As anyone who watched the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden could see, it was clear from the get-go that the gloves were off. The words “disaster,” “train wreck,” and “hot mess” could all be used to describe what happened over the course of the next 90 minutes, along with other, more unprintable epithets. As life coach and relationship expert Nicole Moore read the candidates’ tone and body language, she says the two of them “were at each other’s throats like kids fighting in a schoolyard,” and says that “the debate felt more like sibling brothers sparring and not listening to their mother’s pleas to stop.”
Well, yes, poor Chris Wallace had an almost impossible job keeping the debaters on-task and allowing things to proceed with any semblance of order. Perhaps the debate organizers might want to think about hiring SuperNanny for round two? (Certain Twitter users are opting for Joe Rogan instead, figuring that at least he’d provide some interesting color commentary as round two turns into a bare-knuckle cage match.) As we gear up for the next debate (and stock up on our painkillers of choice), let’s take a look at just what was going on in the debate behind all that yelling.
Trump didn't care about anything Biden had to say
Throughout the debate, Trump just talked over Biden whenever he felt like it. This verbal bulldozing, Moore says, “display[ed] that he did not care about what Biden had to say at all.” She also points out that “It was clear from Trump’s body language that he wasn’t so much listening to what Biden had to say as gearing up rebuttals as fast as he could.” Moore also noticed that “Trump’s face appeared pinched most of the debate suggesting agitation and that he was permanently locked into attack mode.”
At the point in the debate where Biden was attempting to present his plans for the economy, Trump was seen to “thr[ow] his hand in the air in a dismissive shooing away motion.” one that Moore compares to a gesture we tend to use to mean “pfff…whatever!” She says the hand gesture makes it plain that “Trump thinks anything Biden has to say about the economy is absolute garbage and doesn’t even want to take his words in.”
Biden thought Trump's antics were laughable
There was one instance when Trump was responding to a moderator’s question about his campaign rally events and the possibility of their spreading the COVID-19 virus where Biden wanted to interject something, but Trump blew him off by saying that nobody would show up for a Biden campaign event. Rather than becoming angry or hurt by this, instead, Biden broke out laughing. He was prompted to laughter once more when Trump claimed to be okay with wearing face masks. Moore says that ” outright laughing when someone else is speaking is a very clear body language signal that implies you have no respect for what they have to say,” and interprets Biden’s body signals to mean that “he finds everything Trump says to be so ridiculous it’s not even worth listening.”
It wasn’t all grins and giggles for Biden, though. While his stance was more relaxed than Trump’s throughout most of the debate, Moore notes that “his body language did show his frustration building toward the middle and end of the debate.” Less than an hour into the fiasco, he even closed his eyes for a few seconds while appearing to sigh, an indication that “this ‘fight’ exhausted him.” Moore says “It appeared as if he felt, at times, physically pained by the words that were coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth.”
Biden addressed the audience, Trump did not
There was one striking difference between the candidates’ form of address during the debate. While Moore observed that during all of the “verbal sparring” the candidates tended to face towards each other, their body language when they were facing away was particularly revealing. She says, “In many moments during the debate, Biden physically turned his body away from Trump and spoke directly into the camera, addressing the American people,” and went on to explain that “Biden’s body language seemed to indicate that his interest during the debate was more in establishing a relationship with the American people than relating with Donald Trump.”
Trump, on the other hand, conveyed a completely different message. He could either be seen turning and gesturing toward Biden or else turning his head to the other side. While Moore interprets Biden’s style of addressing the camera as indicating that he is “trying to talk to the American people,” Trump, instead, prefers to point a finger at Biden in a literal, as well as figurative, sense.
Neither candidate respects his opponent
One takeaway from this first debate that will surprise absolutely nobody is that, as Moore says, “They both think the other person is an idiot.” Not only were there verbal insults on both sides (Biden calling Trump a clown and “the worst president America has ever had,” Trump saying to Biden “there’s nothing smart about you”), but their body language was also sending the same message loud and clear. Moore remarks upon the fact that “They hardly looked at each other during the debate and when they did, it was either with anger or with a laugh.”
Whatever happens in round two, it’s safe to assume the candidates won’t be linking arms, singing “Kumbaya,” and agreeing to collaborate on a plan for world peace. Instead, it would be less surprising to see Trump’s old pal Vince McMahon come out and announce that falls count anywhere, at which point Biden slams Trump through the announcers’ table. Pretty it won’t be, but entertaining? Yes, at least there’s a high probability of that.
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