CLEVELAND — Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.
Fitting for an ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”
“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.
The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.
Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”
“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.
Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”
“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”
Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls — significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states — and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.
Trump had arguably his best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice between candidates and not a referendum over his handling of the virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation. Americans, according to polling, have soured on his leadership in the crisis, and the president has struggled to land consistent attacks on Biden.
In the hours before the debate, Biden released his 2019 tax returns just days after the blockbuster revelations about Trump’s long-hidden tax history, including that he paid only $750 a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years. The Bidens paid nearly $300,000 in taxes in 2019.
Trump, in the debate, insisted that he paid millions in taxes — but refused to say how much he paid in federal income taxes — and insisted that he had taken advantage of legal tax incentives, another angry exchange that led to Biden declaring that Trump was the “worst president” the nation has ever had.
Biden’s performances during the primary debates were uneven, and some Democrats have been nervous as to how he would fare in an unscripted setting. But his team also viewed the night as a chance to illuminate Trump’s failings with the pandemic and economy, with the former vice president acting as a “fact checker on the floor” while bracing himself for the onslaught that was coming.
The tumult of 2020 was difficult to overstate: COVID-19 has rewritten the rules of everyday life; racial justice protests have swept into cities after several highly publicized killings of Black people by police, and the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg allowed Trump to nominate a conservative jurist to replace a liberal voice and perhaps reshape the high court for generations.
For Cathy Archer, theater arts teacher at Rutland High School, the show must go on.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged teachers to adapt to new models of learning in order to educate from afar, and the arts are no exception.
Since March, Archer said she has been meeting with students virtually. She’s held improv classes on Zoom and even held a virtual talent show that aired on PEG-TV this summer.
“We keep finding ways to keep doing theater,” she said last week.
She is currently teaching an all-remote visual storytelling class for seventh graders at Rutland Middle School.
“We’re working on voice, and we’re doing a lot with creating stories through Google Slides and Google Docs, and getting to know each other,” she said.
Archer, who admitted she is not typically a tech savvy person, said she has become adept at incorporating new technology into her classroom.
“I think the biggest challenge is, you have to remind yourself that everything that you do takes twice as long as it does when you can just talk to people,” she said.
At RHS, which is on a hybrid model of alternating in-person and remote days, Archer is able to meet face-to-face with students. The high school has an all-remote option as well.
“I’m really fortunate, in a way, because both of my classes are stagecraft and design. So they are not that difficult to do,” she said, adding that remote students can easily participate.
Archer said there will “definitely” be a fall play. This year’s production will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare.
The cast did its first read through last week with student actors in-person and on Zoom. The play is slated to open in November.
“We don’t know what kind of production it’s going to be,” Archer said, explaining that she hopes conditions allow for a limited audience, but it they don’t, the production could air on PEG-TV or be streamed online.
She is also considering a “radio show” in which students would perform remotely if the school is forced to close again.
Archer, who has taught theater arts for more than 30 years said this year has been unlike any other.
“I would say that this is the strangest thing,” she said. “I’m a very positive person, and I just keep going.”
But while teaching theater remotely is a challenge, it still translates easier than teaching music.
“There have been extreme challenges at the same time as really great positives,” said Phil Henry, who has taught music at West Rutland School for the past 17 years.
Speaking last week, Henry said the all-remote experience of the spring was “tough,” and he’s happy to be back in the classroom this fall.
West Rutland is open for in-person instruction four days a week; Wednesdays are remote. There is also a remote-only option.
Of his approximately 80 students, Henry said he has about one or two per class who are entirely remote. Those students are still able to participate in real time via a classroom webcam.
Students are also learning about music theory and various other topics online. Henry said it’s an effort to maintain equity with students who are entirely remote.
But just because Henry is back in the classroom, it’s not business as usual. School opening guidelines limited student travel within the building so specialist teachers had to go to them. That means Henry had to bring music class to his students by physically carrying instruments from room to room.
“If I’m playing guitars with a fourth-grade class, then it means bringing 15 guitars up the stairs or up the elevator,” he said.
Guidelines have changed and students are able to go to Henry’s room.
“Our biggest challenge is that we can’t be singing inside the building,” he said.
According to the CDC, singing can contribute to the transmission of COVID-19 “through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization.”
Wind instruments are also not allowed inside.
Henry has brought the chorus outside to rehearse, but said it is not optimal because students still have to wear masks and maintain social distancing, which makes it difficult to hear one another.
That doesn’t mean they miss out on learning though. Chorus students are currently working on a songwriting unit where they are composing songs and putting them to music.
“We’ve had to be really, really creative in the way that we approach those kids,” Henry said.
Bobby Booth teaches music at Spaulding High School in Barre.
SHS is currently on a hybrid model in which students attend for in-person learning while others are fully remote. He said he has about 60 students in his classes.
While class time is typically spent preparing for concerts and other community appearances, Booth said he is spending more time “focusing on the individual player” this fall.
The school band has been rehearsing outdoors following social distancing guidelines and using bell covers. Bell covers, when placed over the openings of brass and wind instruments act as a guard to reduce the transmission of aerosol droplets.
“The Fall season is marching band season and we are usually outside playing every morning until November anyway,” he said. “The only difference this year is, I have half the amount of students I normally do at one time due to the hybrid learning model.”
Also, Booth has designed a remote curriculum using weekly “practice plans” where students focus their individual skills as a musician.
“Students set goals for themselves, develop practice strategies, log practice time and reflect on how their plan went each week,” he said, explaining that students are also asked to submit audio recordings of themselves so Booth can provide feedback.
Booth said one of the biggest challenges has been keeping students motivated and engaged.
“I always considered a big part of my job to be coaching,” he said. “Encouragement and the motivation to practice happened largely during rehearsal time. Only seeing students once a week has made that task much more difficult.”
Jonathan Taylor, an art teacher at Mill River Union Middle and High School in Clarendon, has been teaching for more than 20 years, but said all teachers are effectively starting from scratch this year.
“When it comes to remote learning and the technology, all of us, no matter how experienced or inexperienced we are, we’re all sort of first-year teachers, in some ways,” he said last week.
Taylor has about 100 students learning remotely this fall. The entire Mill River School District is remote only until at least November.
“We’re reinventing our curriculum and reinventing our delivery and interaction, which is obviously stressful, but also kind of fun,” he said.
Taylor said he has been using the Google Drawings app, a simple drawing tool that lets students create art using a mouse or the trackpad on their Chromebook.
“I can have a screen where I’m seeing all their drawings as they’re drawing and commenting on it over Google Meet,” he said.
Taylor explained that, while the app is frustratingly basic, it can be fun to play with once students accept its limitations.
Students will be work on traditional art projects. Taylor’s drawing class is keeping a daily sketchbook and staging their own still life scenes to draw at home.
Taylor said the remote experience gives students an opportunity to work more independently.
Students submit work by taking photos of it and posting it to Google Meet where Taylor can provides notes and comments. He can even digitally mark up a submission to demonstrate a technique or underscore a principle.
“That’s where the new opportunities come in,” he said.
He’s also has been making instructional videos for his 2-D design class where he explains elements, principles, composition.
As schools shifted to online learning in the spring, the arts became less of a priority as schools scrambled to make sure student academic needs such as reading and math were being met.
But Taylor made the case that the arts are also essential.
“It is a tough line to walk, absolutely, because in the end we know there are academic standards that students have to meet to continue earning credits to graduate,” he said. “… But there are so many students for whom art makes such a big difference and kind of brings everything together for them and gives school meaning.”
The Rutland Garden Club has had a fertile year.
The organization’s work downtown has won it recognition from the National Garden Club. Zip Barnard, the club’s “media volunteer,” said the National Garden Club Award goes to one organization each year, and this year it came to Rutland.
“We chose different flowers for their durability, the color and the combination of thriller and spiller displays,” Barnard said. “The colors that are brought in are the thrillers. ... The spillers are the flowers that drop over the sides. ... I usually think they look great every year, but the colors were striking this year and keeping them watered was a challenge in this environment we had this year.”
The club was honored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Vermont for its “garden therapy” program.
“We go to the Meadows every year, and we work with them to create either a planting — a bulb and a planter they can have in their room — or work with manufactured botanicals,” Barnard said.
The club’s members are typically joined by students from either Christ the King School or the Boys & Girls Club.
“It is therapy for (the residents) to have that interaction every years,” Barnard said. “This year, because of COVID, we couldn’t get all the participation with kids we normally do.”
The club has about 65 active members and 20 associate members. In addition to the downtown plantings, which are assembled by the club and placed downtown by the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department, the club attends to numerous parks around the city and does the planting in the window boxes funded by individual downtown businesses. With autumn setting in, Barnard said the club will begin emptying the window boxes and cutting pine boughs for winter decorations.
“Their work is beautiful and when we have a project that entails gardening, even if they’re not the people who do it for us, I definitely turn to them for guidance,” said Recreation Superintendent Kim Peters. “It’s such a joy to meet with the group that makes Rutland beautiful and makes our job a lot easier.”
Barnard said the club has entered such competitions before and this is the first win in living memory.
“We always try to excel,” she said. “Hopefully next year we can do a flower show again.
MONTPELIER — State officials urge residents to stay vigilant in combating the coronavirus pandemic with the state seeing increasing cases nearby.
At his regular news conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said the state continues to do well in keeping cases down and Vermont has not seen a jump in cases that were expected at this time earlier in the year. The governor said that’s not the case elsewhere in the country, where some states continue to struggle. He said cases are on the rise regionally as well.
“I really need Vermonters to know how important it is to not become complacent. Vermonters have done an incredible job since March, following the guidance and protecting each other. But with the positive trends we’ve had for months, I know it can be easy to let your guard down and get out more, see more friends, go to more gatherings, interact with more and with different groups. Sit a little closer, stay a little longer and pull that mask down more often,” Scott said.
The governor said those in the state are a “victim of our own success,” but the safety measures he put in place are there for a reason and are working. He said all the hard work residents have done to get the state into this spot could be undone. The governor cited other states, such as Hawaii and Montana, that were in similar shape as Vermont, but then saw their cases significantly increase.
Michael S. Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, has been analyzing the data that has informed the governor’s decisions to ease restrictions put in place in March. Pieciak noted Monday night the world passed one million deaths from the virus that causes COVID-19. Of those, over 200,000 deaths took place in the U.S. Vermont has had 58 deaths, with no new deaths reported in weeks.
The commissioner said the latest modeling shows cases are expected to rise in the U.S. as the weather gets colder. Some nearby areas are already having issues.
Pieciak said Quebec, like much of the rest of Canada, had been doing well, but during the past three weeks it has seen a dramatic increase in cases. He said cases there are approaching levels seen at the height of the pandemic in March and April.
“It’s something we’re keeping an eye on. They’re starting to implement measures to slow the growth, telling people to stop socializing, to stay at home. … So again, just right north of us, touching Vermont, you can see that cases rise quickly, particularly as things start to open up,” he said.
The commissioner also highlighted an outbreak from Maine. He said there was a wedding in Millinocket, Maine, on Aug. 7 with 62 people in attendance. The state limit on gatherings at the time was 50 people. Few people wore masks, and after the indoor event 18 people initially tested positive for the virus. Pieciak said at least 180 cases and eight deaths have now been attributed to that wedding. None of those who died attended the wedding.
“So that, in and of itself, is a good example of how this virus can spread and impact people well beyond your immediate family members, immediate community,” he said.
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