And when Wallace repeatedly asked whether he would resign from the white supremacists and militias that cause violence in American cities, Trump relented and asked someone to name a particular organization.
Mitt Romney – an appointing candidate – won a victory in the first presidential debate of 2012 by switching up his style. Barack Obama had clearly prepared to attack the Republican nominee and former hedge fund executive for the archconservative economic proposals he had been campaigning on. Romney disarmed him simply by denying having taken the positions he had taken – insisting, for example, that his tax policy would not favor the wealthy. He gave the lone hearted Obama off his game by presenting a version of himself that the country had seen on the campaign trail.
Almost not to be said, Trump did not follow Romneys example last night. The president was more likely to be a more petulant and antagonistic version of himself. He spent the bulk of the first debate continuously interrupting Joe Biden and the host Chris Wallace of Fox News. But his performance went far beyond his impoliteness. In the most disturbing two moments of debate, the President refused to accept to respect the results of the election or even to encourage voters to stay calm while the votes are tallied. Instead he urged his supporters to go watch the polls, a thinly disguised invitation to voter intimidation. And when Wallace repeatedly asked whether he would disavow the white supremacists and militias causing violence in American cities, Trump relented and asked someone to name a specific organization. When Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, Trump instead defused them far from denouncing them — instead, he said :
In some aspects, it was a familiar spectacle. During his first term, reporters have repeatedly tried to pin down Trump on these questions, and his answers have always been ambiguous at best. To some degree, it could be attributed to Trump’s defensive instincts. His answers on the “we have to see what happens” could have been, in part, the improvisations of a man uncertain of the optimal position and shy of the change of direction. Last night the difference was that he knew that the questions came. The topic of the debate had been announced in advance. The easiest thing to pull a Romney would have been to deny white supremacy and of course I encourage voters to respect the democratic process. But Trump did not. His encouragement of white supremacist groups was not a gaffe. It was a statement of policy
Like many Tech Reporter I watched the debate openly with a blank document, awaiting for the discussion to expand into a substantive policy area that I cover. Of course that was nothing to happen. Even though they were not thrown up, I couldn’t help but think about social media platforms as I watched yesterday’s bizarre spectacle. We tech reporters like to be hailed on Twitter, YouTube and even Facebook particularly for the ways in which their algorithms redirect users to inflammatory content and for their failures to stop spread of dangerous misinformation. These criticisms are largely correct. But they also sometimes go into wishful thinking : if only Mark Zuckerberg figured his act out, American politics would return to normal, and we could stop wondering whether democracy will survive the election. The next time you read about a misleading political video that has been widely viewed with 500,000 views, remember that the debate on Thursday night was watched by more than 80 million people. Two years ago, Facebook and Twitter removed accounts associated with the proud boys (although some pages have managed to get. But when the president of the United States denies right-wing thugs on national television, you may recall that there is a limit to what moderation from the platform can achieve.
Social media platforms have a huge role in our political life, however, if they like or not. It took just moments for the group to turn Trump’s speech into an online one. There are some encouraging signs that the platforms this year take their responsibility more seriously than they did in 2016 The Trump debate performance was a reminder that they can’t take it seriously enough.
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