I think we can all agree that we’ve never seen anything like the first presidential debate before. It was a complete mess, with various students wondering whether the debate was necessary in the first place. There were so many insults and not-so-subtle digs thrown around by both candidates. Following the now famous “Will you shut up, man,” comment, Joe Biden said “This is so unpresidential!” This made me wonder: What would we consider presidential behavior?
I spoke to Steven Greene, a political science professor who is an expert in American public opinion and elections, and specifically asked him what behaviors he would consider to be presidential.
“If people accept that it is [presidential], it is presidential,” Greene said. “It depends on the cultural and social construct.”
I completely agree with this statement because, at this point, I think there are a lot of people who are on board with anything their candidate says, and often find some of what would typically be considered offensive to be empowering. At this point, inappropriate behavior by Donald Trump has been normalized, so it has become acceptable to act the way that he does.
“One of the things Donald Trump’s presidency has made us reconsider is what is presidential or not,” Greene said. “He has been doing this for so long that you get used to it.”
This wouldn’t be the first time presidential behavior was redefined either. In our conversation, Greene gave me an example of a similar event to our current situation. In 1992, Bill Clinton was running against George H.W. Bush for the presidency. Clinton went on a late night show and even played a song on the saxophone. This was the start of candidates going onto talk shows and having friendly banter with the host. Suddenly, people could see the candidate in a laid back setting and really get to know who they were voting for. Before the 1992 election, that was unheard of.
After the debate, I was skeptical of the Biden campaign almost immediately selling shirts saying “Will you shut up man?” On one hand, I thought what Biden said was hilarious, but on the other hand, I wasn’t sure if this was the kind of energy we needed in this already divided and arguing country. Even within our own campus and social circles, discussing politics has become more and more tense as the elections draw nearer.
Greene, on the other hand, was much more understanding of Biden and the T-shirts.
“In terms of whether Joe Biden should have said those things, it is understandable rather than excusable,” Greene said. “That is not what we will see if he is elected. That is Joe Biden in terms of the Donald Trump presidency.”
I feel like one of Trump’s main goals in the debate was to get under Biden’s skin and make him say something he would regret, and to an extent, it worked. However, I also don’t think this is the Biden we will see if he wins this election. The Obama administration was relatively low on drama, whereas the Trump administration has been very outlandish and full of scandals.
The actions of our two candidates and the hostile behaviors by President Trump make me wonder if we can ever bring our divided country back together. I worry for younger people, particularly college-aged people, seeing the constant fighting and politicizing of things that should not be political issues. I worry that young people will continue this behavior as they get older because it is all they have ever known. This is not how it should be, and I hope our generation can see past this behavior and work on bringing people all over the political spectrum back together.