A night scheduled for a presidential debate turned into something else entirely – the two candidates, in totally different cities, staging competing town halls, at the same time, talking right past each other. 2020 in a nutshell. 

But all was not lost. 

I spoke with a panel of young voters after the town halls and heard from 23-year-old Michaela Moriarity, who saw the substantive silver lining in how the night shook out.  

“I appreciated that there was more of a direct conversation. Something I don’t think we got to witness with the first presidential debate,” she said. 

But even at the night’s town halls, it was a single moment from the first presidential debate, during which President Trump avoided explicitly disavowing white supremacy, which hung over the evening, prompting NBC’s Savannah Guthrie to ask President Trump to denounce white supremacy again. And on this night, he did so, explicitly, before attacking the alleged left-wing radical group called Antifa. 

On this point, I turned to 28-year-old Khalid Alkalalili, who believes Antifa is a real threat, but also had an unexpected relationship to the idea of white supremacy: Someone once called him a white supremacist. (And spoiler alert, the young Muslim man, whose parents are Palestinian and Syrian, is not white.) 

“President Trump has time and time again condemned white supremacy,” Alakalili said, adding “and for Joe Biden to say Antifa is just an idea and not an organization because I’ve seen it up front and close and the violence we’ve been seeing is coming from the far left.”

But 38-year-old Finian Makepeace had a different take on Trump’s rhetoric, seeing the president’s role as a paternal figure, through the lens of Makepeace’s own experience as the young father of a mixed-race child. 

“We have a country that’s essentially denying the extreme conditions that people have lived in,” Finian said. “When we look psychologically at acknowledgment and people feeling seen, a parental figure which is often viewed as the president needs to be able to have the conversation and see it, and have the apathetic seeing then they can implement strategies on whether it’s strict or nurturing.”

Our young millennial and Gen-Z voters will constitute 37 percent of the electorate in the 2020 election — a statistic that pairs interestingly with the fact that the election’s winner is sure to be nearly four decades older. So do these young voters feel generationally represented by these historically older candidates? 

Moriarity says yes. 

“I don’t think that the age difference between myself and the candidates is something that is the biggest factor,” she said. “What we’re seeing with the 2020 election is that so many young people are more involved than they’ve ever been." 

But 28-year-old Sean Panzer does feel the generational divide.   

“I feel like we need younger people in office for a new kind of 21st-century set of problems that we’re facing,” he said.

This young generation is more diverse than any that’s come before it — in many ways — but on this night, it found common ground in a commitment to civil discourse and understanding the power of its vote.