“Will you shut-up man?” and other Mid-debate Shenanigans

The race for the White House is in its full swing and the heat is turning on. The first presidential debate of 2020 made that very clear. This election could prove to be a turning point in world politics. This is primarily due to the US-centrism in international politics, which despite being challenged by the rising China, consequently leads to American policies and events having a macro impact on the world. Even China cannot be ignorant of the American presence and the policy attitude of the White House. But as they say – with great power comes great responsibility. Such vital policy decisions need keen and rigorous discussions, which definitely didn’t seem to happen during the mere ‘comeback-match’ of September 29th night. For what it’s worth, some key issues did come up, however, were silenced in all the noise. In the heat of the moment, Biden pounded back at Trump with a “will you shut up man?” when the latter was rambling on right in the first segment. The debate (what was meant to be) was full of such insulting slurs (read: shenanigans) instead of substantial matters. There was a need for both of them to “shut-up” and focus on the main subjects of the segments. As that didn’t seem to happen, this article accentuates what “the clown” and “Little Marco” have to say on key foreign policy issues and other ‘less’ important stuff. This will help examine the impact and relevance of such policy stances on the larger international community. The aim is not to argue for or against any candidate but to reflect on their policies and understand what the future might hold when one of them gets elected.

The Foreign Policy Sophistry 

Although the debate had only a fleeting mention of China, with Trump calling COVID-19 the “China-virus” for the nth time, tackling ‘Big Daddy Xi’ remains central to contemporary American policy. Trump town has doubled down on China with its ‘go-it-alone’ policy – economically paining Beijing and driving it to the negotiating table. Apart from the tariff war, it has taken some bold economic and diplomatic steps to check China’s growing ambitions. On the other hand, Biden’s policy appears to be ‘Trump-Lite’ with slight optimism of cajoling Beijing through talks. Maintaining a stern approach towards China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Biden plans to lower the high tariffs imposed on China currently. An amicable relation with China would bring stability to the entire global market. It will be a sigh of relief for economies that are dependent on both of these megalomaniacs for their development. 

Relations with the extended Middle East also play a key role in America’s dear ‘national security’. While Trump and Biden have similar approaches towards Syria, Afghan-Taliban deal and the Israeli-UAE deal, things get different for other states. Although Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thus relocating the US embassy, Biden didn’t demand the reversal of this decision. This goes a long way in reinforcing American alliances and the US ‘choosing its wars’. Contrary to Trump, Biden is more considerate towards the Iran Nuclear Deal and is willing to re-enter it under favourable conditions. A successful deal would foster better relations between the adversaries – thus contributing to building confidence and stability in the region. Moreover, unlike Trump, Biden opposes US interference in the Yemeni Civil War. These definitely project Biden as the ‘messenger of peace’. Yet, the emphasis laid on the ‘just cause’ of US interventions might become problematic again, as it did for the Obama administration with its interference in Syria. The policy approaches of both candidates appear quite dubious because of the volatility of the region. Nevertheless, hope remains (however little) for ‘rational’ decisions to be made by whoever is in power and peace shall prevail (Inshallah). 

Engagement with key international organisations is another part of the policy sophistry of the presidential candidates this year. While Trump has clearly stood-up the Paris Climate Accord, Biden promises to re-join it immediately upon getting elected to office. Trump has ghosted NATO and the G5 in the past – which Biden promises to text-back. Trump’s contrasting approaches surely puts Biden in good-light with these organisations and makes him look like a man-with-a-plan. Biden also aims to renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, to “band Pacific economies against Beijing”, something that Trump won’t pay any heed to. The increased importance of the Indo-Pacific for the US is crucial for expanding America’s circle of influence and checking China’s military might. While Trump has shown commitment towards increasing the defence budget and building a space force, Biden’s campaign remains in the grey here. Though increased defence budget is viewed as a positive step in strengthening state security and capability of standing up to China, on the obverse side, it creates hostility and scepticism in other’s mind. This makes it absolutely crucial for it to be balanced well; not weighed down by personal or party interests – nonetheless, a utopian case.

Economy, Climate, Immigration & Other ‘less’ important stuff

In other ‘less’ important sections discussing the economy, etc., the candidates rightly focused on undermining their opponent by insulting them, bringing anecdotes from other’s past, family and commenting on each other’s smartness. Despite their apathetic approach, these topics influence the world greatly. Though the US economy is recovering, the Trump administration’s sheer mismanagement of the financial downturn caused by the pandemic has inflicted irrecoverable losses to several developing economies. Biden doesn’t seem to have a sustainable recovery plan either. Trump’s policy of keeping the Federal Reserve under political pressure, unlike Biden, will be a huge blow to the global macroeconomic order. Moreover, his uncompassionate immigration policy and the (wet) dream of building the Mexican wall perpetuates xenophobia, which Biden has openly criticised. Biden is also very environment friendly and proposes to spearhead de rigueur changes in America’s ‘Green Policy’. To counter, Trump repeatedly has pointed out that these changes will not be painless and will incur significant economic costs. These important strands of conversation were left loose, rather forgotten amidst the blame-game and propaganda exchange, portraying each other as a fascist or a leftist.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the overall policy and idea exchange was dominated by a load of baloney during the first presidential debate of 2020. In reality, both of the candidates must “shut-up” and focus on the more important things. Their campaign’s publicly stated policies hold the potential to make or break the future of this God’s green earth. Though both Red and Blue appear suspicious (read: sus) in their own ways, the international community must sit tight and hope for the best while the domestic interpretations of these policies determine the tide of this election. After months of campaigning and appeasing the smart Americans, now, it’s time to vote!

Deepanshu Singal is an undergraduate student at Ashoka University with a keen interest in Economics and International Relations.

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