We lost the debate

Stuart Lombard

In the aftermath of the presidential debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, punsters and pollsters evaluated who won the debate. Let me be clear: no one won that ‘debate’. We all lost it.
We lost the debate because we have allowed a political atmosphere to flourish that finds the vitriolic churning of ideologies acceptable. We lost it because only Joe Biden spoke coherently. We lost it because Chris Wallace was not able to control the candidates. That was not a debate and we should demand better.
Did Trump win the debate? A quote from Fox News’s Doug Schoen sums up the case for a Trump victory:
“Trump was in command of the conversation, in control of the discussion, and if not presidential, certainly more in command,” Schoen said.
The president’s behaviour certainly followed what his supporters have loved him for: his unconventional, purposely unpresidential style. But that attitude would not have swayed his opponents.
Did Biden win the debate? Polls from the day after the debate show Biden ahead of Trump, but not by any more than before. And while Biden was able to communicate his positions, anything he said is overshadowed by the utter chaos of the evening.
Here’s what one independent voter named Kimberly  said during a focus group conducted by Frank Luntz:
“Well, I’m still undecided because they didn’t answer the questions…I really wanted to hear more in depth about race relations and the civil unrest….nobody really talked about, you know, how they’re actually going to help the American public,” said Kimberly.
Kimberly is right. The candidates did not answer the questions, and even I, who watched the debate closely, could not tell you how either candidate would do better than the other in helping us recover from COVID-19. The only coherent positions on the issues came from Biden, but those are not what made the night memorable. When I think about the debate, I don’t hear Biden’s positions, I hear Trump’s unending disruptions. The debate was not a success.
The purpose of presidential debates is to get a clear account of how each candidate views the issues. It should be meritocratic and respectful. It has traditionally been a marked departure from the rhetoric of campaign rallies, a deep dive into the issues that will shape, in some form, the president’s term.
That purpose was not honoured. President Trump did not make an argument for policies that his administration would pursue in a second term. Biden tried to make his case, but there was no coherent counter argument to his positions.
We should expect better from our politicians. By being unable to have a civil discourse on the issues, our democracy is suffering. We are suffering from a deep economic recession caused by the pandemic, as well as from a splintered government, unable to provide for the health and well-being of the American people.
Our republic is fractured. And I honestly do not know how we can repair our democracy. The fact that we are not debating is worrying.
No matter who wins the election, our country will still be sick. A Biden administration will not magically heal our disunity. Our wounds are much deeper than a presidency alone can heal. We are in the season of winners and losers. Someone will win the election. But will we?