Dubai: I woke my son up at 5am, despite his protestations, to watch the first US presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden. After all, one of the two on screen would, in January, be sworn in as president of arguably the most powerful country in the world. Plus, I wanted my son to learn a few things from two senior gentlemen that could help him get a place on the school debating team.
I have always loved watching and taking part in debates – the thrust and parry, the use of words, intonation, voice modulation. It just excites me. And so we sat in front of the TV with much expectation hoping to learn a few tips on the art of debating.
It started well with the usual pleasantries, Mr President and all. I tried explaining the topics to my son early so that he would follow them – the fight against the coronavirus, healthcare, economy and the forthcoming elections.
And then it began. “Nobody will show up to his rallies,” Trump said about Biden’s campaign, which has largely been virtual, adding that three people show up in some places.
Are you supposed to say things like this? Isn’t it mean on his part to put down an opponent?
“Dad,” my son asked, “are you supposed to say things like this? Isn’t it mean on his part to put down an opponent?”
“Well, son. This is a debate of the highest order. And we should be ready for some statements like this,” I said.
The insults were just beginning. “You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said, during a back-and-forth on taxes. There were times when Trump would just go on and on, with an exasperated moderator Chris Wallace sometimes pleading to be heard, and even raising his voice once.
“Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” Biden said to Trump while discussing the Supreme Court nomination. In the segment on healthcare, Biden said: “The fact is this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
My son got up from the sofa. “Dad, haven’t you told me not to talk like this? Never to use ‘shut up’. And can someone talk to the president like this, that too the US president?”
As I fumbled on my reply, there was more. “He is Putin’s puppy,” Biden said, needling Trump for not confronting Russia about allegedly putting bounties on US soldiers.
And then Biden called the president a “clown” - twice. At one point, he apparently thought better of it. “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown, excuse me, this person,” Biden said during an exchange about taxes.
Trump hit back too. The president mocked his opponent’s academic performance at the University of Delaware. “He was the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me,” Trump said. “Because you know what, there’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
The presidential debate had long lost its lustre for my son. He was used to seeing prime time debates on Indian television channels where all the participants speak at the same time. I had assured him that this one would be different. I couldn’t be that wrong, I thought to myself.
The next presidential debate is on October 15 in Miami, Florida. I may just let my son sleep through it.