On race, President Trump clarified his unwillingness to condemn white supremacy, even though this time the question was posed indirectly.
Why should the rest of the world care, though?
Whether Trump loses or wins, both electoral outcomes will have the potential of emboldening racial supremacist movements in the US and beyond: A sucessful run for a second term would be an encouraging tale of how determined, overt new racisms can push boundaries without sanction.
An electoral loss, as Trump has indirectly vowed, would deepen the sense of victimhood that already fuels staunch rightwingers in their fight against progressive politics and policies.
Viewed from the outside, it’s not clear what Biden could realistically do to stop the onward march of right wing extremism.
In contrast to Trump’s views on race, Biden spoke about his commitment to building black wealth. It seemed to ring as formulaic to the young black man who posed the question on what Biden would do for voters like him. Where it a different year, it would be hopeful to hear Biden’s commitment to racial equality and his willingness to put money where his mouth is if elected president.
It woud have been especially hopeful in another year hearing of Biden’s regret for leading the effort to enact the infamous Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
However, on international news screens, reporting on the divided town halls was punctuated with updates on the failed attempt to abduct and remove the governors of Michigan and Virginia. There was a distinct impression that old rifts were resurfacing and that it would be naive to imagine that they would disappear with the election of either Trump or Biden.
The symbolism of town hall meetings in two different locations only reinforced the impression of widening chasms.
That there was also a doubling down on the conspiracy theory that Bin Laden is still alive, the idea that Covid was disappearing and could be wished away on Trump’s part was a sobering reminder of the depth of Trump’s commitment to his ambitions.
Biden’s encouraging words on fiscal stimulus and his support for a scientifically-proven vaccine, while reassuring, still seem to only carry hope only if the superior ratings that the Biden townhall garnered translate into electoral and cultural war victories.
As Biden’s town hall attempted to paint a bright future, Trump wrapped up his own with a pitch to Americans. He demonstrated how distant his thinking was from the grounded policy discussions on macroeconomic, public health, racial, environmental, and security issues that were underway at the Biden townhall. In Trump’s mind, the US needed to reward him with a second term, because, as he asserted:
… I’ve done a great job. We had the strongest economy in the world. We closed it up. We’re coming around the corner. The vaccines are coming out soon, and our economy is strong. We are at a level with jobs like we’ve never been before. We’ve rebuilt our military. We’ve rebuilt our borders. We had no borders. We had no nothing. We’ve rebuilt so much.
We’ve given you the greatest tax cut in the history of our country, greatest regulation cut, equally as important. And we created new levels of jobs that nobody thought was possible. And next year is going to be better than ever before.
The divisions on screen and in content could not have been starker. Both alternatives, however, appear to involve a Trump determined to cling onto the power he has accumulated, electoral outcome notwithstanding.
What this spells for global cooperation on economic recovery, international public health policy faced with a pandemic, and the growing cultural movement toward right wing populism is frightful.