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First US Presidential debate was a wake-up call for Trump admirers. Will the third be any different?

The first presidential debate was a joke at worst, and a childish feud at best, owing to its circular arguments, clumsy conversation, petty, kiddish comebacks, and a blatant lack of actual debate.

POLITICS  |   6-minute read  |   19-10-2020

Former British Ambassador to the US, Lord Kim Darroch appears to have hit the nail on the head in the summer of 2017, when in an internal diplomatic memo, he commented on President Trump’s “dysfunctional administration”. His new book, Collateral Damage, Britain, America And Europe In The Age of Trump is also an enticing read revealing his challenge to explain Trump to Number 10 and Brexit to White House when he was in Washington — two of the most widely discussed subjects globally in last four years.

The first presidential debate was a joke, at worst, and a childish feud at best. (Photo: Reuters)

The latest YouGov survey shows that 61 per cent of Brits want Biden to win, against 13 per cent for Trump – this is a blow for Johnson, his great political admirer across the Atlantic. Whoever takes control of the White House on November 4, it might trigger demand for political change in the UK as well. An in-house challenger awaits.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Indian-origin Rishi Sunak has come across as smart, serious, polished and an intelligent potential replacement. Britain is expecting to have the first non-white Prime Minister soon to hold on to its image of a ‘Liberal Champion’. Last week, the Treasury released a photo of Rishi walking up the Number 10 stairs past the portraits of former prime ministers. The message was not hard to read.

The problems for Johnson would only multiply if Democrats emerge as victorious on November 4 – Biden would follow the strategy of alliances in international affairs, he will have special relationships with Britain, but it might be hard for him to have a cosy relationship with Johnson’s nationalist team. The tweet last weekend from Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security advisor: “I’m old enough to remember when Boris Johnson said Obama opposed Brexit because he was Kenyan” is tremendously indicative.

I’m old enough to remember when Boris Johnson said Obama opposed Brexit because he was Kenyan.

— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) October 11, 2020

Less than 20 days into the US elections – although Biden is still in the lead in pretty much all polls, Trump is circling around on edge for probably another unexpected victory like 2016 – his message is still holding up: “I gave you the best economy before Covid-19.”

The second presidential debate was cancelled – both presidential candidates attended their separate town halls and answered questions to the audience. The first presidential debate was a joke at worst, and a childish feud at best, owing to its circular arguments, clumsy conversation, petty, kiddish comebacks, and a blatant lack of actual debate. The US presidential debate was globally anticipated simply because the US President is one of the most powerful people in the world and takes on a massive set of responsibilities which have a global impact. And yet the Trump-Biden debate was a shame for America and its political history and signalled worrying times ahead for not just the US, but the world. Countries that admire Trump-style politics – Johnson and Modi are the top of the list.

It is fair to say that this debate failed on several levels. Though we anticipated a discussion on possible solutions/plans for Covid-19 and its unchecked spread across the US, there was little or none. Both Biden and Trump indulged in petty badmouthing of the opponent’s political records (Trump’s failure to control the pandemic and Biden’s Obamacare setbacks in the past), eventually hopping on to other issues with the same hope.

Climate change was another imminent concern brought to the table and again, this too ushered in an argument rather than a fact-driven debate. President Trump, though notorious for his casual way of speaking on a podium, went all out in showcasing what Darroch had earlier referred to as a ‘raging insecurity’. In a nutshell, all major issues concerning the governance of America were thrown out, and what we witnessed was a playground fight.

Overall, it served to set extremely poor standards for where the US stands. Regardless of who wins the election, this was not expected of two candidates fighting for what is considered the top-most position in the world. Around 73 million people are reported to have tuned in to the first debate, about which President Trump tweeted: “HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some days, these fake media companies are going to miss me very badly!!” Yet another predictable reaction from Trump, and what a shame for the entire world that this debacle of a debate was tweeted as a proud moment.


— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2020

Considering such popularity, one may draw parallels between President Trump and Boris Johnson, both of whom are often analogised for their similar personalities and shared political agendas. It’s simple; both Trump and Johnson (who claims to be an admirer of the former) attract the populist vote, possess a short span of attention, offer snarky remarks during serious debate, tweak facts and figures to project their own fallbacks, and are strongly driven towards preventing immigration through barricades.

Trump’s frivolous history is no secret; it rather allowed him to ride to popularity and fame. Johnson too has often been accused of having extramarital affairs. Of course, they make the news and wish to stay in the news.

Both Trump and Johnson are known to have felt a threat from alliances, western liberal and global values and hence have strived to keep outsiders on the outside. Trump’s infamous wall landed him in the good books of the white-rural conservatives of America, while Johnson’s Brexit is being exposed for its fabricated claims and figures used to garner support in the north. Trumpism and Brexitism thrive on badmouthing the ‘other’, on the backs of voters who believe the establishment is colluding against them. Remember, four years down the road, we’re still trying to get the EU to agree on a deal on Brexit; the government strategy is remarkably similar to a headless chicken although it can now shift some of the blame on the shoulder of Covid-19. 

It would be a grave understatement to say that the politics of the West is at the edge of an abyss. Nasty, immoral politics led by figures such as Trump and Johnson who prioritise fame over facts, are part of the problem. The world has seen too much of Trumpism and Brexitism. Now more than ever, democracy must reveal leaders who believe in evidence-based policies, moral values, alliances for the betterment of people. Our future depends on it.

Also Read | US presidential debate: How a calm, prepared Clinton trumped Trump

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