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First presidential debate sparks controversy

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I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published October 4, 2016. Digital scan of the issue here.

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By Cody Jones, News Staff Writer

The first debate between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton centered on three topics: “America’s prosperity,” “America’s direction” and “securing America.”

Many students at UNC Asheville are reluctant to support either candidate and Ashley Moraguez, an assistant professor of political science at UNCA, said this hesitancy among voters signals a larger political shift.

“I think on both sides this might be indicating something much bigger than this election,” Moraguez said. “We might have a party realignment happening in the next few party cycles. In political history, every 50 to 60 years, we have a new party alignment where the parties shift and their bases shift and this might be a signal that we have one coming.”

Moraguez said the amount of support Sen. Bernie Sanders received during the primaries may mean the Democratic Party has to move to the left in order to appeal to its base.

“I think Bernie was able to show a rift within the Democratic Party that we perhaps weren’t as cognizant about,” she said.

Moraguez said since the 1970s, political polarization of the parties continues to increase. She said political polarization is defined as parties becoming more ideologically distinct from one another and at the same time becoming more cohesive within the party.

“In this election we certainly have polarizing candidates. They’re very different from one another, but we don’t have that party cohesion,” Moraguez said. “The two parties aren’t rallying around Hillary and Trump in a cohesive or coherent way.”

Both candidates are struggling to gain the public’s approval.

“They are the least favorable presidential candidates we’ve had since 1964. Goldwater was the lowest historically speaking and Trump has fallen right below Goldwater’s rankings and Hillary is right above those rankings,” Moraguez said.

Beginning with the topic of prosperity, the candidates were asked about job creation and income inequality. Hillary Clinton said jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation and technology, renewable energy and small businesses were her focus. She also said the economy has to be made fairer by raising the national minimum wage and guaranteeing equal pay for women’s work.

“I want us to invest in you. I want us to invest in your future,” Clinton said.

Donald Trump said jobs in the U.S. are being lost to Mexico. To stop companies from leaving, Trump’s plan will reduce taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies and businesses across the board. He said this would incentivize companies to come to the U.S. and expand.

“We have to renegotiate our trade deals and we have to stop these countries from stealing our companies and our jobs,” Trump said.

Abigail Stephens, a junior history student at UNCA, said Clinton’s debt-free college proposal means a lot to her.

“Student debt is important to me. I think that’s probably important to everyone who’s going to college at the moment,” said Stephens, hailing from Raleigh. “We’re all terrified about what our future is going to look like.”

Stephens said Trump’s job plan seems unreasonable.

“I didn’t think Trump’s responses on jobs going overseas were very coherent and I also know that his tax plan would be terrible for single mothers,” Stephens said.

An analysis by Lily Batchelder, former deputy director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, shows Trump’s tax plan would increase taxes for an estimated 7.8 million families with children. The analysis said these families “represent 20 percent of households with minor children and more than half of single parents.” The group includes about 25 million adults and 15 million children.

During the next segment on America’s direction, the moderator asked the candidates about “healing the divide” between race relations, given the context of police shootings of African-Americans.

Clinton said police officers require better training and should use force only when necessary. She also said trust needs to be restored between communities and the police.

Trump said the U.S. needs law and order.

“If we don’t have it, we’re not going to have a country,” Trump said. “And when I look at what’s going on in Charlotte, the city I love, the city where I have investments, when I look at what’s going on throughout various parts of our country, whether it’s … I can keep naming them all day long — we need law and order in our country.”

Lily Furniss, junior art student from the Chicago metropolitan area, said she was disappointed by the candidates’ answers.

“I was disappointed by their take on the police and justice reform,” Furniss said. “Clinton said everyone has some sort of implicit bias, not just the police, but I wish she went more in-depth with that because a lot of people think we’re in this post-racial society or they don’t think race is a factor. But that’s just not true at all.”

Moraguez said the lack of in-depth answers in these debates is by design.

“One thing to note about debates is that candidates really prepare for them. They have these memorized, five-second answers that they want to get out there,” Moraguez said. “So part of the reason it seems like they’re not answering the questions is because they’re taking any opportunity to get those practice statements in. Presidential debates tend to be light on policy in general.”

Continuing with the topic of race relations and the police, Trump said inner cities are dangerous for African-Americans and Hispanics.

“We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous,” Trump said. “You walk down the street, you get shot.”

Stephens said Trump tried to appeal to minority voters.

“There’s a disconnect because he’s saying, ‘Everything about your life is terrible, you’ve done nothing to improve it,’” Stephens said.

Furniss said Trump was trying to indulge specific audiences.

“I don’t even know why he’s trying to pander at this point,” Furniss said. “A big reason why Hillary won over Bernie Sanders is because she cleared the southern states with the African-American vote.”

For the final segment, “securing America,” cyber attacks and terrorism were discussed.

Clinton said cyber warfare will be one of the biggest challenges facing the next president and the U.S. has a greater capacity than countries that might try to steal information or damage infrastructure. She said she does not want to engage in a different kind of warfare but will defend the U.S.

Trump connected the threat of cyber attacks to terrorists using the internet.

“I think Secretary Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what ISIS is doing with the internet, they’re beating us at our own game,” Trump said. “So we have to get very, very tough on cyber warfare.”

Clinton said part of her plan to defeat ISIS involves preventing members from using “the internet to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere.” She also said the U.S. has to increase military force against ISIS.

“We have to intensify our airstrikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim of being a caliphate,” Clinton said.

Furniss said she holds concerns about Clinton’s foreign policy.

“I think she’s going to basically continue what Obama’s been doing, the drone strikes in Yemen, for example,” Furniss said.

Drone strikes have been carried out by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. The program was expanded by President Obama leading to an increase in drone strikes.

Stephens said Clinton’s foreign policy worries her, too.

“I have issues with her foreign policy, especially with the use of drones and the fact that much of the time they don’t actually go after anybody who’s done anything,” Stephens said. “That’s a large part of the reason I’m hesitant about her.”

Moraguez said she is interested to see where the current political climate leads.

“This is a really interesting time to follow party politics and I think what’s happening is much bigger than 2016,” Moraguez said. “2020 is going to be a very interesting election cycle. I’m looking forward to it.”

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