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When asked who he thought won the presidential debate Tuesday night, Jeter Long said “not the American people.”

Controversial topics from the debate include Former Vice President Joseph Biden telling President Donald Trump to “shut up, man,” and Trump telling a far-right group who has endorsed violence, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” when asked to condemn white supremacy.

Long, a senior journalism major from Marietta, thought both candidates were weak during the debate. Long said he identifies as a moderate Republican, but said both candidates lacked the ability to stay on topic and attacked each other personally rather than discussing policies.

“I think that both candidates need a humbling moment of realization that they are not respecting the wants and needs of the American people by letting personal politics and personal vendettas get in the way of what’s truly important, which is securing our country, feeding our people, ensuring that our education and our elections are safe and prosperous,” Long said.

Jessica Jaconetti, a junior political science and women’s studies double major from Dalton, said she doesn’t think the debate affected the opinions of people who were already voting for Biden. Jaconetti said she plans to vote for Biden in November.

“I will be voting for Biden even if he had gotten on stage and said absolutely nothing… This election is basically I get to keep my rights as a person or I don’t,” Jaconetti said.

As someone who identifies as bisexual, Jaconetti said she fears for her rights if Trump were to be reelected or if Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is approved by the Senate. Barrett is projected to rule more conservatively than Ginsburg. Jaconetti said she worries that a conservative majority on the court could lead to reversals of rights for women and LGBTQ+ people.

While Jaconetti said she thinks Biden’s quip at Trump to “shut up, man” was funny, Long said he thinks it was disrespectful. Long said he respects the position of the president of the United States, and there are things someone should not say to the sitting president out of respect.

In response to the controversy surrounding Trump's words “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Zarif Khan, a senior political science major from Fayetteville and a member of the UGA Young Democrats, said Trump’s words weren’t shocking.

“[Refusing to denounce white supremacy is] something that we’ve seen since the beginning of his campaign in 2016, something that’s come up multiple times in the past three years,” Khan said.

Alex Huskey, junior political science major from Summerville and the outreach director of UGA College Republicans, said in an email that he thinks Trump misspoke about the white supremacists. 

“While the President could have used clearer language, I believe he misspoke in the moment… This president is no white supremacist,” Huskey said in an email.

Long said he is disappointed at Trump and the Republican Party for not taking a firm stance against white supremacy. With more Black Americans joining the Republican Party, Long said, the president has an obligation to protect Black Americans “physically, mentally and emotionally.” He said Trump’s rhetoric does not show this kind of protection.

While all four students said they thought the debate wouldn’t change many Americans’ minds on who they are voting for in November, Khan said the debate changed his mind from voting by absentee ballot to voting in person.

“I was on the fence about sending [my absentee ballot] in because of Georgia’s history of voter suppression,” Khan said. 

With his fear that his absentee ballot wouldn’t be counted, Khan said he and his dad are going to vote in person instead because they don’t want to “take the risk.” 

Khan said while Trump was the loser of the debate, the whole country was an even bigger loser.

“Look at the debate stage… and there’s two old-ass white guys, like are they representing the United States? Absolutely not,” Long said. “Millions of people tune into the debate. Those are supposed to be an example for the way that policy can be discussed across party lines to further the interests of both parties and the needs of the American people. And when the candidates don’t respect that, then the debates become what they were.”

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