First presidential debate lacks substance, candidates fail to maintain decorum

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Skyler Foley // The Flat Hat

I was not anticipating stellar performances from President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden in the first presidential debate. Unfortunately, both of them surpassed my expectations for how poorly they could debate, if you could even call what I watched a debate.  

I watched the debate from my dorm’s lounge with other students. Even with low expectations, it was hard to believe what we were seeing. 

We are all first-time voters, and we could not find any substance in the many topics discussed due to constant insults and interruptions. For students at the College who did not have the pleasure of witnessing this frankly bizarre debate — as well as those who hope for a future career in politics — here are some suggestions for what you should and should not do during a debate. 

To begin, do exercise some decorum. Do not interrupt the person you are debating or the moderator. Both candidates were guilty on many occasions of failing to remember this simple rule. According to the Washington Post, Trump interrupted either the moderator, Chris Wallace, or Biden 71 times in the 90-minute debate. Biden interrupted 22 times. These interruptions include every time Wallace had given the floor to the other opponent or when a candidate interrupted Wallace before he finished asking a question. The interruptions made the debate a chaotic mess that was nearly impossible to follow. 

Second, do have respect and courtesy. Do not partake in ad hominem attacks. Not only is this kind of attack in bad taste, but it’s also completely useless in making a solid argument. On multiple occasions, both candidates did not focus on the issues, but instead attacked one another. Trump at one point went after Biden with a personal attack on his son. But Biden sure wasn’t helping when he added in his own unproductive commentary, responding to Trump’s attacks with comments such as “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown.” No matter which candidate you personally agree with, these kinds of attacks undermine the integrity of both candidates. Trump and Biden did not need to engage in this uncalled-for rhetoric. Instead, they should have focused on their plans to improve the country.  

Third, when making an argument, do include valid evidence and sound logic. 

Do not make claims involving baseless information. Throughout the evening, Trump made numerous inaccurate claims. At one point, he said that “they’re losing 30 and 40 percent” of ballots, a false assertion intended to undermine the election results if Trump loses. 

He also claimed that Biden “agreed with Bernie Sanders’s far left on the manifesto, we call it. … And that gives you socialized medicine.” However, Biden has not proposed any socialized health care plan. 

Similarly, Trump claimed that Biden supports defunding the police, despite Biden’s repeat clarifications that he does not support the idea. Now, like many who watched the debate, I am pondering this question: was it even worth watching this ridiculous train wreck? After significant deliberation, I’ve decided that it was — because it should serve as a wake-up call for our country. It should not be too much to expect common decency and respect for the real issues that everyday Americans care about. 

That’s what we should be able to focus on. We should ask for and expect more from our candidates. As the future generation of leaders, we should never allow this to happen again. 

Email Caitlin Noe at 

cjnoe@email.wm.edu.