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Presidential debate a depressing and chaotic joust

US President Donald Trump, left, and former vice president Joe Biden during this week's first presidential campaign debate. Picture by Patrick Semansky/AP

Presidential debates are landmark political events in the United States, a set-piece opportunity for the two people vying for the top office in the land to go head to head in a bid to sway voters.

Generally they are fairly regimented affairs, questions and answer sessions that can be a bit sedate, heavy on policy but occasionally sparking into life with robust exchanges or memorable putdowns.

In fact, nothing at all like the unedifying spectacle that American voters were treated to on Tuesday night. It was a debate that was remarkable for its sheer awfulness, a bruising free for all that descended to the level of the playground.

Donald Trump was himself, only amplifed. His bullying, aggressive, at times vicious, performance was designed to flatten his opponent and appeal to his base.

All his worse traits were on full display, perhaps most shockingly in his failure to not only condemn white supremacists but to issue a reckless call to action, telling one extreme group to 'stand back and stand by'.

Viewers used to the more restrained political debates on this side of the Atlantic will have been struck by the barrage of low blows aimed during this encounter, particularly the personal attacks on Joe Biden and his family.

The problem with Mr Trump is that he refuses to follow the rules and all debates are on his terms, as Hillary Clinton found to her cost in 2016.

Mr Biden's job was to look presidential and offer a stark contrast to his belligerent, erratic and chaotic opponent and overall stuck to his plan of talking directly to voters and targeting Mr Trump's record, especially in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 205,000 US lives, an appalling toll in a country with vast wealth, expertise and resources.

He also got dragged down, telling the president at one stage to 'shut up', but is generally considered to have come out the winner of this depressing joust.

At this stage of the campaign most Americans will have a clear idea of what is on offer from the two men competing for their votes.

There are scheduled to be be two further debates but it has to be asked if Mr Biden has anything to gain from taking part in another event if it resembles this slanging match.





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