As voters across the country cast their ballots, President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden faced off in the final presidential debate on Oct. 22.
The debate was hosted by Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and covered a variety of topics including the coronavirus pandemic, racism in America and climate change. As 51 million people have already submitted their ballot—surpassing 2016’s early vote total according to Vox—those yet to vote listened to candidates make their arguments.
In response to the turmoil of the first debate, the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) implemented a new rule for muting microphones. According to The Guardian, during the two-minute segment for uninterrupted remarks “‘the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules’ … [and] mics will be unmuted for open discussion” as stated in an announcement from the CPD.
Max Vytlacil, freshman history major, believes this new rule helped the final debate to go smoothly. “It was actually good because you could hear what both candidates were actually going to say rather than constantly interrupting each other,” Vytlacil said. “I feel like that’s probably a strategy that might be used in future debates because … the debates have gotten really heated.”
Beginning with the topic of COVID-19, moderator Kristen Welker, NBC News WH correspondent and “Weekend Today” co-anchor, asked Trump, “How would you lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis?”
In his response, Trump described the impact on the economy, saying, “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China … We’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”
While Trump claimed that there is a vaccine coming and will be “announced within weeks,” fact-checkers at The New York Times found this to be misleading, due to Pfizer, whose vaccine is in late-stage clinical trials, stating that “it would not apply for emergency authorization of its vaccine — a step short of a full license — before the third week of November.”
Responding to a question on the economic and mental health cost of COVID-19 shutdowns, Biden said that he had not ruled out more shutdowns. “The standard is if you have a reproduction rate in a community that’s above a certain level, everyone says, ‘Slow up. More social distancing. Do not open bars, and do not open gymnasiums. Do not open until you get this under control,” Biden said.
Vytlacil, a self-described conservative, disagrees with Biden on shutting down businesses, saying that it does not work. “A prime example of this is looking at New York City. When they shut down their entire economy, it became a ghost town and now a lot of people are leaving New York because of policies that have been put in place by Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, effectively making New York City a mini socialist state. You can’t do anything or open your business in that aspect,” Vytalcil said.
In this section of the debate, Biden also made misleading claims, according to The New York Times, when he said that the states having increased COVID-19 cases “are the red states, the states in the Midwest.” Fact-check reporter Linda Qiu stated that “the states recently experiencing coronavirus surges are led by Republican governors or are in the Midwest, but ‘blue’ states and other regions have not been spared.”
Addressing the topic of immigration, Welker said “the United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children,” and asked Trump, “how will these families ever be reunited?”
Trump responded, “We let people in, but they have to come in legally.” He also stressed that “[the Obama administration] built cages” and that many children “come through cartels and through coyotes (a term for human smugglers) and through gangs.”
Biden responded, “These 500 plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with … It violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Responding to both candidates’ remarks on racism in the United States, Hailey Wyre, junior psychology major, said, “I’m hopeful that both candidates at least understand the fear of POC in America. However, it seems that the candidates differ in the passion behind their responses. While Biden adamantly argued that POC are underserved, Trump seemed to think that he has positive relationships with everyone.”
During the section on climate change, Biden stated he would “transition from the oil industry,” which Trump called a “big statement.” Biden reasoned that “it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time” and that he would stop giving the oil industry federal subsidies.
Vytlacil, expressing concern for Biden’s plan, said, “If you get rid of the oil industry, that’s going to impact jobs that have relied on the oil and gas industry for the last decade or two.”
Wyre walked away from the debates with a note of optimistic hope. “While they may not agree on many things, I’d like to believe that each candidate wants the best for us all,” Wyre said.
Photo courtesy of Tabrez Syed