2020 Presidential Debate

“Pocahontas,” “Clown,” and Interruptions Aplenty: A Presidential Debate To Forget

The first presidential debate of 2020 was hardly a venue for intelligent discourse. Instead, we got to see the two candidates duking it out, playground style.

There was name-calling. Interruptions. Finger pointing. All the hallmarks of a great debate, no?

And, you can’t say it was a Red or Blue issue. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden were to blame.

At one point, the President referenced Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” At a time when the Washington Redskins are changing their name, could anything have been less tone deaf?

In our social climate of renewed attention to equality and discrimination, perhaps this was not the best move. Racial slurs? During a live presidential debate? Yes; it happened.

But if you thought the Republican incumbent was the only one, you were probably half asleep on the couch, or changed the channel. It was probably all for the best, actually.

Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee actually called the President a “clown.” Shouldn’t there be some respect for the Office of the President, if not the man? President Trump is, after all, Commander in Chief and leader of our nation. That stands as truth even if you dislike him or think he’d rate 45 on the list of best presidents.

We shouldn’t take the example of our candidates, and neither should our nation’s children. Name-calling is really not the best way to make your point and win votes.

The rest of the world is watching, and unfortunately, I’ve heard far too many Americans joking that they’ll be pretending they’re Canadians now due to this spectacle. Other world leaders surely raised their eyebrows and listened as their mouths dropped. Could this be for real?

Or, was it a sophisticated AI deep-fake, world leaders must have wondered, a joke a staffer proffered as the genuine article? I really do wonder if, after viewing the debate, America’s enemies and not-so-friendlies were thinking unanimously that our country is quickly becoming a sad joke.

Even Hu Xijin, editor of China’s state news service, the Global Times, could not hold back and tweeted, “The two political leaders of the US obviously did not show an exemplary role to American people on how to engage in debates. Such a chaos at the top of US politics reflects division, anxiety of US society and the accelerating loss of advantages of the US political system.”

That’s scary. And, that’s far from the extent of the criticism. The South China Morning Post published an article that had this to say about the debacle: “…the chaotic head-to-head, which ended up becoming a shouting match heavily laden with personal attacks, has become a target of mockery from Chinese internet users…”

It isn’t a Right/Left thing.

It’s a sense and sensibility thing.

Our presidents should be public figures that we can look up to, people that students can emulate. No public servant, whether a cop or teacher or senator or president should ever resort to name-calling, especially in a debate forum. But especially a United States president, or someone who is in the running to be the next president.

To do so demonstrates a lack of cognitive acumen, an inability to defend positions with clearly articulated ideas. Ad hominem attacks and lowbrow appeals to our most base instincts have no place on such an important debate stage. Or, any stage. A high school debate team would be shunned for such, and we should all be able to agree that it’s just not the way to persuade an audience that one’s views are well proven.

As for interruptions, that also should be something both candidates work on for their next encounter. Do let the other person speak. Don’t cut them off. Everyone WILL have a turn, after all.

Even a five year old could explain these concepts to any of us: No name-calling! No interrupting!

A debate is supposed to be a discussion whereby participants present arguments. The process quickly breaks down without mutual respect on the part of participants for all the other participants.

While cogent, logical speech is key to winning any debate, emotional appeal plays a role as well. But if we’ve devolved to a point where shocking sound bites predominate, that’s a sad sign of the times.

Here, there was no winner, only losers, we the American people who assembled in front of our screens hoping to hear sensible verbal exchange and instead found ourselves witnessing an encounter between two men that most of us wish we could forget. But we can’t; it’s impossible.

Whether you like Trump or Biden isn’t important; what’s important is that the candidates play by the rules and maintain civility toward one and all.

It’s alright to be passionate. It’s okay to say that the other man or woman is unfit for the office. But do explain why, and don’t resort to unseemly behavior.

2020 Presidential Debate

2020 Presidential Debate

So, some ground rules for the next debate, as proposed by a child: Be kind and stop interrupting! Very simple.

Maybe we should roll with the times and make an entertaining game of it all? Maybe welcome gaffes because gaffes bring laughs? There’s a nice ring to that.

Here are but a few ideas: For every instance of name-calling or interruption, the offending party must don a dunce cap for one minute.

Or maybe an audience member, chosen at random, might have the opportunity to throw a custard pie in the face of the participant breaking the rules.

Perhaps be required for the rulebreaker to shake a baby rattle and suck on a pacifier for a spell?

Or maybe simply cut their mic for a minute and leave it at that?

I’m sure kids could come up with even more inventive and silly ways of penalizing bad behavior. After all, they’re usually on the receiving end of it, and know that unchecked acts of unacceptable conduct will be repeated without some disincentive.

In the end, the world should be looking to the United States as a positive example of good governance, and it begins with our leadership. Our next president should be able to make a point without resorting to infantile displays of uncouthness.

So, Mr. Vice President, and Mr. President, please take the debates more seriously, and stop making our great nation look so foolish.


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