want law and order,” Trump said. 


Trump also refused to condemn white supremacy during the debate, telling the white supremecist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand by.” 


Biden then went on to end the discussion of the topic by discussing the inappropriateness of violence. 


“There is systemic injustice in this country,” Biden said. He shared that he is not entirely opposed to defunding the police, and believes police officers should have a psychologist with them at the scenes of crimes. 


Climate Change


Lastly, the debate concluded with a discussion of climate change — allowing this presidential debate to be one of the few in history to discuss the topic at length. 


For the Republican party, Trump expressed his belief that a lack of management has been accredited to global warming. He also mentioned the Plant A Billion Trees Project as a solution to climate change. 


“I don’t think the science knows,” Trump said. “I want crystal clean water and air.” 


Alternatively, Biden’s plan for the Democratic party proposed an end to the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, and a reduction in the cost of renewable energy. He also made a bold statement by saying he does not support the Green New Deal, instead supporting the “Biden plan.” 




Following the debate, a variety of news sources including CNN called the event a “hot mess in a dumpster fire” and “a shitshow.” 


University of Maryland students further expressed CNN’s sentiments, displaying a general disappointment with the outcome of the debate. 


“The first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle was the equivalent of eating a hard-shelled taco: sloppy and fell apart within seconds,” junior journalism major Tony Cabral said. “I saw no leader on that stage… only elderly men trying to make sense of a world that has since evolved without them.” 


Furthermore, freshman Olivia Wolfson viewed the presidential debate as “hot garbage throughout!”


“Overall, I don’t think there was a clear winner… as it was a circus act from start to finish. While both delivered low blows at each other, I think one of the most disgusting things to come out of last night was Trump saying he “didn’t know” who Beau Biden was and practically called Hunter Biden a loser for being a former addict,” Wolfson said. “For Trump to basically dishonor him should be a wake up call for veterans and active members.”


The next presidential debate of the election cycle will occur 9 p.m. EDT on Oct. 15. A vice presidential debate will also be held this Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. EDT. 


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Gracie is a sophomore journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has a passion for women's studies, government & politics, and international affairs, and loves to be involved. In her spare time, Gracie enjoys reading a lot of books, adventuring to new places, and of course writing! Currently, Gracie is one of two Campus Correspondents for her chapter alongside Devon Milley.
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