Some presidential debates are easily identified as history-makers. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas made history in 1858 with a series of debates soberly examining the expansion of slavery and future of our country. In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon made history with lengthy debates on the Cold War challenge of communism and civil rights issues.
Did you watch Tuesday’s presidential debate? History was made again, but not in a way any of us would wish. We watched the candidates for the future leader of our country interrupting each other and insulting each other. It seemed that the true contest was who could yell the loudest as they talked over each other. Did we see the end to our country’s rich history of civil discourse?
With less than 5 weeks to go until the election, I was hopeful that my questions would be answered, or at least that my pre-conceived notions would be affirmed or modified. No such luck. Each candidate completely missed opportunities to highlight their strengths and their opponent’s weaknesses. If candidate Trump would have refrained from interrupting every few seconds, he might have given candidate Biden a chance to make a mistake. If candidate Biden could have refrained from name-calling and eye rolling, he might have highlighted the differences between the two men.
But here we are, faced with suffering more of the same in future debates. And to what end? According to the most recent YouGov survey, 93 percent of voters have “definitely” made up their mind. Nothing in Tuesday’s debate is likely to switch those votes, a hard task at best.
I took a debate class in high school, and I loved it. I loved everything about it – the preparation, the practice, and the tournaments. I loved it because I was good at it. You would be given a controversial statement and charged with developing arguments for and against it. Research was critical, and you had to be able to quickly identify and record key information, both in the research stage and in the actual debate as you listened to your opponent.
For me, debate was the single most influential course I took in 21 years of schooling. I learned important skills in reasoning, public speaking, listening, critical thinking, researching, problem solving, and writing.
Above all I learned that the quickest way to lose a debate is by losing your cool and resorting to yelling, name-calling, and shaming, a lesson our presidential candidates could stand to learn.
Christina Pierce is the publisher of The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine.