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The lost debate
October 20, 2020
In every election cycle, the presidential debates are key parts of the process. These debates garner tens of millions of views and offer insights into each candidate; however, in 2020, one of these debates was canceled.
The second presidential debate, between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, was scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, Fla. However, when Trump contracted COVID-19 on Oct. 1, the event was thrown into a state of flux as the president was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment. With the debate set to take place within a fortnight of Trump’s infection, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the cancellation of the debate on Oct. 9 for the safety of all parties. The commission was forced to cancel after Trump refused to agree to the virtual debate that the organization had suggested.
While the debate that never was has now passed, the election draws nearer, and students at ETHS continue to process the events unfolding in front of them. What follows are the responses of four Evanstonians—seniors Gabe Karsh, Lara-Nour Walton and Jonathan Zenkich and junior Mira Littman—to these unfolding events.
How do you feel about the cancellation of the second presidential debate?
Karsh: “I think the less people hear Biden talk, the better because he is not good at talking, especially when he doesn’t have it pre-written…. [Cancellation was good,] because if anyone needs debates, [it’s] Trump.”
Littmann: “It’s really disappointing…. Voters deserve to hear what the candidates have to say—it’s a central part of democracy and of informed voting. It speaks to Trump’s stubborn and uncooperative nature that he would refuse to adapt to the situation in order to make it safer for everyone involved. I understand that he is trying to [look strong], but I wish he would lead by example.”
Walton: “I was disappointed in Trump’s reluctance to participate in the second presidential debate, but I wasn’t surprised. By refusing to do a virtual debate, the president is trying to… prove to his base that he is stronger and braver in face of [COVID-19] than Biden could ever be.”
Zenkich: “I was a bit sad when the second debate was canceled, but this feeling was very limited. While I enjoy watching the debates, I don’t actually think much comes out of them in terms of policy or changing people’s minds…. I wasn’t surprised, however, that the debate was canceled…. [Trump] likes control. He likes things to be his way. When they can’t be, he ignores them.”
How did you feel when Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19?
Karsh: “My immediate thought was, he’s going to die. I have conflicting feelings about that. I don’t wish death upon anybody, but like, the fact that he survived [COVID-19] means other people aren’t going to take it seriously, and they will die of [Coronavirus].”
Littmann: “I was hoping that the president could turn it around to be a learning moment and use it to lead the people and show how COVID is something that should be taken seriously, but the opposite happened…. He’s had so many opportunities to make a difference through leadership, even just by promoting mask-wearing, and he hasn’t taken a single one of them.”
Walton: “It was poetic justice. Like a lot of people, I was hoping that this bout of COVID would expose him to how serious the virus truly is. But, rather than giving him that perspective, Trump’s personal experience only empowered him to trivialize its effects…. I am appalled at his lack of empathy.”
Zenkich: “I felt bad for him. I thought that there was a lot of nastiness on Twitter and other platforms about his diagnosis. At the end of the day, he’s still a person and the POTUS. We should wish him good health.”
What are your fears going into November?
Littmann: “I’m terrified that Trump will win the election and set in motion a series of events that basically leads to a lot of social and political unrest in our country. We’re so divided right now, and I don’t think we can take another four years of an inciting and enabling president in office.”
Walton: “I am concerned about the outcome of the election regardless of who comes out victorious…. The country will continue to be in a state of fear and tumult even if Biden wins…. There is so much we can’t predict. That is the scariest part.”
Zenkich: “My biggest fear is that we aren’t going to get a true understanding of who wins the election. While there’s been talk of Trump holding up the transition of power, I really don’t think this will materialize; I think after Biden wins, things will be pretty normal.”