So-called ‘Presidential Debate’: Indian Americans respond

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Indian-Americans evaluate the first confrontation between two candidates for the White House

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By most accounts, the first Presidential ‘debate’ deteriorated into a brawl of words and crosstalk that made it impossible to figure out much about what two Presidential candidates, one an incumbent, the other an aspirant, had as their agendas for the coming four years were they to win in the Nov. 3, 2020 elections.

News reports on Indian-American reactions to the debate indulged in featuring extremely predictable opinions Republicans and Democrats expressed about the Sept. 29 ‘Presidential debate’, in essence, holding no news value.

News India Times spoke to several people from the community on the condition that partisan bickering be put aside for an unfiltered look at what transpired in the first debate … in effect, the ‘real’ opinions of this community, which by all accounts is the most highly educated, and now highly active segment of the political landscape, depending on their reasoning to analyze what actually happened that night.

Now with President Trump quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus, the future debates if they are held would change in their formats, and possibly have a different outcome.

A Twitter hashtag #PresidentialDebate – containing some choice, highly partisan bickering which was predictable, did catch the gist of the argument in a rational, non-partisan way from a person of Indian origin –

Krishnan Guru-Murthy @krishgm tweeted Sept. 30 — “I don’t get the whole “you were best off not watching it” reaction to the #PresidentialDebate. It may have been ghastly but it was essential viewing because it tells you a huge amount about where US democracy is right now.

News India Times decided to get as reasoned and non-partisan view of Indian-American voters, to present an anecdotal account from people of different persuasions, age groups and genders, including first time voters.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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Nimai Shukla, 18, will be voting for the first time this Nov. 3. He watched almost the whole debate because he wanted to keep on top of the evolving political situation, especially since it is his first election.

“Neither candidate is one I would vote for because neither seemed fit … and they appeared mentally old, their policies are outdated, and sticking to party lines, and also seeing how radical Republicans have become from their much more centrist approach before,” Shukla said.

“I had hoped it would be a little more civil. It was definitely worse than the Hillary Clinton debate. It did prove how immature Trump was than Biden. But it did show Biden was not strong,” Shukla added, saying he had spoken to some of his Indian American friends, some of whom felt Biden would be better but others felt Trump would be more beneficial for them financially.

He also said he was disappointed with President Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 situation and the Black Lives Matter movement. “We have to think of the experiences of ‘all’ Americans, not just yourself,” said Shukla who is currently on campus for his first year in college, but noted that he spends most of his time quarantined because of Covid outbreaks in the college.

“The debate was not well organized, partly because the structure was not properly managed,” contended Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and publisher of News India Times. “The moderator was weak. It should have been a civilized interaction and each person should have followed the rules. That would have made it more meaningful. It was very disappointing.”

(A report in the Huffington Post recorded the number of interruptions President Trump made during the 90 minutes debate (#PresidentialDebate)  — they totaled 128.)

“I watched it for 15 minutes and was so disgusted, I turned off the television,” said this senior living in Queens who did not want her name used. A mainly apolitical person who is nevertheless a registered Democrat “because I support benefits for those who need them.”

“I normally don’t even watch these debates, but I thought this is a very important and historic one so I should. But I would rather get my news from the comedy talk shows at night. At least they make us laugh,” she ended up concluding.

Ahmed from New Jersey, who wanted to be known only by his first name and is a university student who will be voting for the second time this November, said the highlight for him was President Trump not condemning White supremacy, “I thought that was a non-partisan issue and not a Democratic or Republican issue.”

On the other hand, Dino Teppara, an attorney and member of Indian Voices for Trump, told News India Times via email, “The debate was quite informative and I look forward to future debates, where the President can showcase how much he has accomplished in just four years. He defended himself, which I appreciate, because I know he will fight for us and stand up for his country.”

Some of the respondents said that in the end, it was a debate, it was meant to be lively, and participants had to defend themselves and bring out the record of the opponent.

India also featured at one point in the so-called debate. On Covid-19, one of the arguments President Trump made in his defense of the highest numbers of U.S. cases and fatalities from the coronavirus. “Well, if you look at countries like India, you can’t trust their numbers,” President Trump noted, a point that may or may not go down well with some Indian American voters.

Dr. Jaswant Sachdev, a neurologist in Phoenix, Arizona, for 44 years, told News India Times he did not appreciate how the debate unfolded. While he did not care for the way President Trump took over the floor, he also felt Vice President Biden did a poor show of responding immediately.

“Of course I agree with lots of Biden policies but I don’t like the ‘open ended’ border where everyone can come in. We are also immigrants and we came through the proper channels,” Dr. Sachdev said.

Since 9/11, and the first casualty of the backlash, when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner was murdered in a hate crime in Mesa, Arizona, Dr. Sachdev has been engaged in spreading awareness about Sikhs in the U.S., speaking at churches and schools, anywhere he is invited, and authoring several books on diaspora issues, among them, Square Peg Round Holes and Western Mirror Eastern Reflections.

“I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t a debate. What a disaster that was,” said Ankur Vaidya, chairman of the Federation of Indian Associations who told News India Times he was speaking in his personal capacity.

Vaidya said his 11-year old son who was watching the debate for a school project, was astounded. “His eyes were popping out. ‘Dad, why are they calling each other names or talking of each other’s family,’ he asked me,” Vaidya recalled.

“I am a Republican by personal choice, but I would not condone such questions about family,” Vaidya said. “The President should have stuck to his issues. His economy argument would have been strong, and he could have said that Covid had caught the nation off-guard and he was doing the best he could,” Vaidya opined.

“Both candidates missed so many opportunities. The starting point should have been – here we are at a point where we discuss – the present and how we are going to get the economy going back up in the midst of Covid,” he contended. “There’s no way one can be partisan about this debate, even if you wanted to be. There were no winners in this one,” Vaidya concluded.

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