US town halls: Donald Trump refused to denounce QAnon as Joe Biden outlined his policies

A tale of two candidates.

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The United States did not have a second debate on 15 October. President Donald Trump announced he tested positive for Covid-19 but a few days after the first debate, and so it was decided the second debate was going to be virtual, but the Trump campaign refused. ABC thus said former Vice President Joe Biden would instead participate in a town hall. NBC then announced Trump would participate in a town hall at the same time, because this is America, and we love a ratings battle more than we love informed voters. 

Biden, whose campaign is ultimately a pitch to put a politician back in the White House, had some strong moments. He explained how Trump failed to handle the coronavirus pandemic and was able to sound appropriately disgusted by the prospect of a president using the Justice Department as his personal law firm. He showed that he can, when uninterrupted by his debate opponent, explain that taxes will go up for those making over $400,000 a year, not for those making less. 

He also had some moments that will undoubtedly disappoint progressives, like his insistence that the solution to criminal justice abuses is a working group between police officers, social workers, and black and brown Americans (though he did admit that at least parts of the crime bill he made possible in the 1990s was a mistake) or his repeated vow not to ban fracking. And journalists will continue to be frustrated by his refusal to give a straight answer on whether he supports court packing (Biden said, probably correctly, that whatever answer he gave would be tomorrow's headline, taking the focus off of what Trump is doing regarding the Supreme Court). But he fielded questions from Democrats, Republicans, and undecided voters and answered them at length. All of the people who asked a question may not have walked away satisfied, but all of them got a lengthy answer. He told one person — a young black man who asked why he should vote for Biden — that he would speak with him further after the town hall. In a pitch toward the end, Biden spoke of the need to move closer to inclusion and to learn to treat each other equally and with dignity. "That's what presidents do. We gotta heal this nation."

Perhaps, then, the town hall night was accidentally informative. We can have a president who, yes, makes awkward jokes (he quipped to the afmorementioned young black man, who was standing high up, "Don't jump,") and who says that police should be taught to shoot in the leg, not to kill, but who can nevertheless coherently, thoughtfully answer questions on taxes, the pandemic, foreign policy, LGBTQ rights, and judicial interpretation. Or we can have a president who went on live television and said, of the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy, "I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard." These were our town halls. And these are our choices.  

For more election News in Brief, visit our US election 2020 hub

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor

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