By: Sammy Schuchman and Karenna Barmada
The first presidential debate was an absolute disaster. No matter who you plan on voting for this coming November, there is simply no excuse for the atrocious and chaotic spectacle that looked straight out of Saturday Night Live. Because of the lack of civilized conversation, in addition to really any productive discourse, many are calling for the cancellation of the remaining debates.
Now, while this may be tempting at first, there are a plethora of reasons why this course of action is very unwise, and ultimately will do more bad than good for the American political system.
To begin, no matter how messy they are, the presidential debates are critical for the public to gain insight into the ideas, personalities, and values of the two men squaring off for the right to lead our country. Since the 1850s and the Lincoln-Douglas debates, presidential debates, in addition to being extremely entertaining, have been an excellent way for the people to learn more about the policies and personalities of the candidates running for office.
On September 23rd while in a presser, President Trump responded to the question of would his administration have a peaceful transition of power after the presidential election by saying, “Well we’re going to have to see what happens.” For many, this refusal to guarantee a principle so vital and essential to what our democracy stands for is the latest development in a building narrative led by President Trump with efforts to undermine the credibility of the election process. This, combined with President Trump’s repeated complaints about being a victim of intense media bias, would mean that any cancellation of the debates would only fuel Trump’s ongoing narrative of him being silenced by the establishment. and of an election process that differs from the norm.
Ultimately, it is silly to outright abolish a long lasting tradition solely as a direct result of the unfortunate display that the first debate played out to be. It is expected that there will be significant changes that will be implemented in the debates to come that will prevent chaos that took place on September 29. The Commision on Presidential Debates in an official statement the day after the opening debate declared, “Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”
For the sake of the future of this country, instead of running from the intense political polarization and inability to discuss policy, let’s try to make a way to make real discussion possible, and piece by piece make our country a little more united while we’re at it.
Civility is defined as polite remarks used in a formal conversation. In other words, NOT what we witnessed at the first presidential debate. Between President Trump’s constant interrupting and Vice President Biden’s “Will you shut up man” (although I can’t quite blame him for this), the lack of civility was disturbing. Honestly, the only good thing to come out of the debate were the memes.
The presidential debates are meant to serve as a forum for candidates to persuade Americans to vote for them by providing an opportunity for a deep dive into their policies and their vision for the country. During the first debate, in place of discussing policies, the candidates attacked each other personally and responded to whatever question (asked or not asked) served them best. Putting on an act to win “Best One-Liner” does not give the American people an opportunity to see how the nominees would navigate important issues.. The Guardian described the debate as a “national humiliation” and that “the rest of the world – and future historians – will presumably look at it and weep.” The debates are not succeeding in serving the purpose they are intended to — they did succeed in making America look bad to the rest of the world.
One might believe that the debates should continue for the simple reason that they are a tradition and a defining piece of the electoral process. One, however, would be lacking in electoral knowledge. Presidential candidates did not start holding televised debates until 1956. In fact, during this first “presidential” debate, two women stood in for the two male primary candidates. It was then 16 years (1970) before the next debate, and in two later elections, candidates outright refused to debate their opponents. Clearly, the debates are not as intrinsic to the election process as our history books have taught us.
Although some people seemed to have forgotten it, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Is it wise to put the people who will lead our country for the next four years together on a stage, without masks, when we know that emotions will be high and the result will be loud voices and Covid-19 spewing everywhere? Especially when one of them should be quarantining and might be in a weakened state? We have no idea what the long term effect of this disease is, but still we allow our president and vice presidential nominees to put their health in danger.
This is a defining moment for our country. One that will affect how other countries view us, and how history views us. Parading to the world how far we have fallen does not do us justice. Instead of watching two grown men fight over each other to hear themselves on live television, have conversations with your parents, neighbors and friends(safely of course). Talk to them about your concerns, your hopes for this election and how it affects your future. And most importantly, tell them to VOTE.