Half of American voters have already cast their ballots and by Tuesday the other half will have made their choices. It is shaping up as the greatest turnout in a century, and the contrast between the two presidential candidates could not be greater.
That was strikingly clear in the final moments of their final debate when the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC, asked each what he would say to those who didn’t vote for him in his inaugural address on January 20, 2021, if he is the next president.
Donald Trump had a lot of time to prepare since he got two similar softball questions in interviews this summer from sycophantic interviewers Sean Hannity of Fox News and Eric Bolling of Sinclair Broadcasting. And both times he swung and missed. When Welker gave him a third try, he struck out.
In his earlier response to Hannity, instead of talking about his plans for a second term and how he would cure the Corona-19 pandemic, inoculate every American (presumably only those legally in the country) and build the greatest economy in human history, he gave his pal a garbled response about “experience.”
It is “a very important word” although “talent is more important,” he intoned. What’s more, he added, that never slept over in Washington until he became president. That’s it, 138 words of nothing.
Bolling offered a second swing at an easy pitch. Define your “main focus” for a second term, he beseeched. This time Trump used 514 words. “We’re going to make America great again,” presumably admitting that after four years he feels a need to repair the damage he’s done. He went on to boast about his first term achievements, real and imagined. Even Bolling, a loyal Trump booster, found the answer empty, and changed subjects by praising Trump for “remind(ing) the American public what you’ve done.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump has failed to make a concerted effort to reach out to voters outside he base beyond asking them “what have you got to lose?” by voting for me.
In responding to Welker’s question about his inaugural address to those who voted against him, Trump defended his handling of the pandemic, boasted about “calls” from people impressed with his “success” and attacked former Vice President Joe Biden. Nothing about healing the wounds of an especially bitter and divisive period in the nation’s history.
Biden’s election, he warned, will produce “a depression the likes of which you have never seen.” It will be “be a very, very sad day for this country.”
Biden’s message to those who voted against him was to look directly into the cameras and into the homes of voters to share his vision for his presidency for all citizens, not just those who voted for him. Surprisingly, Trump, a seasoned reality television performer, did not do the same.
The former vice president said he would say, “I am an American president. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope.”
“We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear,” he said.
“What is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that. You have not been getting it the last four years.”
Trump avoided “vision” questions. When asked about the environment, he falsely claimed America has the cleanest air and water in the world, totally avoiding the fact that he has been steadily rolling back environmental protection regulations. Just this week he opened more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging and other exploitation.
The president came to the defense of the coal and oil industries, repeated his specious claims that wind turbines (he calls them “windmills”) kill birds, cause cancer and produce noxious fumes. “I know more about wind than you do,” he admonished Biden. (Hot air, yes; alternative energy, no.) Biden challenged him to “find me a scientist” who agrees with him.
Biden dismissed Trump’s attacks on himself and his family as “malarky” and turned to the camera and the audience in their homes.
“It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family, and your family is hurting badly,” he said. “If you are a middle-class family, you are getting hurt badly right now.”
Their closing words, more than anything in the evening or the campaign, best defined the differences between the two candidates. A visionary who looks into the cameras and eyes of the nation, and another who prefers looking a mirror.