The first presidential debate, policy issues, and ranked-choice voting

A look at the first presidential debate, policy issues, and ranked-choice voting.

With the election only weeks away, cracks in the armor of American democracy have begun to show

In one corner, we have Donald Trump. Like most U.S. presidents, Trump has won some and lost some. Unlike most U.S. presidents, Donald Trump is an avid Twitter user, a reality tv star, and according to this study by the Brookings Institute, the most polarizing U.S. president in history. 

In the other corner, it’s Joe Biden. Biden has been around the block, with over 40 years in public office. As L.A. Times reporter Janet Hook puts it, he’s “carrying a 20th century voting record into a 21st century political dogfight.” 

In this post, you will:

  • See where the candidates stand on the issues.
  • Get my take on the candidates and the first presidential debate.
  • Learn about an alternative electoral system (that guarantees your vote will count).
  • Meet a civil rights attorney in Florida with an opinion on patriotism.

It's quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

We got issues

Below, you’ll see a list of political issues and where the candidates stand on each of them. I hope comparing the candidates side by side in this way makes it easier to understand the policies behind the persona. I quote from and from the Trump campaign website and the Biden campaign website

Policy Issue This is one candidate This is the other candidate
Pro-life. Opposes Roe v. Wade.
Protect a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. Supports Roe v. Wade.
"Took early action to cut off travel from China. Built the world’s leading testing system from nothing. Enacted mitigation measures to slow the spread. Mobilized public and private sectors to secure needed supplies"
"Listen to science. Ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals Restore trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability to our government."
Criminal Justice
"Defend our police. Fully fund and hire more police and law enforcement officers. Bring violent extremist groups like ANTIFA to justice. Increase criminal penalties for assaults on law enforcement officers."
"Create a new $20 billion competitive grant program to spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention. Expand federal funding for mental health and substance use disorder services and research. Expand and use the power of the U.S. Justice Department to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices."

" policies have generated 6 million new jobs, the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point in 50 years, and wages have grown at more than 3% for 10 months in a row."

Four-part Build Back Better economic recovery plan.


"Make school choice a priority. Implemented the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to empower states with the flexibility they need to educate their students. Implemented the year-round distribution of Pell grants, instead of limiting these grants to the spring and fall semesters."

"Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve. Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching. Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability."

Energy & Environment
"Unleash oil and gas production in the U.S. Approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines."
"Build a modern infrastructure. Achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. Pursue a historic investment in clean energy innovation."
"Gun and magazine bans are a total failure. That [concealed carry] permit should be valid in all 50 states.""

Require background checks for all gun sales. Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Establish a new Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse to focus on the connection between mass shootings, online harassment, extremism, and violence against women.

"...signed a six-year extension of CHIP to fund healthcare for 9 million." Declared the opioid crisis "a nationwide public health emergency."
" on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate." Would also lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60.
"Called on Congress to fully fund a wall along the Southern border, to close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration, to end chain migration, and to eliminate the visa lottery program." Also released an immigration reform proposal which calls for the transition to a merit-based immigration plan.
Reverse policies that separate parents from their children at our border. End prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program. End the so-called National Emergency that siphons federal dollars from the Department of Defense to build a wall. Protect Dreamers and their families.
Marriage Equality

Opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Supports marriage quality for same-sex couples.


Banned transgender people from the military and reversed many of their legal protections.

Champions equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people.

The first presidential debate

While it’s debatable who won, most viewers said the tone was negative and they felt “annoyed.” 

As I watched, I saw in Joe Biden a decent albeit humdrum and unexciting politician. From what I can tell, his voting record is a mixed bag. His debate responses have been difficult to decipher at times. (The same can be said of both candidates.) 

In Trump, I saw an aspiring authoritarian trapped in a democratic republic. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro referred to his debate behavior as “Trump’s Crazy,” and noted his “wild commentary.” 

As Cameron Hilditch put it in the National Review, “Trump tried all the old tricks tonight that he pulled out in 2016, but not running against Clinton proved to be his Kryptonite. It’s simply harder for most people to hate Joe Biden than it was for them to hate Hillary Clinton…” 

Against less-liked Clinton, Trump appeared as an unconventional and exciting changemaker. Next to Joe Biden, he just appears callous and uncouth. 

The challenger

Decent though he is, Joe Biden is not considered as sharp-tongued as Trump or as eloquent as Obama. Plus, negative partisanship is a big factor among his supporters. 

In fact, about 63% of Biden supporters say their choice is more a vote AGAINST Trump, rather than FOR Biden. 

And yet, Biden shows empathy. He’ll let you marry who you want. He supports equal rights for LGBTQ+. He supports a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. He’s investing in clean energy. He values science and education and expertise. 

The Trump team doesn’t seem to value any of these things. 

Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve seen at least one clip showing Joe Biden publicly apologizing for his. Alternatively, Trump has turned a refusal to admit wrongdoing into a bona fide political strategy

That ain't classy

One reason the first presidential debate was tough to watch was all the interruptions, particularly from Trump. Meanwhile, Biden took some heat for calling Trump a “clown” and telling him to “shut up, man.” It was a rough watch. 

Yet, the sitting president has role-modeled this behavior for the last four years. It’s his personal brand. Sleepy Joe. Crooked Hillary. Lyin’ Ted. Pocahontas. Losers. Not to mention fat-shaming, mocking the disabled, and on and on. etc. 

We all see Trump’s bizarre behavior, we just feel differently about it. According to research published in Clinical Psychology Science, “even those who personally voted for Trump perceived him as having a highly disordered personality.” 

Now, as a marketing nerd, I admire Trump’s marketing savvy. One expert called him a “marketing genius” and I agree. I consider him one of the most charismatic presidents in recent history. And I support some of his policies. For example, congressional term limits (unless we have publicly funded elections), cutting prescription drug prices, and lowering healthcare insurance premiums. 

But you know, how much are we willing to overlook? 

Of course, political mud-slinging has been around long before now. However, Trump is in a league all his own based on the ugliness of his rhetoric and the sheer volume.

Inciting violence?

“After reviewing hundreds of police reports and court records from across the country, ABC News found more than 50 court cases where Donald Trump was explicitly invoked in violent acts, threats, or alleged assaults.”


When ABC News searched for past cases similarly invoking Bush or Obama, they could not find one.


Watch the ABC segment here.

Gary Payne, who teaches sociology at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minn., explains in the New York Times, “People are looking for the simplest signals to go by,” and, “People pay more attention to demeanor than they do to policy.”

And because President Trump’s brand is so incendiary, as Peter Baker and Katie Rogers write in the same article, he has “generated so much anger among his foes that some are crossing boundaries that he himself shattered long ago.” 

Remember when President George Bush called his challenger Bill Clinton a “bozo” in 1992? It was seen as unpresidential. In today’s “rage politics,” that’s considered lightweight. 

It seems the bar sinks lower every year to align with Trump’s personal brand. It’s no wonder that many have become disenchanted with politics

Empathy. Decency. Civility. Humility. Should these be prerequisites for public office? 

The bottom line: The sitting president seems to take the low road whenever possible. 

And that ain’t classy.

True patriots listen

Simone Michelle is a civil rights attorney in the Gainesville, Florida area. I haven’t followed her long, but her posts about true patriots and anti-racism have resonated. 

Read her post on true patriots

Read her anti-racism post shared on Facebook over 112,000 times. 

Both posts were published in the last 30 days. 

“...there is no manner in which to protest racism that will ever be acceptable to racists.”

Ranked-choice voting

Want your vote to actually count? 

Until we finally make Election Day a national holiday, look into Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). 

RCV is a proven voting method already being used in the U.S. and other countries including Ireland, Australia, and Scotland. It’s even being used right here in Oregon. (Benton County, to be exact.)

With RCV, you rank each candidate from 1 to 10. If your top choice is mathematically eliminated, then your second choice will get your vote. If they are eliminated, your vote will go to your third choice. And so on. 

Radiolab published a great podcast episode about RCV called Tweak the Vote where they follow an Irish election using ranked choice voting in play-by-play fashion. It’s fascinating! 

Have a listen.

It's time to vote!

Spoiler alert: I’m voting blue in 2020. Maybe you are, too. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re unsure. The important thing is that we vote! Because if we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s that political polls can be deceiving. And anything can happen on election day. 


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