<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Tuesday,  July 23 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Crisp: Suggestions for upcoming debate

By John M. Crisp
Published: June 25, 2024, 6:01am

Here are three suggestions for a debate that should not even be happening (See Suggestion Three):

Suggestion One: Pull Up a Couple of Chairs. Credible estimates suggest that more than 130 million Americans will watch all or part of this week’s debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Only two of them will be standing up: Biden and Trump. Let them sit down, like Kennedy and Nixon did in 1960.

Both candidates are old. Whatever tests we might want to impose on them to assess their competence and stamina, the capacity to stand up for an hour and a half is probably the most meaningless. Let them sit down, like the rest of us.

Further, one of the problems with presidential debates is candidates’ inability to restrain their rhetorical aggression. Modern debates are characterized by interruptions, over-talking, grandstanding, shouting-down, sound-biting and snide personal attacks. (See Suggestion Two.)

Sitting down might lower the oratorical temperature. Put this to the test the next time you have a spat with your spouse.

Suggestion Two: Use Sound-Proof Booths. I associate the term with the early days of television, when quiz shows were a big deal. Sometimes contestants were “isolated” in sound-proof booths in a theatrical effort to demonstrate that they were beyond outside assistance in devising their answers.

These days we have the opposite problem: keeping the sound in rather than keeping the sound out. In an effort to minimize interruptions and talking-over, CNN has implemented a “muted mic” rule: If a candidate interrupts or talks beyond his designated segment, his mic is cut off.

But unless I’m missing something, this rule will be useless. As long as the candidates are in the same room, at lecterns 12 feet apart, neither will be slowed down by a muted mic. Trump is a rhetorical bully, but even Biden, if he hopes to get a word in edgewise, will be forced to interrupt.

If sound-proof booths are too much trouble, we live in the age of Zoom: Candidates needn’t be in the same room or the same city. Let them meet on Zoom’s neutral field, and, for once, the moderators could actually control the debate.

Suggestion Three: Cancel the Debate. Recently I wrote a column arguing that Biden should refuse to debate Trump unless Trump concedes that Biden is actually the legitimately elected president of the United States. It’s a matter of respect, both for Biden and for the office of the presidency, as well as for democracy’s essential feature, the peaceful transfer of power after an election.

Any eligible citizen can run for the presidency, but the price of admission to the political process should be acceptance of the essential principles of democracy. If you don’t ante up, you can’t play.

But this suggestion was only a thought experiment. At this point, Trump is too deeply invested to ever deny his election denial. It’s his brand, and his ardent supporters have embraced the rigged-election canard, whether they actually believe it or not.

Fine. But shouldn’t the price of admission to a debate be a publicly articulated commitment to the outcome of the election?

We don’t accept Trumpish equivocations about outcomes in sports, for example. Everyone agrees before the games begin not only to acknowledge the winners and losers, but to accept the methods for the resolution of any disputes about the rules that might arise. Why shouldn’t we require that same level of commitment to the outcomes of our elections?

Only one thing is certain about the 2024 election: If Trump loses, he will not accept the result. His gracious acceptance of defeat, by a little or by a landslide, is impossible to imagine. And the idea that he will refuse to use violence — or discourage others from using violence — in order to avoid being a loser is dangerously naïve.

The debate raises an interesting question: How much are we implicated by our willingness to accept Trump into the debate when we know that he will not accept the outcome of the election?