The Danger of Making the Presidential Debates a Circus

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Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton took the stage on Monday night for the first presidential debate of this election cycle. According to The New York Times’ reporters Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, the two “clashed over trade, the Iraq war, [Trump’s] refusal to release his tax returns, and [Clinton’s] use of a private email server.” Although the two addressed issues close to their campaigns, at points the debate felt less like a political debate and more like a Roman Circus. As The Editorial Board of the New York Times puts it, “’Debate’ is an iffy word for an exercise in which candidates are prompted by moderators to dole out their stump speeches bit by bit under hot lights while a clock counts the seconds and every quip and jab and stumble is used to keep score and proclaim a winner. But when just one candidate is serious and the other is a vacuous bully, the term loses all meaning.”

The debate is proof that America’s obsession with sensation and spectacle is creeping into politics. The Editorial Board notes “the sheer-reality TV hugeness of [the debate], the Super Bowl audience of tens of millions,” and the media’s cries of “’Debate of the Century’” and “’America on the Brink.’” Some Americans tuned in expecting to experience something entertaining. Some Americans tuned in expecting to experience something horrifying. Others tuned in to witness something brutal. But it does not seem as though many people watched the debate in order to get a better handle on the issues, challenge their perspectives, or inform their votes.

If that’s the case, do political debates still hold value? Will further debates between Trump and Clinton hold value? Maybe, maybe not. It may be too late to wish for rationality this election cycle. But the first step in introducing debate back into the debates is to change the attitude toward them. If you get grounded and reject the hyperbolic nature of modern politics, perhaps our country can re-introduce meaning to this presidential election ritual.

The ORANS Perspective: Changing the Interaction and Being Relational

The journalistic mission of ORANS is to comment on situations where changing the interaction between people can create better outcomes for everyone.  When people interact in a relational way, we believe better outcomes will emerge.  ORANS wants to provide skills and ways to help you: find solutions to difficult problems, deal with difficult people, handle a bully, stop stonewalling, avoid triangling, use non-violent methods to resolve conflict, become a negotiator, become a master communicator, create lasting change, engage in quality dialogue, stay centered and mindful, control personal reactivity, become more self-aware of personality differences, live in the now, use no labels, be more grounded, be more generous, be more humble, and be more kind.

The ORANS Perspective in this Situation: Be Grounded and Clear

If the American public had been grounded and demanded clarity from the candidates approaching the election, it is unlikely that we would have ended up with the spectacle we all witnessed on Tuesday. There are a few reasons why:

We wouldn’t have ended up with the candidates we have in the first place

As it stands, Hillary Clinton is facing off with an unworthy opponent. Donald Trump is a bully whose place on that stage was earned by stoking fear among voters. His wild statements throughout this election have been entertaining, as evidenced by the amount of attention that the media has given them. But being grounded forces us to reject a large portion of Trump’s claims. When you’re forced to look harder at his claims, you realize that they stand on nothing.   In many cases, they rely on labels and absolutes. When you get grounded, you realize that Donald Trump is the personification of transactional behavior. A grounded America would never have chosen to elect Trump in the first place.

We wouldn’t have treated the debates like a pro Football game

All around America, people prepped to watch the debate with snacks, beer, and like-minded friends. People yelled at their screens as they watched the candidates “battle” or “face off,” and bet on who “won.” If the audience had been grounded, they could have used the debate as a launching point for relational discussions of their own regarding the health of the country. When you decide that the debate will serve as pure entertainment before it even starts, then you are predisposed to treat it as such. You devalue whatever actual relevant content may have been discussed, and focus on the spectacle. This is detrimental to your understanding of the issues and our ability to cast an informed vote.

We would have been forced to reflect constructively on each candidate’s platforms

If you’re grounded, and considering the veracity of candidate’ statement, then you look at everything each candidate offers. That means that you can’t dismiss Trump’s comments right off the bat. It also means that you can’t dismiss Clinton’s comments right off the bat either. Plus, it means the opposite is true: Trump isn’t automatically right, and neither is Clinton. You have to look harder to decide. That may be less fun than cheering and booing for your favorite candidate, but that’s not really the point of the debate, right?

We would have entered into the debate ready to take both sides seriously

If you’re grounded and ready to interact with both candidates, then you should be ready to consider the other side’s perspective. Democrats shouldn’t immediately disregard Republicans, and Republicans shouldn’t immediately disregard Democrats. Unfortunately, Clinton and Trump both seem to have turned off voters who hold opposing views.

We would be open to changing our views on key issues.

Being grounded means that you’re open to options. You are ready to let your views change. You are not set in your perspectives and your viewpoints. If you’re watching the debate for entertainment purposes, you are not truly engaged and may just seek to reinforce, purely, your preset ideas on the issues. In other words, you want to be the winner. You want to watch the other side lose. You’re being transactional.

You may not be happy with the results of this election, but if you’re treating the debates as a spectacle then they no longer serve a civic purpose. Transactional behavior is center stage right now in this election. Let’s try to end this election cycle with quality dialogue, not a Roman circus.

Photo Credits

Title: Debate 10.4.12

Photographer: Southern Arkansas University

Source: flickr

License: Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

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