What on earth has happened to the planet’s bastion of democracy, a nation highly respected for its rule of law, civil liberties and constitution that provides checks and balances to prevent abuse by any of three branches of government? Today, the United States of America has been toppled off its lofty pinnacle to emerge as a laughing stock in some eyes, an object of pity in others.
As Commander-in-Chief of the wealthiest and most militarily powerful nation, the American President has the ability to influence global affairs, which is why which individual chosen to preside from the Oval Office matters to me even though as a non-American I do not have a vote.
In effect my part of the world has been largely shaped by successive US administrations and not always in a good way, and so it was with great anticipation that I made myself comfortable to watch the first head-to-date debate between presidential candidates President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden.
I was looking forward to an interesting showcase of their respective views on such crucial issues as COVID-19 and how they would strive to keep the virus in check while halting the potential collapse of the global economy. I do not want a replay of the 2008 economic downturn or worse and I hoped to get a glimpse of what strategies both sides intend to use prior to a safe and effective vaccine being distributed.
Unfortunately, on the above life-altering topics, I learned nothing at all. Instead, I was shocked and disappointed to witness the American President and his Democratic rival Biden spending their time dragging up as much dirt as they could on the other while exchanging mutual insults.
There were no red lines on disrespect. Biden called the President “a liar”, “a clown” and at one point told him to “shut-up”. Trump hit below the belt with attacks on Biden’s son Hunter, who was discharged from the Navy for using cocaine, and he questioned how the young man managed to land a lucrative position with a Ukrainian energy company during his father’s vice-presidential tenure.
To my mind there was no winner in this childish contest. Indeed, the moderator on more than one occasion chastised the candidates for interrupting one another as though they were kindergartners.
I might have found this comedic ‘show’ mildly entertaining if there were not so many urgent issues at stake such as burgeoning poverty, homelessness and unemployment not only in the US but in most other places around the world. Refugees are going hungry because aid has all but dried up. Heightened tensions between the West and Turkey, the ongoing civil war in Libya, the endless fighting in northern Syria, the clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the threats posed by Iran and it proxy suffocating Lebanon were never given a mention.
Families are being evicted because the breadwinners have lost their jobs due to the virus and they cannot pay their accrued rent. Many industries are fighting to keep afloat with one of the worst affected, the airline industry, laying off employees to the tune of hundreds of thousands. Some airlines will be submerged never to reappear.
Small business owners who have ploughed their life savings into a store or restaurant are shutting up shop. Then there is the human cost. Well over 200,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19; many have died all alone barred from saying their final goodbye to loved ones. No country is entirely immune from pain although some have fared better than others. The consensus is that the US is at the top of the worst hit league.
The American people are seeking guidance from a leadership they can count on to be trustworthy, one that has their well-being at heart. A percentage of voters are struggling to decide who is worthy of their confidence.
They want a president who can provide them with a sense of comfort and security; they want to relax knowing their future is in safe hands in terms of healthcare, climate change, the economy. Until now, they have no answers.
Many of us on the outside feel similarly trying to guess our fate which in some instances is dependent upon which party takes the prize.
Unfortunately, Trump and Biden were not only insulting they debased this important exchange trying to outdo the other. They both lacked seriousness befitting the Leader of the Free World with access to nuclear codes that if used could turn swathes of our planet into dust. They both used language unbefitting of a politician let alone a president.
With two more debates to go it will be interesting to see if either has learned any lessons from last Tuesday’s debacle. Will the contenders remove their gloves and talk about their respective visions for their country and the world, and will President Trump highlight his successes in terms of economic recovery and low unemployment rates, or are we doomed to watch yet another cheap face-off? To quote President Trump’s famous catch phrase, “Let’s see what happens”.
By Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor