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The First Presidential Debate: Everything You Need To Know

Levi Leidy
·10 mins read

In what many are considering “the most important election of our lifetimes,” President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will be taking the stage for the first of three debates on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Democrats and Republicans have a long history of slinging words — and not always kind ones — over the issues, and this year has been no different. But if you’ve been thinking there’s more partisan tension than should be the norm… well, you’re not wrong. In the months leading up to the debates, Trump has famously referred to Biden as “Sleepy Joe,” and called him “stupid” on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Biden has made no secret of his mutual dislike, denouncing the president as “downright un-American.”

In other words, you may want to grab a bowl of popcorn before Tuesday’s debate, as it will no doubt cover both policy and personal insult. However, keying in on the “policy” side of things, here are some of the topics you should expect the candidates to address.

Last updated: Sept. 25, 2020

Trump's Record

As the incumbent president, Trump’s record will be gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Some of the things most likely to be referenced include:

  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which allowed billionaires to pay less taxes than the working class in 2018.

  • His vice grip on immigration; from the travel ban he enacted back in 2017 to the ICE border detention facilities that are still going.

  • His continued padding of the already-massive military budget. This includes a recent report that the Pentagon diverted $1 billion in COVID-19 relief spending to military drones, satellites and more.

Why You Should Care

In his first term as president, Trump has been Mr. Executive Order. In other words, he’s not shy to use his power to get what he wants. His record in office has clearly given advantages to the top 1% and the military industrial complex, but it’s taken away from racial minorities and the lower class.

Some would argue that his actions bolstered the economy to record-breaking success — although it’s hard to say how long it would’ve lasted in a world without the coronavirus.

Biden's Record

While Biden has never held the highest position of office, he has a much longer political history than Trump. This could be fortunate or not-so-fortunate for him, depending on how you look at it.

  • He voted to send U.S. troops to Iraq in a move he has since apologized for.

  • A popular issue since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, Biden has guarded the right to an abortion throughout his career.

  • As vice president, he was the driving force behind a lot of bipartisan legislation, including a critical stimulus bill during the Great Recession.

Why You Should Care

Biden’s 40-year career is evidence of the fact that he knows how to work the system. For people who religiously hate politicians, this is not an attractive quality. But for people who are tired of the Democrat/Republican stalemates in Congress, he could be the push the country needs for more true bipartisan policy. And, while the U.S. is still waiting for a second stimulus bill, bipartisanship is needed now more than ever.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is a hotter topic than ever following the passing of Justice Ginsburg on Sept. 18. As Trump and the Senate push to appoint a new justice before the election, Democrats point out the hypocrisy of the move, seeing as how President Barack Obama was blocked from doing the same thing in 2016.

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Why You Should Care

President Trump has already appointed two justices to the Supreme Court — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — leading to a 5-4 split in favor of conservatives. If he’s able to appoint one more before the election, not only will it be a gross abuse of power, but the nation’s highest court will be much more representative of the Republican party than the American people as a whole.

COVID-19: The Response

Trump’s response to the coronavirus has become one of Biden’s biggest campaign platforms. The president’s lack of executive action, downplaying of the virus and undermining of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials at least partly contributed to the severity of the pandemic. As it stands today, more than 200,000 Americans have died from coronavirus-related health issues.

Why You Should Care

In a recent campaign rally, Trump stated that the virus “affects virtually nobody,” furthering his rhetoric that the pandemic is not a big deal. Unfortunately, for those who believe him, this will likely lead to more outbreaks and illness. Moreover, his words are downright offensive to the families of the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19: The Path Forward

Although Trump’s focus has been on reopening the economy and will likely remain there, Biden’s plan is a two-pronged approach that will ensure free testing, healthcare and public safety measures while also providing additional economic relief to those hit hardest by the shutdowns.

Why You Should Care

The United States leads all other countries in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Recently, the coronavirus has also become the third-leading cause of death in the nation, reports WebMD. Although the virus doesn’t have a particularly high death rate, we should still care about the people most vulnerable to it; and recognize that the quicker we can get it under control, the faster the economy will recover.

The Economy: Unemployment Rate

One of President Trump’s biggest bragging points is the 50-year low that U.S. unemployment hit in September 2019. At a rate of just 3.5%, by all accounts, the economy was booming, and by Trump’s account, it was entirely due to him.

Unfortunately, the arrival of COVID-19 and subsequent economic shutdown left millions of Americans very suddenly unemployed. At its worst, the unemployment rate tracked near 15% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It’s currently sitting at 8.4%, per the most recent report.

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Why You Should Care

Of course, no one could have seen the coronavirus coming or controlled the wave of layoffs that followed. But it should be made clear that unemployment wasn’t so rosy before that, either. Many economists argue that the 3.6% record-low rate didn’t account for the high volume of people who weren’t looking for a job. A more accurate measurement of the economy would be the wage growth rate, which has been largely stagnated in the last 20 years.

All this to say, the economy wasn’t booming for a large part of the population before the coronavirus, either. Particularly, lower- and middle-class Americans stuck with low wages and increasing costs of living.

The Economy: Stock Market

In response to soaring share prices, Trump has called America’s economy “the strongest performing economy in the world.” And while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been doing incredibly well, the president fails to realize that the stock market’s success only helps people who own stock.

In 2019, Gallup reported that only about 55% of Americans own stock. And most of that 55% won’t make a killing off the shares they do own. The Dow and S&P 500 really only reflect America’s biggest and top-performing companies, which are built to weather a recession and have helped the billionaire class rake in nearly 30% more wealth during the pandemic.

Why You Should Care

The stock market isn’t the economy. The economy is production and jobs, and there are shortfalls in virtually every sector,” said Janet Yellen, former Federal Reserve Chair.

Trump’s tethering of the stock market to the economy suggests that he doesn’t really understand how either works. Even more so, he doesn’t understand the large facet of Americans who don’t benefit at all from the stock market.

Racial Justice and the BLM Movement

Even as so many Americans have been dealing with illness and unemployment, more have been outraged by the unfair deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers.

Although police brutality in the United States isn’t anything new, the age of social media means that these actions can now be filmed and shared with hundreds of millions of people. When the death of George Floyd was videoed and shared on May 25, it sparked a giant wave of protests across the country; which have continued as more and more Black Americans are being killed.

Why You Should Care

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a civil rights movement at its core, but, much like the action of wearing a mask, it’s been heavily politicized in recent months. President Trump has referred to it as a “symbol of hate” and denounced protestors everywhere; even going so far as to tweet, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” while offering to send military support to the city of Minneapolis.

Unfortunately, this has created a further epidemic of violence between protestors and police and military forces, with some protestors being severely injured or even dying from tear gas exposure and rubber bullet wounds.

Secret Police and Federal Government Intervention

In July, Trump deployed secret police driving unmarked cars, wearing no badges or other insignia, to Portland, Oregon, where Black Lives Matter protests were occurring. There were numerous reports and video evidence of peaceful protesters being thrown into vehicles against their will with no explanation.

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Why You Should Care

Every American is guaranteed the right to free speech and peaceful protest. Sending in secret police to effectively kidnap protesters is the type of tactic you would expect from a totalitarian regime. Whether you are left- or right-leaning, you should care that you might not be able to speak about something you are passionate about without being injured or abducted by anonymous forces.

Mail-In Voting

Mail-in voting has become common practice in states like Washington and California, and the pandemic has raised the issue of voter safety at polling locations. However, President Trump has repeatedly referred to mail-in voting as a “scam” perpetrated by Democrats to rig the election.

Why You Should Care

Although there’s no evidence to support Trump’s claims — and the FBI has even stepped forward to say so — his continued abuse of the mail-in voting system has led to widespread fear and outrage among his supporters. This will not only affect the ability to vote safely this November, but it will cause many to question the results of the presidential election.

Contested Election

As the election draws closer, Trump continues to feed the idea that he will only lose if Democrats rig the election. As to whether he will concede if he does lose, his answer has been the same — “we’re going to have to see what happens.”

Why You Should Care

Democrats have speculated for years that Trump will not give up his power without a fight. “We could well see a protracted post-election struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine School of Law, told The Atlantic.

In other words, things will likely come to blows, with half the country demanding Trump give up his seat and the other half chanting “fraud!”

Either way, such a contested election may leave voters with little remaining trust in American “democracy” — if any at all.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The First Presidential Debate: Everything You Need To Know