Kelly Thorell ‘21, Opinion Editor
The remarkable year of 2020 has brought the world with the burning of Australia, killer wasps, an impeachment, the passing of Kobe Bryant, West Coast wildfires, racial turmoil, and of course, a global pandemic. So what better way to conclude the year and foreshadow the next four years of history than an ultra-polarized, contentious and possibly the most important presidential election in American history?
With the narrowing of presidential candidates, 2020 has also gifted us the politicians who are deemed the most qualified, wise, and capable individuals to best represent and lead the United States: Joe Biden and Donald Trump—our only two options.
So how are we, the American public, supposed to know for whom to cast our fate-determining vote? Political debates, that’s how These debates, however, must be of high quality to allow us to directly know the two candidates and their vice presidents’ views. A debate should act as an organized conversation to clearly depict their views and allow each to offer a rebuttal to the other’s point, while also giving the American people a chance to observe the wit and stamina of each candidate. To achieve this, here are some debate don’ts…
1. Interrupt each candidate
Debates are not intended to be a battleground over who can talk more and louder. Instead, debates are meant to be a battleground of intelligent reasoning over the interpretation of fact. During the Sep. 29 debate, we painfully bore witness to the 71 interruptions made by Trump and Biden’s 22. Senior Ashleigh Kilgore said, “I think it was annoying when they would interrupt, especially during the two minutes of what was supposed to be uninterrupted time. Rather than letting each other talk, they simply just talked over each other, which literally got nothing done. A debate is supposed to be a conversation discussing separate topics, not a race to see who can talk over each other more.” This debate was more of a performance for them to demonstrate their egos and prestige rather than an intellectual discourse of how their ideas will benefit the American people and nation.
2) Not answering questions
Instead of having to decipher through speeches to uncover each candidate’s view on a specific issue, debates are a time when the candidates are meant to directly answer crucial questions with straightforward answers. As seen during both the presidential and vice-presidential debates, this was not always the case. Junior Kyra Karfonta said, “Kamala and Pence both used their turns to answer different questions than the ones asked, instead of giving a straightforward answer, they answered the questions in different segments than the ones provided.” From candidates refusing to answer questions and changing discussion topics, the candidates attempted to control the debate- do the moderator’s job.
3) Personal attacks
Debate is supposed to be a time for intellectual evaluation over one’s policy, ideas, and beliefs- not over their personal life. However, during the presidential debate, personal attacks were prevalent on both sides of the aisle. Senior Aidan McCuster said, “It was very unprofessional and actually pretty scary to watch considering our future is at risk. The candidates have no respect for one another and between Biden calling Trump a clown and Trump bringing up Biden’s family, nothing productive was discussed.” It would be expected that two distinguished politicians running to hold one of the most influential positions in the world, the presidency, they would act with the utmost professionalism, but we learned that this isn’t always the case.
4)Attacks on family members
Within politics, the non-participating family of a politician should be mentioned with respect, for they are only related to a politician. Though during the debate, we witnessed some personal attacks on unrelated family members. Senior Mallory Simpson said, “Trump should not have attacked Hunter Biden. He really has no involvement in how Biden will perform as president; he was only brought up to bring down Biden. I wish the debate had less personal attacks and more talking about how the candidate will perform as a person.” Of course family members who have influential roles, such as the first lady, are important to be mentioned, but other family members, such as children, should not be brought up if irrelevant.
5)Respect to the moderator
Imagine being on national television attempting to moderate a highly polarized political debate between two adults. This being in front of a divided nation in a heated political atmosphere, ready to criticize at your first slip. Now imagine that the candidates are the one who are disrespecting you. Junior Aidan Moorehead said, “Trump showed himself not to be a safe leader who the American people can trust, but a childish and irresponsible person who [cannot] even listen to others, like the moderator of the debate, who ended up seeming like a competitor in the debate because of how much he had to try to get the president of the United States to be quiet.” With the problem of candidates going over their given time and talking over each other, there is talk that the moderator will be able to turn off the candidates’ microphones in the next debate.
6) Make false conclusions
Truth is needed to sustain a democracy so that the public may fairly make conclusions about the facts and then express their opinion in the ballot box. For the sake of American democracy, it should be expected that neither candidate would deceive the American people. Unfortunately, this was not the case during the debates. Senior Michael Stys said, “I think that Kamala Harris lying to the American people saying that Honest Abe [did not] appoint a Supreme Court justice because he wanted to protect democracy, when in fact, the Senate was actually out of session. I think that is sad, really, and it just makes you question how much we can trust any politician.” Even if politicians don’t explicitly lie, no candidate should leave out important context or information that would be valuable to the voters.
Despite the long anticipated race to the white house debate being miserable to watch, there still is time for the candidates to fix their debate errors before the next debate on Oct 22. Hopefully before then, the candidates will get a grasp of courtesy, maturity, and professionalism. Possibly, they may even go as far to understand the purpose of debate: to educate voters, not necessarily for comedic entertainment or to flatter one’s ego.