Presidential Debate Highlights Lack of Political Respect


Both former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump were disrespectful during the first presidential debate for the upcoming election. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Case Western Reserve University was recently the host of a brutal battle: the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Most Americans thought we were well-prepared for the debate. We expected it to be entertaining and we joked about sitting down with popcorn. A small part of us, though, still expected the time-honored tradition to be somewhat informative. The debate is supposed to be an opportunity to learn more about each candidate’s platform and a chance for those who remain undecided to gauge which candidate better tends to their priorities. That is why it was an extreme letdown when the debate left us with only the realization that any ounce of respect that once lingered between candidates has been lost. 

The most disrespectful parts of the debate were the words  exchanged between the candidates, as Trump and Biden spent most of the debate launching brutal personal attacks against each other.

One of the simplest ways to observe the candidates’ attitudes was the involvement of Chris Wallace, the moderator for the debate. At first glance, Wallace is a fair choice for the debate moderator — after all, he has hosted presidential debates in the past. Though a registered Democrat, he is well-known for being an anchor for Fox News, one of America’s leading conservative news channels. Wallace recently interviewed Trump, and while Wallace was stern and held his ground, the atmosphere between the two was cordial. They may not have agreed on every point, but there was a perceived mutual respect between them. 

Therefore, it was shocking when the debate started with tension between the candidates, and between Trump and Wallace. A mere 10 minutes into the debate, Wallace asked Trump about his healthcare plan, claiming that Trump had never come up with a succinct plan and that his recently signed executive order was a symbolic move. Trump responded bitterly, saying, “Well, first of all, I guess I’m debating you not him, but that’s okay, I’m not surprised,” referring to Wallace. Trump was insinuating that the debate was biased against him straight out of the gate and alluded to tension with Wallace in the past. Wallace has never been shy in critiquing Trump’s presidency, a rarity amongst the conservative masses of Fox News. Unsurprisingly, Trump was also outspoken in his dislike of Wallace, crafting negative tweets against the anchor where he called Wallace “nasty and obnoxious.” 

The times of faux camaraderie amongst politicians are evidently gone. While the tension between Biden and Trump was worse than expected, the lack of regard for debate protocols, shown in both candidates’ disregard for Wallace as a moderator was unheard of. Although the American people may have anticipated the mess of a debate that we were handed, I don’t think anyone truly expected the debate to turn into a yelling match where both candidates completely ignored Wallace’s presence. In past debates, the moderator has been the neutral point between the candidates, akin to the captain of a ship — steering the debate and making sure the candidates address issues important to people. 

Wallace certainly didn’t get the chance to do that. Somehow, he managed to (mostly) maintain his cool while dealing with the toddler-like tantrums of the candidates, referring to them only as “gentlemen” and repeatedly attempting to reign in the conversation. 

The same cannot be said for Trump and Biden, who held nothing back in their obvious contempt for one another. Only a little over 15 minutes into the debate, Biden became fed up with Trump’s frequent interruptions and said, “would you shut up, man?” While it was pretty humorous (a multitude of T-shirts have already been created around the phrase), it’s also quite scary to see just how out of control Biden and Trump have become. When have we ever witnessed a presidential candidate tell another to “shut up” in the middle of a debate? 

Our definition of presidential behavior is radically changing. This is for a multitude of reasons, whether it be that Trump has changed the expectations for a president by coming in as a businessman rather than a politician and thus speaking with a more casual tone, or simply because Trump and Biden are no longer able to hide their dislike for one another. There have surely been candidates in the past who have hated each other, but politics is well-known for being an act; politicians are supposed to plaster on a smile and muster through. This is no longer the case.

The childlike vernacular continued throughout the rest of the debate, with Biden calling Trump a clown not once, but twice: After Trump told Biden, “You just lost the radical left,” Biden countered by addressing the people and asking, “Folks, do we have any idea what this clown is doing?” Biden used one of his favorite tactics here by turning to the camera in an attempt to speak directly to voters. Later on, after multiple interruptions from Trump, Wallace gave Biden the final word. Biden responded by saying, “Well, it’s hard to get any word with this clown, excuse me, this person.” This lack of professionalism during what should have been an honorable debate was unprecedented. Surely the American people expected chaos, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for playground insults to fly across the stage. 

Trump fought fire with fire, bringing up Biden’s son, Hunter, and claiming that he was “dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.” Trump then questioned why Hunter was provided with jobs and money by Biden, who denied these claims. This was a low blow; there really is no excuse for dragging family into the mix, especially during a televised debate. 

The inappropriate and immature insults spewed by both Trump and Biden made the debate a tense event. It suddenly wasn’t funny anymore; American politics should not be this much of a joke. There was a noticeable lack of substance throughout the debate, and this void was felt by every American who hopelessly turned off the television and turned to their friends and family in shock. Hopefully, the candidates will grow up before the next debate.

Taylor Herzlich, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Mt. Sinai, N.Y.