The US Election: Everything We Learned From the First Debate

On November 3, America is going to make a decision that will have huge implications for the rest of the world. Every election cycle feels significant but this time around there seems to be so much more at stake.

Whether you’ve been hooked on The Comey Rule or you’re still uncertain just who Joe Biden is, let us walk you through everything that happened in the first US presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Biden and Trump met in front of a socially distanced, silent, mask-wearing audience. The two candidates pretty much shouted over each other for an hour and a half and for a lot of the debate it was hard to hear just what was going on.

Much of the dialogue was pretty childish and incredibly polarised. Biden called Trump a clown, that he can’t be trusted, and several times told him to shut up. Trump went after Biden’s “radical left” supporters, his son, and said there was “nothing smart” about Biden. It did feel a bit like watching two angry old men bicker in a care home.

Predictably, the coronavirus, China, healthcare, the military, the Supreme Court, racism, and climate change were discussed. Topics were chosen by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace who moderated the debate. Wallace frequently had to explain the rules of the debate to Trump and lost his cool a number of times in trying to get the President to stop talking.

Here’s how it went down.

The Supreme Court

First up was a question on the Supreme Court and the recent appointment of Amy Coney Barrett after the death of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. Biden said Trump’s nomination was an abuse of power that denied the American people a choice. Trump said he was only doing what any other sitting president would do by appointing another Justice.

Biden worried the appointment would see the appeal of Obamacare and that, if it came to it, Barratt’s support in the Supreme Court could end up deciding the election, which Trump denied.


Trump has been making moves in the past few weeks to lower the prices people pay for prescription drugs and claimed his new deals would save people “80-90%”.

Biden said repealing Obamacare would lose 30 million Americans their coverage and that Trump doesn’t care about the average person.


As dull as it sounds, tax is huge this time around. Trump is the first US president and presidential candidate in three decades to not release his tax returns and has said in the past that he tries very hard not to pay taxes.

Chris Wallace asked about the recent New York Times article which claimed Trump hadn’t paid tax for the past 10 out of 15 years. Trump denied it and said he paid millions in tax. When Biden asked why he wouldn’t release his tax statement, Trump said the American public would see them when they were ready, an argument he has been making for at least the past four years.

Trump said that he “doesn’t want to pay tax” and that, “like every other private person, unless they’re stupid, I go through the laws”, implying he legally avoids paying tax.

Biden said Trump was taking advantage of the system and that he would reverse the Trump-era tax cuts “because you’re president and screwing it up”. Biden also said he would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.


Biden went hard on the failures of the Trump administration, repeatedly stating that “the president has no plan” and doesn’t care or know how to deal with the crisis. Trump blamed China and everyone else for the 200,000 dead Americans and repeatedly claimed that if the Democrats had been in power there would have been far more dead.

Trump claimed that he had the military poised and ready to deliver 200,000 vaccines a day as soon as it was ready which he thought could happen before November 3.

Biden brought up the injecting bleach comment by Trump who claimed he spoke sarcastically. Biden repeatedly hit upon the frequent lies that the Trump administration has spouted in relation to the virus including the idea that it would be over by Easter.

Wallace asked about mask-wearing to which Trump said he supported mask-wearing but said Biden wore masks more than Trump because he was scared of the virus. Biden pushed masks and social distancing as a way to stop the virus.

Wallace asked about rallies and why Trump was holding such big ones during the pandemic. Trump said there was “no problem whatsoever” about his rallies and spoke up the numbers while claiming only “three people” show up to Biden’s rallies anyway.


Trump repeatedly claimed that he had presided over “the strongest economy in history” and that if Biden was in power it would have been shut down, costing “millions” of lives to depression and mental health issues. Trump blamed the current economic problems from the pandemic on China, calling it a “China plague’ that “never should have happened”.

Biden said millionaires like Trump had been doing fine during the economic recession but that the average American was suffering and that Trump would be the first president in history to leave office with fewer people employed than when he started.


Wallce brought up the statement that Trump made about “very fine people on both sides” at the Charlottesburg white supremacist rally and his claims that he has done “more than any other president since Abraham Lincoln for black people”.

The George Floyd protests came up with Biden talking about the fact that Trump tear-gassed protesters outside of the white house to take a photo outside of a church in Washington. Biden asked “this man is the saviour of African Americans? This man cares at all?”

Trump made the race issue about law enforcement and spoke up the support he has from the military. He called Portland a fire that he would put out in a second if allowed by the “radical left” leaders.

The killing of Breonna Taylor was brought up and Biden was asked if there was a separate justice system for black people to which he agreed there was. Biden said most police were good but that bad ones need to be held accountable and that he would work by bringing disparate groups together to talk through their issues. Biden said peaceful protest was fine but violence was never justified.

Wallace brought up that Trump had decided to end racial sensitivity training and asked if he believed America was systemically racist. Trump said the training programme was racist itself full of “very bad” and “very sick” ideas that were “teaching people to hate our country”.

Biden said being Irish Catholic meant he understood what it was like to be looked down upon by people like Trump before claiming “he wouldn’t know about the suburbs unless he took a wrong turn. I was raised in the suburbs!”

Trump repeatedly asked whether Biden was in favour of law and order to which Biden said he was but that he is “totally opposed to defunding the police”. Biden said the police need more support in the form of psychologists and other social or community workers to work in tandem with them.

Biden was quizzed on whether he supported the protests in Portland using “whatever it takes”. Biden said the “violence should be prosecuted”.

Wallace asked if Trump would condemn white supremacy. Trump replied “sure I’m willing to do that but most of the problems I see are from the left”. He then shouted “antifa is bad! Antifa is a dangerous radical group. They’re dangerous and they’ll overthrow you!” at Biden.

Climate change

Chris Wallace brought up the recent fires in the US and Trump’s response to them as well as his record on climate change which includes pulling out of the Paris Climate accord.

Trump said he wanted “crystal clean air and water” but that the Paris Accord and environmental legislation hurts businesses.

Trump said “to an extent,” he thinks humans are responsible for climate change but that better forest management would help stop fires. He denied having made much difference in environmental policy by repealing Obama-era protections and claimed he was “all for” electric cars.

Wallace asked Biden about his environmental plans to which he said “no one is going to build another coal power plant in America, no one is going to build another oil-fired plant in America”. Biden talked up his environmental policies by saying he would invest money in renewables and also spoke about putting pressure on Brazil to protect the Amazon. Biden did however deny support for the Green New Deal policy put forward by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Electoral integrity

This year there is a lot of concern around how the election will work due to the number of mail-in ballots. Trump has spent a lot of time over the past few months decrying the legitimacy and effectiveness of mail-in ballots and this debate was no different.

Biden said Trump was trying to scare people into not voting or think the election was not legitimate and said “he cannot stop you from determining the outcome of the election”.

Trump said the Democrats, Obama, Hillary had all been conspiring against him for years to stop his campaign. He said mail-in ballots was a “disaster” and “there is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen”.

When asked if each candidate would urge calm to their supporters if the election takes a few days or weeks to be counted, Trump said he wants his supporters to watch the election very closely and if he sees ballots being cheated he “won’t accept it”.

Biden said he would of course wait to have the election result independently verified and brought up the fact that the military have been voting by mail for years.

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