The final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place at Belmont University in Nashville, the U.S. on Thursday, October 22. United States presidential election scheduled for November 3, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Conchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place at Belmont University in Nashville, the U.S. on Thursday, October 22. United States presidential election scheduled for November 3, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Conchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On the last question, one candidate focused on hope. The other chose fear.

The last question of the last presidential debate of 2020 summarized what is at the core of the election between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump: hope versus fear.

Moderator Kristen Welker asked what each man would say on Inauguration Day to the Americans who did not vote for them.

Biden pledged to be a president to all states regardless of their political leadership. 

“I’m the American president. I represent all of you whether you voted for me or against me,” Biden said. “And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope.”

Trump offered no hope. He talked about how economic “success”–which he often measures by a stock market that the vast majority of Americans do not participate in–would bring everyone together. But then he doubled down on fear of a Biden administration.

“If he gets in, you will have a Depression the likes of which you’ve never seen. Your 401ks will go to hell, and it will be a very very sad day for this country,” Trump said.

The response wasn’t unusual coming from Trump. The president has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he is not reelected for a second term. He also has tried to stoke voters’ fear of violence and unrest that will come if he is not reelected.

For example, Trump has said that he will cut funding to cities he deems “anarchist jurisdictions.”  Portland, Seattle, New York City, and other cities have all seen large protests that have continued for months after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The Trump administration made the unusual move of sending in federal agents to some cities, and threatening others with federal funding cuts.

And in the early days of the pandemic, Trump also tried to scare Americans into thinking their governors were overly restrictive about the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of tweets, Trump encouraged people to “liberate” their states. 

He returned to that talking point Thursday night, focusing on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, despite the fact that she was recently a kidnapping target for right-wing extremists. Trump often brings up her leadership during campaign rallies, and claims falsely that Whitmer has shut down the state for everyone except her husband. 

“When you say spike, take a look at what’s happening in Pennsylvania, where they’ve had it closed. Take a look at what’s happening [in Michigan] where her husband’s the only one allowed to do anything. It’s been like prison,” Trump said during Thursday’s debate.