Trump offers lies, distortions, and excuses during last debate
Leaving behind Trump and his lies: Democratic nominee Joe Biden didn't take the bait from President Trump at Thursday's final presidential debate. Trump desperately threw lie after lie at Biden hoping to throw him off, but Biden stuck to his agenda, laying out plans for dealing with coronavirus, reviving the economy, improving health care, tackling systemic racism, and fighting climate change. | Julio Cortez / AP

Yesterday, when a record 77,000 people in one day were infected with the coronavirus President Trump, offering no plan to deal with it, said only, “We are learning to live with it.”

“Come on,” Joe Biden, his debate opponent responded, “We’re dying with it.” Biden explained, during the debate segment on the pandemic, detailed plans he said he would implement, including testing, contact tracing, and investing money in people, communities, schools, and small businesses so they can both deal with the disease and survive economically. He condemned Trump and the Republicans for holding up legislation, the Heroes Act, passed by the House months ago.

On almost all the issues taken up during the debate, Trump rolled out a long list of false statements including distortions, dog whistles, and lies.

The lies and distortions encompassed everything from progress on the availability of a coronavirus vaccine to the role of the Black Lives Matter movement.

He tried to blame the lack of a new coronavirus and economic aid bill on congressional Democrats and used as an excuse for GOP blocking of that aid the absurd charge that the Heroes Act “was a bailout of high-crime, badly run Democrat cities and states.”

Joe Biden indicts the Trump administration for its failures on coronavirus, the economy, and more during the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. | Jim Bourg / Pool via AP

The “Democrat cities” Trump cited are home to millions of people of color and other working people who are suffering the most from the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic depression.

Biden called him on it. He noted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has blocked all aid to the jobless and to states and cities, contained in the Heroes Act, for more than six months.

Trump said Black Lives Matter marchers “were chanting” about police “Pigs in a blanket. Fry ’em like bacon”—a statement made by one early splinter group marcher that BLM promptly repudiated.

And Trump completely ducked a question Black woman moderator Kristen Welker asked about the need for “The Talk” Black parents must give their kids about how to interact with police. “I understand the question…There is institutional racism in America,” said Biden who said that in addition to police reform the opportunity to accumulate economic wealth needs to be extended to Black and other minority communities.

Pours fuel on the fire

Trump “pours fuel on every single racist fire. This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” Biden declared.

And so it went: Trump spewing out accusations and lies, or evading questions; Biden countering with jabs, policies, facts, and analysis, before appealing to people’s better natures at the end.

“You know who I am. You know who he is. Our character is on the ballot, Our nation’s character is on the ballot,” said Biden, reprising his common campaign theme against Trump.

In amongst Trump’s lies and Biden’s retorts, occasional differences leaked through in straight factual terms. One was on a key issue for low-income workers and workers of color: Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s been $7.25 for 11 years. Biden is for the increase. Trump isn’t.

Biden explained by saying no one should have to live in poverty.  “$15 and a union” has been a key cause of union-backed low-paid fast-food workers, warehouse workers, gig economy workers, and “independent contractors.” Left unsaid: Even $15 an hour and one job per family is now not enough to feed and house a family of three in any state in the union.

Trump didn’t give a new federal minimum figure at all. He said raises in the minimum wage would hurt small businesses and “should be a state option… Alabama should be different from New York. In some places, 15 bucks is not so bad,” the president, who claims he is a billionaire, said.

Only Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Carolina have the $7.25 minimum wage statewide. All other states, and many cities, are higher.

Trump failed to mention the obvious impact of his patchwork wage proposal, which other Republicans have floated: Capitalist corporate chieftains, seeking to exploit workers, would move, as they often do now, to the Alabamas of the country—low-wage states which, not coincidentally, are also anti-worker and anti-union. Those corporations and their honchos, of course, back Trump.

Coronavirus a dominant issue

The coronavirus pandemic dominated much of the discussion, including the candidates’ differences over opening up the economy despite the virus. That topic accounted for Trump’s dog-whistle about Democratic-run cities.

Biden spent time describing how he would rebuild the economy, where 25 million people are jobless due to states and cities having to shut down arenas, restaurants, businesses, schools, theaters, and more to combat community spread of the lethal virus.

By contrast, Trump said 99% of victims recover.  He didn’t link reviving the economy to defeating the virus, formally COVID-19.

More than 8 million have, according to official figures, been infected. Some 225,000 plus have died. Those figures, of course, don’t match Trump’s claim that 99 percent recover.

The economy would be rebuilt, Biden said, through a massive jobs program focused on “green energy,” such as wind and solar energy projects, and retrofitting millions of buildings to make them energy-efficient. And those projects’ and retrofits’ workers, Biden added, in a nod to construction workers, “would be paid the prevailing wage” set by federal law. Those projects, Biden said, would create millions of jobs and also lead to an end of dependence on fossil fuels by 2050.

Trump, in yet another lie, said Biden’s plan really was the Green New Deal, pushed by “AOC and the other three,” referring to four first-term congresswomen of color, called “The Squad,” led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a Democratic Socialist. “It would have destroyed our businesses,” the White House denizen charged.

“Gimme a break,” Biden said. He said his plan “has been endorsed by every environmental group and labor group. They know they [projects] are creating jobs.”

“Just around the corner”

In another lie, Trump claimed repeatedly that a vaccine for the coronavirus “is just around the corner,” while declaring that “had nothing been done,” two million people would have died. Pressed for a date for the vaccine by moderator Welker, Trump said “I can’t give you one.”

When she demanded the names of firms about to have a vaccine ready to go, Trump rattled off five big drug makers. None have said they could get a vaccine on the market within weeks.

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Biden, again citing non-partisan scientists whose advice he pledged to follow, said the vaccine would not be on the market until the middle of next year at the earliest, and that people might need to keep masks on in public through 2021. He did not cite a source.

And with the most reliable data showing the number of people having tested positive for the coronavirus now slightly exceeds the population of New York City, and that the U.S. leads the world in sick and dead from the virus, Biden pounced.

“Two hundred and twenty thousand Americans have died. Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control” of the battle to curb the virus and its damage “should not remain as president of the United States,” he declared.

“Think about what he knew on Jan. 28,” Biden said of the day Trump’s staffers briefed him of the huge scale of the coronavirus threat. “He didn’t tell the American people. He said he didn’t want us to panic. The American people don’t panic. He panicked.”

“There are now a thousand deaths a day,” Biden said. Then he criticized Trump’s well-known refusal to use the most-effective anti-viral move, wearing a face mask.

Biden pulled his own anti-virus mask from his pocket—he had worn it until he reached the podium—and quoted M.D.s as saying universal mask-wearing would cut expected U.S. deaths from now through Dec. 31 from a cumulative 200,000 to a cumulative 100,000.

The Defense Production Act

Biden seeks to cut the toll even more, he explained. He said his anti-virus plan would invoke the Defense Production Act to force U.S. firms to manufacture more N95 masks, respirators, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment for front-line workers. Unions, led by National Nurses United, have pressed for that DPA-prompted edict for months. Trump has refused.

Trump accused Biden of wanting to “shut down the country.”

“I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden declared.

Re-openings of businesses, schools, and other gathering sites, he added, would occur only when and where it was safe, and when the schools, in particular, would have the money they need to produce anti-viral social distancing moves: Masks and temperature checks for every teacher, student, and staffer, space between desks and smaller class sizes.

Both candidates accepted an assumption by Welker: That after a Nov. 10 U.S. Supreme Court hearing, with or without Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett, the justices would later kill the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional.

Trump prattled on about keeping coverage for people with pre-existing conditions without saying how he would do so, even after Welker pointed out Trump’s government is arguing for the GOP lawsuit to get rid of the 10-year-old law.

Biden said the court could well split out the problem provision, leaving the rest of the ACA, which was Democratic President Barack Obama’s and his top domestic achievement, whole. He also noted killing the ACA kills pre-existing condition coverage. Trump’s plan to keep it, Biden said, is non-existent, just like Trump’s infrastructure plan.

Biden added his new ACA would include the “public option” so people without insurance would be automatically enrolled in Medicaid and so that insurers would face competition. A decade ago, Obama dropped it after insurers’ corporate pressure. Biden, though, did not admit that.

A president for blue and red states

And Trump’s crack about crime-ridden blue states and cities prompted Biden, vice president for eight years under the nation’s first Black president, Obama, to retort, and not for the first time, that if elected, he would be a president not just for blue states and not just for red states, but for all states, and everyone in the U.S.

Any further aid to financially hurting families, schools, states, cities, and workers is unlikely until after the Nov. 3 election. It’s all in the House-passed Heroes Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has deep-sixed, Biden pointed out. Trump isn’t leading on that, either, he noted.

Biden made that point in the economy discussion with Trump. His GOP foe, Biden said, measures the economy by growth in the stock market. That growth, though Biden did not say so, predominantly benefits the 1%. They get up around four-fifths of it.

Biden says he measures the economy the way his father did and his neighbors do in Pennsylvania and Delaware: By how it affects working families and their issues, such as how will they pay for the rent or medical bills. The aid bill, Biden declared, will help them. The GOP, he reminded listeners, opposes it.

And Biden, unlike Trump, would submit comprehensive immigration reform, eventually legalizing all 10.5-11 million undocumented people in the U.S., along with restoring full freedom from fear for the 700,000 “Dreamers.” Both groups, Biden declared, contribute to the economy and society. Some 20,000 Dreamers are first responders, he added.

Trump ducked that question, too. In another racist dog-whistle, he lauded the 400 miles of his racist Mexican Wall—some of which has already fallen down, and most of which replaced existing fencing. Trump also claimed the 540 kids ripped from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border were brought in by gangs and “coyotes,” not their parents.

Biden denounced splitting the kids from their mothers and fathers and pledged to use every means to reunify them. And when Trump accused the Obama-Biden administration of erecting “cages” in Mexico for deportees—an outright lie, as Trump’s regime erected them—Biden responded “C’mon, man,” and waved him off. Biden described Trump’s policy of separating parents and children at the border as “criminal.”

President Donald Trump, dejected, looks down at his podium during the second and final presidential debate. | Julio Cortez / AP

Trump got little mileage on his attempts to focus on false charges that Biden had made money over alleged corrupt acts committed by Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine. Biden reminded him that the debate and the discussion was not about their respective families but about the needs of the American people.

Desperate because of his poor standing in the polls, Trump is hoping for something like the FBI probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails to come out at the last minute and upend the race. He spent much of the debate throwing out references to multiple right-wing theories about Biden, Clinton, and others. Most voters, however, probably had little idea what he was talking about if they don’t constantly stay tuned in to Fox News or Breitbart.

Unfortunately for Trump, a nation facing a deadly pandemic and an economic depression has far less interest in fabricated and unsubstantiated conspiracies than it does in finding a way to survive a president who has been a colossal failure.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.