Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who will moderate the first 2020 presidential debate on September 29, has chosen the topics that President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden will cover that night. One of them — “Race and Violence in our Cities” — has left some wondering why Wallace sees “race” and “violence” as intrinsically tied together.
The other topics are “the Trump and Biden records,” the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, and the integrity of the election; each will receive 15 minutes of debate time. All are worthy topics, as is the issue of racial justice. However, it is impossible to determine whether or not seeking racial justice for Americans is what is going to be discussed, or if “violence in our cities” references rampant police violence against Black people or is, in fact, a racist dog whistle about the “anarchy” Trump has spoken about since this year’s Black Lives Matter protests started. Either way, Wallace chose a very strange way of naming this segment. Some better topics to discuss alongside race would have included: income inequality, housing justice, and the maternal mortality crisis, to name a few.
This linguistic conflation of race and violence, with the addition of “cities,” seems to dovetail perfectly with many of Trump’s white supremacist talking points. (It also seems designed to appeal to the Fox News demographic.) Throughout his four years as president, Trump has escalated his rhetoric, going from calling marching Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people” to vilifying Black Lives Matter protestors and calling them “thugs,” to defending a man who killed two anti-racism protestors in Wisconsin. He has painted Black men as violent, and made racist dog whistles to “suburban housewives,” warning that Democrats are coming to “Abolish Suburbs” by making them more diverse. The word “Cities” adds an even more Trump-like element: Trump has portrayed cities as cesspools of violence and “anarchy,” which has given him an excuse to escalate his war on these typically Democratic areas, threatening to take away their funding, and sending federal troops to places like Portland under the pretense of quelling violence.
Now, the Commission on Presidential Debates and Fox News seem to be enabling his worst instincts by turning what sure sounds like a Trump talking point into a debate topic. We reached out to Fox News to ask how these topics were chosen, and they referred us to the Commission on Presidential Debates. We then reached out to the Commission on Presidential Debates for comment and will update this story when we hear back. Since the topics are still subject to change based on the news, it will be interesting to see whether the commission responds to any public pressure to change this one in particular.
The first presidential debate will be held at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. It will start at 9 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes without a commercial break.