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“You got two grandfathers going at it:” Pittsfielders express dismay after first Trump-Biden debate of 2024

North Street in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Josh Landes
North Street in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Berkshire County residents are reacting to Thursday’s presidential debate. WAMC hit the streets of Pittsfield, Massachusetts to find out more.

The CNN-produced event was the first public meeting for the familiar combatants from the 2020 presidential election. On North Street – the main downtown thoroughfare for Berkshire County’s largest community – Berkshire residents expressed dismay over the two historically old and unpopular candidates.

“[I’m] confused, a little nervous about the election this year," said Sollynn Anderson, a personal care attendant from Pittsfield. “I feel like Trump, he wasn't really answering the questions. He's kind of like a roundabout area, so I kind of got confused about, like- He wasn't really answering the questions. And then I think the President did OK.”

The 81-year-old Biden and 78-year-old Trump – neither of whom face internal competition before their parties’ respective conventions this summer – did not inspire confidence in Anderson.

“They're all older too," she told WAMC. "I feel like some there should be an age restriction on presidency, because they're both getting up there.”

Anderson says she’s struggling to focus on what exactly she was supposed to take away from the debate.

“When you look at comments on social media, everyone's like, you should look at the bigger picture, not what your views are on, what's best for the country," she said. "But then again, like, how do you know?”

WAMC ran into first-term Mayor Peter Marchetti while canvassing North Street for debate reactions.

“[I’m] really disappointed," he said. "As someone who just [was] part of a lot of debates a year ago, if there was a 'none of the above' box, I would probably check it right now.”

A registered Democrat, Marchetti says Biden’s performance was dismal enough to warrant his replacement before the general election.

“I was looking at two things," the mayor told WAMC. "One, there's one that I just don't think has the credentials to be president, and then the other, I'm not sure can handle the job anymore. So, I guess- I watched all the commentary this morning, and I'll wait and see what might change between now and the convention.”

For other Pittsfielders, the debate – marked by Trump’s repeated use of falsehoods and outright lies as well as Biden’s apparent frailty and struggle to remain coherent – underscored the depth of disenchantment with the American political system.

“I think there's two old men that's just drawing entertainment from a bunch of people who are willing to watch it. That's where I'm at with it. My beliefs about it- It really doesn't matter, because they're going to do what they do respectfully for each house, Democratic and Republican, so it doesn't even really- It's just entertainment for the masses at this point, you got two grandfathers going at it," said Jesse Campbell, who manages a vacuum shop on North Street. “I'm not really a man of politics in general, because in a larger scale of things, it doesn't really affect everybody else that's in a democracy. So, I really- I don't care really too much. That's really where I'm at. I really don't care, because what does Trump and Biden, honestly, have to do with me in the long run? Because whatever they do within their four to eight years in office is either going to be transcended or regressed with the next president. So, it really doesn't matter at the end of the day.”

For Reese Rathbun, the debate’s focus on the personalities in the campaign obfuscated her larger concerns about the economy, global conflict, and other existential threats.

“I thought it was kind of funny, but it's like they were just redirecting it towards each other, and they weren't really like answering the questions as much as the public wanted them to, and we're all curious about the facts," she told WAMC. "And a lot of them were saying, oh, that's not true, and it just feels like none of it is information that we actually wanted and needed.”

After watching Biden and Trump exchange personal attacks and argue about golf — which she described as ridiculous — Rathbun says she’s at a loss about how to vote.

“A lot of times when Biden was talking, I didn't understand what he was saying, and I was like, oh, I don't know, I can't really understand the president," she said. "So, I think I'm on the edge really. I believe that we need someone new, someone that is more for the people.”

The next debate is scheduled for September 10th on ABC. The Republican National Convention starts July 15th in Milwaukee, with the Democrats holding theirs in Chicago starting August 19th.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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