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Carnegie Mellon students attend screenings of the first Presidential debate

Credit: Shlok Goyal/ Credit: Shlok Goyal/ Credit: Shlok Goyal/ Credit: Shlok Goyal/

Students gathered in classrooms, auditoriums, and dormitories, with Bingo cards and laptops in hand on the night of Sept. 26 in preparation for the first Presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The event resembled a party. In Stever’s TV lounge, around 70 students watched the debate.

“Everyone’s really excited. It’s like a man landing on a moon. You don’t know what happens next,” Jeffrey Zhang, a first-year in Carnegie Institute of Technology, said before the debate started.

From the start, students broke out in bursts of laughter at the sight of Trump’s dead expression while Clinton was delivering her opening remarks. Students whooped and snickered throughout the debate, especially when Trump spoke.

“Most people are here just to see what’s actually going to be talked about and how funny it is because of who the candidates are,” Akash Bansal, a first-year in Carnegie Institute of Technology, said.

Senior Economics major Michael Rosenberg watched the debate for a different reason. “I thought it would be useful to at least look on the sidelines and watch America’s traditionally resilient institutions just fall apart in front of my eyes,” he said.

At first, Trump started off with a simple message of fiscal conservatism. But, as the night wore on, his reactions to Clinton’s statements about him as well as interruptions of both Clinton and the moderator Lester Holt, quickly grew more and more exaggerated.

“When the moderator says, ‘we don’t have time,’ he says, ‘no, I’m talking’ and then he just doesn’t shut up,” Sonia Berg, an electrical and computer engineering major, said.

“I am concerned that people might have just watched the first 30 minutes and thought that Trump did a better job than I would say he did overall,” said graduate student Daniel Bork.

At first, Clinton attempted to be very aggressive in attacking Trump by using his past statements against him. Soon, though, she responded to Trump’s hyperboles simply by shaking her head and smiling, snidely expressing the absurdity of Trump’s statements.

On her own policy matters, though, student reactions indicated that Clinton wasn’t particularly memorable. In fact, when Clinton spoke, many students’ heads turned back towards laptops and homework until she criticized Trump in some humorous way.

“She didn’t close the deal,” said former Chief of Staff for House Speaker John Boehner Barry Jackson at Carnegie Mellon the day after the debate.
Even so, students felt entertained. “This is a hilarious circus of sorts,” alumnus Kevin Levin said.

In Rashid Auditorium in Gates Center, many of the 20 people had a bingo card, with each box containing a topic or a “Trumpism” — a bizarre Trump statement that he repeatedly says — that one crosses out if it is mentioned in the debate. Students facetiously filled it out, eagerly waiting for each term to be said out loud.
Comical as the debate may have been, it also raised serious concerns among students. “The fact that the debate is happening is a reminder to me that America is declining. The fact that we can have people with such snake oil trying to speak as though he’s a rational actor upsets me. And it’s a reminder to me that no one of good thoughtfulness, positive leadership qualities goes into politics anymore,” said Rosenberg.

Berg followed PolitiFact’s Twitter feed while watching the debate. PolitiFact judges whether or not a candidate’s statements are true. “Watching people fact-check stuff was hysterical,” Berg said. Both candidates made a surprising number of false claims, although Trump was certainly more guilty of saying untrue statements than Clinton was.

Clinton was declared by many to be the winner of the debate and, in national polling after the debate, she held on average a four-point lead, up from her one-to-two point lead before, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. While the debate largely is a boon for Clinton’s hopes of becoming resident, the mockery it became reflects poorly on the state of American politics.

Rosenberg, who will graduate after this year, expressed a concern shared by other students, when he said of this debate, “It doesn’t bode well for my future.”