I didn’t expect much from the last presidential debate and I got even less than the less I expected. These shams of civic engagement need to be retired to the halls of the Smithsonian. What I learned this presidential campaign is that our elections apparatus is outdated and does little to provide the public with meaningful information to make an educated choice at the ballot. The presence of such a caricature as Donald Trump makes the choice of who not to vote for this election easy, but the campaign process falls short in giving the public a reason to vote for a candidate. The eventual winner will benefit from having run against an imbecile but the public has been shortchanged by the utter lack of substance in this campaign.
In the week leading up to the final debate the national press and television news media acted like 12- year old boys who got a free pass to say p*ssy. You could hear the giggling in the newsrooms as newsprint and airtime was consumed with salacious allegations concerning Donald Trump. And mind you, no matter what you may think about Trump, the accusations of his assaulting women are just allegations. The absurdity of the media’s fixation on Trump’s tawdriness was evident in an interview with one of his accusers who indicated she might not have been offended by his busy hands if they had been above her waist. What?
Are we now scaling sexual assault based upon the area breached? This is how absurd the lead up to the big finale was and how this debate never had any chance to be anything except a playground scuffle. It was nothing more than entertainment for the confirmed of each side. The debate did show why so many Americans don’t vote. It would not surprise me if we see low turnout numbers and one of the alternative parties picking up votes on Election Day.
I say scrap the presidential debates. They are useless and only function as theater. In their place, the candidates, all of the candidates, should be given airtime the equivalent of the time allotted for the debates. The airtime could be assigned by lottery with all candidates given prime time. The candidates could make detailed presentations on their policy priorities and take full advantage of technology by using social media to supplement the presentation. The public would be allowed to call-in, submit questions by email or Twitter, with the questions rotated based upon partisan affiliation. An independent panel of fact checkers would be in place for each presentation to keep the public informed.
There is no need to keep this charade going. After this year the public has likely grown tired of this spectacle. While partisan loyalists might find these slugfests as validation of their candidate, my sense is that the majority of the public would rather see a rerun of “T.J. Hooker” to see if William Shatner is going to bust out of his uniform top.
I was credentialed to cover these debates, presidential and vice president. After attending the first debate at Hofstra University I realized that I did not have the patience or will to subject myself to a second or third round. I threw in the towel after round one and yelled “No Mas” and went down on a TKO. And for a person who became fixated with politics at a very early age that feeling betrays years of promoting democratic participation. This campaign has weighed on me, from the start. There is nothing to celebrate about in the way this presidential campaign has been waged and how our choices are so narrowly defined in this duopoly. The one bright spot, in my mind, has been the independence of millennial voters and their willingness to reject so-called rational choice and opt instead to take a longer view on the systemic changes needed to fulfill democratic ideals.
This election cycle has been nauseating. After each of these debates the only relief was either Pepto- Bismol or a hard drink; or both. It’s been like an amusement park ride from which you can’t get off. For 2020 my plea to the Presidential Debate Commission is spare the public this travesty and reimagine ways in which we can provide candidates a way to communicate their agendas to the electorate with a great degree of specificity. Ever since the 1960 televised debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, we have romanticized debates as a high point of our democracy. They are not. At best they have become a campaign’s source of sound bites and social media chatter. Worse, the media treats them as reality television, offering “fact-checking” but no real reporting on the issues that weigh upon this nation. And after playing ringmaster, our national press corps for the most part sits back and criticizes the circus they helped create.
If we can’t do better than this, it is a real admission that we have reached the limits of our ability to govern this nation. This isn’t about making America great again or claiming it to be great, but actually it’s about making America.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.