Opinion: Sensationalizing an election with dueling town halls

By Cassandra Ballard

Oct 18, 2020 | Editorials | 1 comment

//Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. Photos from Wikimedia and Flickr. 

The United States now knows what an election looks like if Trump could decide the setting.

The second presidential debate of 2020 was supposed to be a town hall with both candidates meeting virtually for social distancing during COVID-19. President Trump refused to meet virtually, so Joe Biden chose to hold the town hall at with the original time on ABC. The narcissistic host of The Apprentice then scheduled a competing town hall during the same time slot on his old show’s home network, NBC.

In the spirit of sensationalism, Trump bashed NBC earlier in the day claiming they would set him up, even though he set the interview. In spite of Trump’s lust for ratings, a few TikTok creators, including YouTuber Hank Green, asked their followers to support Biden on every piece of technology they owned. They urged people to watch from their TV, phone, computer and tablet at the same time. This proved to work, with Biden receiving higher ratings.

Each town hall was in vast contrast to the other. Biden’s felt like the underwhelming but well-planned theory of a professional politician with dry mouth, and Trump’s like the impulsive ramblings of a conman with no plan. President Trump stuck with blaming his regular scapegoats and sidestepping direct and hard-hitting questions, while Biden stumbled over his words trying to toe the line of electability.

Biden attempted a bipartisan approach while assuring the viewers he would let the voters decide, like promising not to get rid of fracking, but to also implement green energy.

More controversially, he promised laws against discrimination for transgender people, even though his language lacked sensitivity. He also avoided the question about packing the Supreme Court, but hinted that he is considering it. Overall, he acted like the real politician we all know he is, and that was comforting. Even Rupert Murdoch said that people are ready for “Sleepy Joe.”

Trump’s town hall was shorter, with fewer commercials and a host who was determined to get answers and correct facts. The president spent the majority of the time evading Savannah Guthrie’s questions and focused on his “accomplishments,” promising to make them bigger and better in round two. I kept envisioning a swindler frantically waving his left hand to distract from him sweeping the real answers under the rug with his right foot. 

After the town halls wrapped up, commentators from both stations believed that Biden came out on top. He showed that he had plans and strategies in place, while Trump just came off as loud and combative with no real objectives. Unfortunately, I noticed something different that made me think about why Trump still has a possible chance of winning with no plan and divisive rhetoric. It’s all in the extremists. 

Behind President Trump was a woman with a red mask and a red skirt whose blurred image could be seen throughout his entire town hall. I began to notice her overemphasized nodding when QAnon was mentioned and Trump refused to denounce the conspiracy group. He only acknowledged their hate for pedophilia and refused to touch on the rest of their beliefs. It seemed to encourage her nods, and throughout the rest of the interview, no matter what he said, her head was bobbing in support. 

Trump didn’t propose any new plans or list any accurate numbers. He just dog whistled his extremist followers and set the stage like the showman he is, pushing his consistently false information and giving the audience something entertaining to get worked up about. At one point, Guthrie asked about misinformation the President had retweeted, and he floundered in his response. “You’re the President—not someone’s crazy uncle,” she said to him.

Biden might be so decent and old that he is boring, and he might win because people want things to feel “normal” again. But Trump is the exciting, toxic ex-partner people obsess over. He’s the trainwreck none of us can look away from. The problem is, we are on that train, and only half of us can see it’s about to crash.

1 Comment

  1. Silvia Siregar

    I just read there’s going to be another presidential debate. Are you going to watch it on Monday? I watched it on YouTube last time but I think I’ll watch this one on CNN. Boy, I hope it’s not such a mess as the last one.


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