By Dorvall Bedford
The first presidential debate faced controversy before it began when one of the topics was titled “Race and Violence in Our Cities.” Liberal commentators and advocacy groups said the phrasing implied that social justice movements were violent. Now critics have more than a title to point out.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked President Donald Trump Tuesday night if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, an act he has refrained from doing since he claimed there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville rally that involved white supremacists in 2017.
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump said. “But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
The president’s avoidance of condemning white supremacists did not go unnoticed by Wallace and former Vice President Joe Biden. They both responded quickly when Trump said he was willing to do anything for peace.
“What do you want to call them?” he asked. “Give me a name… who would you like me to condemn?”
Wallace said to call them white supremacists. Biden told Trump to call out the Proud Boys, a far-right group.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
Instead of condemning white supremacists, the president targeted anifa.
“Antifa is a dangerous, radical group,” Trump said to Biden. “You ought to be careful with them, they’ll overthrow you.”
Biden corrected Trump during the debate and explained to him that antifa is an idea, not an organization. He cited that Trump’s FBI director said white supremacists pose the largest threat. Indeed, those who are racially and ethnically motivated have been the most lethal of all domestic extremists since 2001, according to FBI director Christopher Wray.
Trump also claimed to have the support of military leaders, law enforcement and even the sheriff in Portland. However, he was incorrect about having support from Portland law enforcement.
“As the Multnomah County Sheriff I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him,” Sheriff Mike Reese tweeted.
The former vice president was not entirely accurate with his statements either. Biden said violent crime went down during the Obama administration and increased while Trump has been in office. A 2017 report by FactCheck.org shows that although violent crime was 16 percent lower in 2016 than in 2008, the murder rate didn’t change. Calculations by crime analyst Jeff Asher show the number of murders increased by 26 percent while violent crime remained almost the same. These sources were provided by the Washington Post’s live updates during the debate.
When Wallace asked Trump why his administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addressed white privilege or critical race theory, the president replied that he ended it because it was racist.
“They were teaching people to hate our country,” Trump said. “And I’m not going to do that.”
Biden did not agree.
“Nobody is doing that,” he said. “He’s the racist.”
Biden was confident to say that systemic racism exists in education, work and law enforcement. Yet, he contradicted this statement in his next sentence when he said that “the vast majority of police officers” are honorable and racial injustice is caused by “bad apples.” By using this argument often made by the Republican Party, he undermines his stance on systemic racism while distancing himself from progressive Democrats and movements such as Black Lives Matter.
“What I support is the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face,” Biden said. “I’m totally opposed to defunding the police officers.”
This Democratic platform of increased funding for police departments is not a view shared by civil rights activists. Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, is one such activist who wants to defund the police.
“I’m old enough to remember three years ago, when the NYPD went on strike and crime… went down,” Robinson tweeted.
The former vice president did not entirely separate himself from protestors. After saying that violence is never appropriate, he praised peaceful protests. Trump was quick to interrupt.
“What is peaceful protest?” he asked. “When they run through the middle of the town and burn down your stores and kill people all over the place?”
Despite their differing stances on racial issues and social justice, Biden and Trump are both similar in their use of misinformation and maneuvers to avoid difficult questions. Trump continues to face scrutiny since he refuses to clarify if he denounces white supremacists or not. Biden has the potential of losing progressive voters if he fails to convince them that his views are not against their interests. With two more presidential debates coming soon, voters will have the responsibility of deciphering the meanings behind what both Biden and Trump say when it comes to issues of race.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Dorvall Bedford is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org