The Presidential Debate: How the Lack of Order and Truth Undermined Effectiveness

Donald Trump and Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio. This was the first of the debates between the US presidential candidates.

(Photo taken from CBS News)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio. This was the first of the debates between the US presidential candidates.

Televised presidential debates have been held in the United States since 1960 when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon decided to make a shift from radio debates to the new format. Since then, it has been the norm that presidential debates would be broadcasted to the general public this way, and even the outbreak of COVID-19 during an election year hasn’t ended this long-held tradition. 

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon debate in the first ever televised US presidential debate. Before televised debates, it was more common for US voters to tune in on the radio. ((Photo taken from The Atlantic))

The most recent presidential debate was held on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio, and was one of the first times voters were able to see an interaction between the two candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The debate had great potential to help inform voters and help to clarify the candidates’ stances, however, the lack of civility and overall chaotic nature made it difficult for viewers to solidify their voting stances. 

This debate was out of the ordinary in the way that both participants failed to adhere to the rules enforced on uninterrupted speech set out and agreed to by both candidates prior to the debate. The constant interruption made it difficult for the candidates to complete sentences, which broke their thought processes and made their words far less impactful to the onlooking public. 

This stray from the normal, more civil debates hindered the ability of both candidates to utilize such a valuable part of their presidential campaigns to the fullest extent. Overwhelmingly, the debate came off as a farcical dispute rather than a meaningful exchange of ideas. 

The debate was so disorganized and chaotic that even veteran journalist Fox News’ Chris Wallace struggled to maintain any semblance of order, much less hold the candidates accountable for the torrent of mistruths coming from the candidates. 

Fox News Reporter Chris Wallace moderates the first 2020 presidential debate. Even as an experienced reporter, Wallace was only mildly successful in controlling and maintaining the rules of the debate. ((Photo taken from the New York Times)

“We had an avalanche of lying from President Trump,” said CNN Reporter Daniel Dale. “[Former Vice President Joe] Biden, conversely, made at least a couple false or misleading claims. But honestly, he was largely accurate.” 

The disparity between the candidates honestly speaks to their soundness as presidential candidates. Even with constant interruptions, Biden was able to maintain a level head and refrain from misleading the American people. Trump’s underhand tactics greatly disrupted the effectiveness of the debate and did little to help his floundering campaign. In the end, these childish displays seem to have done more harm than good. 

Some have argued that the less formulaic nature of this debate led to an actual debate where the candidates interacted with each other rather than merely delivering prepared statements to the moderator and the people. 

“The candidates actually argued with each other, and didn’t just get in one or two hot one-liners or…scripted mini-stump speeches,” wrote Eve Fairbanks in a Washington Post article about the debates. While his statement does hold some truth, anyone who watched this ugly spectacle would be hard-pressed to defend it. 

While debates have never been the highpoint of the election cycle, this year’s debate was a unique train wreck which we’ll be lucky to never see the like of again. One can only imagine what the final debate will look like, and hope that we don’t see a repeat of this uncommon debacle.