Presidential debate: Five things you may have missed in the Trump-Biden clash

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Media captionHow Melania Trump and Jill Biden greeted their husbands at the end of the debate

The first 2020 presidential debate was a raucous affair with allegations, insults and interruptions flying at lighting-fast speed.

Here are a few notable moments that have been overlooked among the political commotion.

Trump’s taxes? ‘Inshallah’

When the debate turned to the subject of President Trump’s taxes, former Vice-President Joe Biden uttered an Arabic phrase most often translated as “god willing”.

After the moderator asked Mr Trump how much he paid in US taxes, amid reports he had paid little or no tax over the past two decades, Mr Trump responded, “Millions of dollars and you’ll get to see it.”

The remark echoes claims Mr Trump made even before running for president in 2016 – that he will eventually release his tax returns to the public at a later date.

“When?” Biden asked. “Inshallah?”

The phrase is used commonly among Muslims but many were surprised to here it coming from a 77-year-old Catholic from Pennsylvania.

Thought is often used in earnest, when putting something in the hands of God, one writer noted it can also be used as the “Arabic version of ‘fuggedaboudit'”, when something is never likely to take place.

“Habibis, it’s happening,” responded one commenter on social media, using an affectionate Arabic word meaning “darlings”. Others called the usage “historic” and joked “we finally made it”.

In case you’d forgotten, Mr Trump ran in 2016 on the promise to ban Muslims from entering the US, and in the White House has successfully managed to block travellers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Lopsided mask wearing

The Commission on Presidential Debates required that audience members in Ohio wear masks due to the pandemic, but the Trump family seemed to feel safe enough from the virus to remove their face coverings after taking their seats.

Ivanka, Donald Trump Jr, Eric, Tiffany and Melania Trump were all seen with their masks off for most of the debate, despite wearing them as they walked in and when they took a pre-debate family selfie.

Reporters in the debate hall noticed that representatives of the Cleveland Clinic, the venue that hosted the debate and one of the most esteemed medical centres in the US, were seen approaching the family and asking them to don masks.

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Image caption

A Trump supporter watches the debate from a campaign field office in Pennsylvania

A Cleveland Clinic doctor who offered masks to the Trump side of the room told Bloomberg News that they refused to comply.

During the debate, Mr Biden called his opponent a “fool” for not doing more to encourage mask wearing and other social-distancing measures. “I have a mask right here,” Mr Trump said, taking a mask out of his pocket. “I put a mask on when I think I need it.”

All members of the audience were tested for coronavirus ahead of the debate. Mr Biden’s side were all seen to be wearing masks throughout the debate.

Wives’ body language analysed

As the debate ended and analysts attempted to retrieve their socks which had been blown off by the 90-minute quarrel between septuagenarians, armchair experts began to analyse the candidates’ wives’ body language.

Melania Trump, who had entered the venue wearing a disposable facemask, which she removed during the debate, came on stage maskless to stand by her husband’s side as they waved to the crowd of less than 80 people.

Jill Biden kept her cloth mask on as she came to the stage at the end.

On social media, some people called it an odd choice for her to wear a mask next to her own husband. Others claimed the decision was deliberate “political theatre”.

Spotlight on a sheriff

After Mr Trump claimed to have been endorsed by the sheriff of Portland – Oregon’s largest city which has been the site of numerous violent clashes between police and protesters in the past four months – the local lawman there was forced to issue a correction.

Even before the debate had ended the sheriff of Multnomah County, whose district includes Portland, took to Twitter to denounce Mr Trump’s false remark.

“In tonight’s presidential debate the President said the ‘Portland Sheriff’ supports him,” tweeted Sheriff Mike Reese. “As the Multnomah County Sheriff I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him.”

“Donald Trump has made my job a hell of a lot harder since he started talking about Portland,” he continued.

Trump has made violence in American cities a major issue in the campaign, and has repeatedly singled out Portland as a “Democrat-run city” plagued by violence and anti-police anarchy.

Sheriff Reese has been a vocal opponent of Mr Trump’s rhetoric, as well as his decision to deploy federal agents to Portland’s streets over the summer.

How did the translators do?

It was hard enough to make sense of the debate in English, so spare a thought for the foreign simultaneous translators who had to capture every word of the fierce argument.

Those of us who watched the US debate in our native tongue may have missed some of the bewildered comments from foreign viewers.

As the candidates and moderator talked over each other more and more, so too did the translators.

“It is really not like a debate. It is more like we’re hearing a fight,” wrote one Twitter user in Japan quoted in the Washington Post. Another called the six distinct voices heard on TV “something akin to chaos”.

According to the South China Morning Post, some correspondents covering the debate for the Chinese audience thought there had been a glitch in the Mandarin translation.

“I have not often come across this kind of situation!” Taiwan’s Yahoo News presenter Catherine Lu said on-air.

“Trump keeps interrupting Biden, and Biden also interrupts Trump. So [they and the moderator] are speaking simultaneously. It is hard to make out what anyone’s viewpoint is.”

Online many agreed on one thing – the translators were definitely working hard for their pay cheques on Tuesday night.

BBC News