Thursday night’s presidential debate will be the last time President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will face off before Election Day. Biden, who has been outpacing Trump in the polls, needs this debate to be the closer. He can’t flinch or be passive. It’s time for him to seal the deal.
The final nail in the coffin? Trump’s greatest weakness: racism.
No matter how liberal or conservative voters are, they can’t deny that Trump has had a problem on this issue of race from the very beginning. Throughout his entire life, and most notably during his presidency, Trump has espoused racist rhetoric, been affiliated with hate groups, and been lax on his stances against white supremacy. Biden, who has made it a point to remain civil with his opponent on this issue, has never outright called Trump out on it. On Thursday night, it’s time for him to call Trump a racist.
As a Black voter, I’m really troubled by the passiveness of white liberals when discussing race. They will often define such racism as “hate,” overgeneralizing it as some cross-cultural ill we should all work to eradicate. But in America, racism is more than just hate. It’s a way of life that has built this country off the backs of Black and brown people.
To hear Biden discuss racism and white supremacy without taking a bigger step forward and calling Trump the R-word has always been a missed opportunity. How can a presidential candidate commit himself to combating racism without confronting one of the most famous racists currently occupying the White House? Biden must step up and call it what it is if he’s to tighten up the lag in support among young Black voters and Black men.
Which prompts the question as to what’s the difference between Biden and Trump on race. Throughout his time on the campaign trail, Trump has made it a point to make false equivalencies between himself and Biden on their racist history. During the first presidential debate, Trump clapped back at Biden’s critique of his racist rhetoric by reminding voters of Biden’s support of the 1994 crime bill.
Biden never directly shot back at Trump and went into an impassioned diatribe about a nation being “divided” and bullies he knew growing up poor and Catholic. Again, Biden steered away from confronting Trump on the elephant in the room, and that was even after Trump refused to denounce white supremacy outright.
Last week’s separate candidate town halls were a reminder of what needs to be addressed on Thursday. Trump finally condemned white supremacy during a presidential forum, but with caveats and conditions.
“I denounced white supremacy. I denounced white supremacy for years but you always start off with the question, you didn't ask Joe Biden whether or not he denounces antifa,” Trump told moderator Savannah Guthrie during the NBC News Town Hall. “I denounced white supremacy. I denounce antifa and I denounce these people on the left that are burning down our cities, that are run by Democrats.”
Trump’s conflation of white supremacists and antifa has been his signature deflection of addressing racism during the campaign. No matter the place or hour, you can always predict that Trump will grudgingly acknowledge racial division before delving into a far-left conspiracy or attack on an unrelated matter.
He did this during the first presidential debate when dodging the question of whether he would outright denounce white supremacy. He has continued to make it a point to compare these two opposite groups without Biden holding him accountable. With muting now in place for Thursday’s debate, it’s time for Biden not to get caught in the weeds of distractions that Trump will throw his way.
“The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally,” Biden told moderator George Stephanopoulos during the ABC News Town Hall on the 1994 crime bill. “What we did federally—you remember George, it was all about the same time for the same crime.”
This should have been the response Biden had given during the first presidential debate when Trump attacked him on his past record. I watched in frustration as Biden let him get away with hurling these attacks without much of a rebuttal. Biden needs to remind the American people about Trump’s KKK Grand Wizard David Duke endorsement, his targeting of the exonerated Central Park Five, his ties to blatant racists such as Rudolph Giuliani and Roger Stone, and how his administration is ending racial sensitivity trainings.
As I watch some Black celebrities, such as Ice Cube and 50 Cent, make moves that suggest that working across the political aisle is strategic (Newsflash: It’s not right now), I’m reminded of how Biden’s campaign has furthered this gap. If you’re less than two weeks away from an election and people from your desired base still think that your opponent is as approachable as you, something is off. Biden has been too soft on Trump, an ardent white supremacist, in ways that have now undermined his appeal to some Black voters.
Thursday night is Biden’s last chance to paint the picture black and white. No longer can he allow Trump to equate his shortcomings to his steep investment in further marginalizing of Black and brown people. Racism is Trump’s Achilles heel, and Biden needs to kick him right in it. This is not going low. It’s called raising the assurance of Black voters high.