For this reason, I’m not necessarily looking forward to Tuesday’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Will it be entertaining? Likely. Will it change the contours of the race? Unlikely.
These regular presidential debates are a relatively recent occurrence in American presidential politics. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, “1948 and 1956 were the only public debates among presidential candidates prior to 1960.”
Furthermore, there were no moderators in the 1948 debate. In fact, one of the most famous series of debates in history, the 1858 exchanges between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas that set the stage for Lincoln’s presidential run, had no moderator.
In some ways, it is the moderators who complicate the debates, who add an extra element that is not always useful. One could argue that today’s candidates lack the decorum to pull off a no-moderator debate, but in some ways that would be the only way that they could engage each other on the topics they want to discuss, rather than those the moderators want them to discuss.
For all these reasons, I’m not looking forward to Trump making a scene and telling lies. I’m not looking forward to the assessments of the moderators. I’m not looking forward to hype. We may learn things. We often do. And those things are worth learning. But, what is most important is policy and character.
Indeed, we don’t need a debate.
What will it really tell us that we don’t already know? What will it truly reveal? The debate will show us how the candidates converse and clash. It will show how they respond when attacked and how they recover — or not — when bruised.
But none of this, at this late date, should be the determinant of how one votes.
Trump is actively threatening to assault our democracy by refusing to say that he will accept the results of an election if he loses, by refusing to say that he would ensure a peaceful transfer of power from him to Biden. He is assaulting our democracy by undermining confidence in the election and by lying about mail-in voting, a necessity for many during a pandemic.