The Poisoning of the American Presidential Debates

I don't know about anyone else, but I suspect many a viewing audience member, to say nothing of the studio audience, felt appalled by the display of ad hominem attacks in Sunday's presidential debate. There was some discussion of policy issues, but the ninety minutes felt like watching a domestic argument, a dysfunctional argument, and to say the least not a presidential debate.

Where have we arrived in American presidential politics? We have arrived at the point of scapegoating and personal vilification on both sides. It's disgusting, but we must understand it for what it amounts to.

It would have to be hard for any woman or man, in particular those proud of their accomplishments and representing an entire national political party, to stomach the statement that s/he is "a devil" or "would be in jail", or is "unfit to be President". Neither Clinton nor Trump is free from criticism.

The literature on all kinds of sociopaths and hyperbolic social movements, to say nothing of allegedly "normal" behavior, is replete with lessons about the absurdity of demonizing political opponents. Scapegoating turns on displacement and projection. Both candidates avoid addressing their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities by trying to say something/s about the other candidate that indict their integrity or humanity, in the case of Trump's name-calling, in categorical ways.

This is irrational and counter to the purpose of debates. In fact the avoidance of scapegoating is part of the reason the United States was founded - to get away from calling your fellow citizens devil worshippers or idolaters or evil zealots or schismatics or what have you. The truth is that both Trump and Clinton can be President, and one of them likely will be, because each has been nominated by a national political party.

Donald Trump's campaign is desperate now, and when he's not forgetting he has a running mate or trying to excuse his own failings, he's trying to foist Hillary Clinton into the role of criminal and an accomplice in her own victimization at the hands of her husband's infidelities. I found it sickening.

However, I have to say that I find Clinton's repeated, as if it's okay, statements that Trump is unfit to be president equally disgusting. Why should we need to validate her judgment in this regard? The fitness of either candidate to be president is for us as voters to state. We really don't need her shortcuts to tell us the decision has already been made - by her. She likes to tout her reason and policy acumen as strengths, but she's more than willing to wallow in the mud with Trump.

I'm also tired of the complete disregard our nation's highest office candidates have for debate propriety and good rhetoric. If we want to see them act like dominators and try to force their words on each other for 90 minutes, then let them create their own YouTube video and have at it. Then it's not official and would compete with everything else on the open-air waves.

No, the poisoning of the American presidential debates has occurred on the heels of candidates using free and sponsored media time to act in ways they wouldn't tolerate from their subordinates, their children, their superiors, and on and on. We'd view similar behavior by all sorts of less prominent people with disregard. Why do they get a pass?

I also think that nearly uniformly, the moderators have failed in their duty to be equal-handed. I haven't seen one who had the ability to control the debaters, and in some cases the bias is clear. I don't think they prepared very well, and if they did, they needed more real-world simulation. The media use salacious and mean-spirited false narratives as fodder for ratings and hide behind the excuse that this manufactured news demands attention. The media must accept a lot of responsibility for creating and sustaining these dynamics.

Both candidates say that so much is at stake, but they have made this nation look like a laughing stock with their vitriol, their animosity to each other, and the disrespect it reflects. They obviously think we're all a bunch of idiots to imbibe their ridiculous behavior.

Our nation will reap the results of the irrationality Trump and Clinton have turned out already. If they care about children and young adults, about creating businesses and make America great again, they should try to be more sober. Their antics teach generations that it's okay to look like arrogant and self-righteous freaks for the world to absorb, consider, and act on.

Here's hoping that future debates and future candidates will learn from the mistakes this moment's "leaders" have displayed. Ideas and rhetoric have consequences. Demagoguery is only a short step away when the candidates lack the conviction to respect their own imperfection. It's in our faces when we hear them treat each other as beneath contempt.

I hope we'll all call on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to act like Americans, not like rival bullies at a playground of inanity.