Do we benefit from the presidential debates?

I didn’t watch the first debate between President Donald Trump and challenge Joe Biden Tuesday night.

I read and watched several of the reviews and reactions the next morning, and, based on that, it seems to pretty much be official that the idea of civil discourse in our modern political system is gone.

The chaos was enough, in fact, that the commission which oversees the debates has floated the possibility of changing rules to provide a more orderly event.

Whether the next two debates happen, and how, now will be up to the president’s health after Friday’s announcement he and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19. We are, after all, under a month before the general election, and they will be under quarantine for probably a couple of weeks. It may be difficult to squeeze in both remaining debates under those circumstances, unless they were to establish a remote setup. I believe that would be a first, but that has been the case for much of this year.

I don’t know if there is any easy answer to have a manageable debate in today’s political climate. There simply is too much anger and finger pointing on both sides of the aisle. No one, it seems, truly wants to hear the thoughts of the “other side.” If something is counter to their own beliefs, it must not be true, or, in the parlance of the current administration, “fake news.”

One of the most mentioned ideas of debate control is the proposal of simply cutting off the candidate’s microphone when it is not their turn to answer a question or respond to the comments of their opponent. That would have limited effectiveness, though, as I could see shouting and other interruptions continuing even without a direct microphone. The sound will still be picked up from elsewhere.

A coworker built on that with the idea of a soundproof booth for the candidates. Think of the gameshow “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Same idea. Each candidate is locked in a booth, and when it’s their turn, their audio is turned on. When they’re finished, the audio is turned off. This way, they can’t interrupt each other. On the other hand, they also won’t be able to hear the other candidate’s response.

The big concern with either of those scenarios, though, is there will be pundits and commentators keeping track of how much time each candidate is given. I can imagine the complaints on that level.

Some folks on social media have suggested the idea of shock collars. I think we would be better off going with a more humane solution, though.

Ultimately, the issue is this: These debates are supposed to be organized as a way to inform the voting public. It’s not about showmanship, or ratings. It’s about showing the American people the kind of character our candidates have and the thoughts and plans they have for the nation’s future. Plus, rules are only good if they are being followed, right?

Is it worth our time to spend a couple of hours watching two individuals shout and talk over each other, without giving us anything of substance? We are trying to decide who will be the next head of state of our country.

We need to see true qualities of leadership, not name calling or bullying or telling each other to “shut up.”

From what I’ve heard of Tuesday’s debate, I’m not certain we’re going to be getting that no matter who gets picked Nov. 3.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)


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