Trump-Biden Debate You get the leader you deserve-1

US Presidential Debates: You get the leader, you deserve

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Trump-Biden Debate You get the leader you deserve-1Our political opinions emanate from deep cultural and biological sources…This explains why we get so emotional about politics and why political compromise is generally impossible. When someone criticizes our politics, they attack our very being. Political debate is futile because it is based on the naive premise that we can be convinced by the logical arguments of our enemies to change our inner selves.

Nazarul Islam

Debate is a way of persuasion. The ancient Greeks had called it the ‘science of rhetoric’. Plato was opposed to rhetoric in favour of dialectic, but his pragmatic student, Aristotle, had defined rhetoric as the “faculty of discovering in the particular case all the available means of persuasion.”

Language has become purely strategic in this contemporary order. With the foundation of mutual respect eroded, the Trump-Biden presidential debates might be an occasion to reframe the theory of present day rhetoric.

The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his challenger from the Democratic Party, often descended to an uncomfortable level that commentators called it “unwatchable”. Chris Wallace, the moderator, also thought that it was “a terrible missed opportunity”.

Mainstream media has lamented that candidates interrupted Wallace or each other 90 times in the 90-minute debate, of which 71 interruptions were by Trump. Many viewers were surprised by the brawl-like exchanges. But were they really unanticipated? Four years ago, things had turned ugly during the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in New York.

The first presidential debate, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, had drawn over 66 million viewers out of a population of 179 million. An estimated 73.1 million people tuned in to the chaotic Trump-Biden face-off, down from the 84 million who had watched the first debate between Trump and Clinton in 2016. Yet, the Trump-Biden debate ranked as the second-most-watched event this year, behind only the Super Bowl’s roughly 100 million viewers.

In spite of numerous attempts, Wallace, the Fox News anchor, had failed to control President Trump. Obviously….he is the President of United States of America. One wonders what would have happened if there had been no moderator at all. The seven debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas — the precursor to today’s presidential debates — were held without a moderator.

The candidates had taken turns to open each debate with a one-hour speech; the rival had one-and-a-half hour for rebuttal and, finally, the first candidate closed the debate with a half-an-hour response. In his 1950 book, Persuasive Speaking, the American author and an authority on public speaking, Robert T. Oliver, wrote: “Persuasion is the civilized substitute for harsh authority and ruthless force.”

I have a question. Has the culture of debating become uncivilized in this age of post-truth?

The first presidential debate in American history, the one between Kennedy and Nixon in Chicago in 1960, had been moderated by Howard K. Smith. In this televised event, neither of the two candidates had interrupted each other, hurled personal insults or questioned each other’s mental fitness or loyalty to the nation. Even as recently as 2012, the first debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney witnessed few disruptions: Obama had interrupted Romney seven times. Romney returned the favor at least four times.

Obama had interrupted the moderator, Jim Lehrer, five times, whereas Lehrer was interrupted by Romney 12 times.

However, things had changed in the election year, 2016. The New York Times reported that Trump interrupted Clinton 39 times while she interrupted him eight times in the New York debate. It was widely argued that interruptions were part of Trump’s debate strategy. It is evident that Trump’s strategy has remained unchanged.

Interruptions, a barrage of insults, bullying, and name-calling between two senior politicians were the chief highlights of the much-hyped Trump-Biden Cleveland show. Most people found it utterly tasteless. After the first debate between Trump and Biden dissolved into chaos, the Commission on Presidential Debates had rightly felt that “additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

Before the thunderous clamor of political debate or war set loose in the world, love insisted on its promise for the possibility of human unity: between men and women, between blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, haves and have-have-nots, self and self.

Our political opinions emanate from deep cultural and biological sources…This explains why we get so emotional about politics and why political compromise is generally impossible. When someone criticizes our politics, they attack our very being. Political debate is futile because it is based on the naive premise that we can be convinced by the logical arguments of our enemies to change our inner selves.

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The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist settled in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.

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