Comment on the September 26, 2016 Presidential Candidates’ “Debate”

It’s Only a Game

Monday night’s “debate,” as expected, was not a contest between dueling ideas or proposals for improving the nation’s political economy or global leadership position but an exercise in one-upmanship, image-polishing, and competitive preening. It  revealed next to nothing about what poilices Clinton or Trump would follow. A large number of Americans and most foreign observers are shaking their heads not just at the choices on offer but at the way they are being presented. (Despite strong support in the polls for third party candidates, the organizers–who represent the bipartisan political establishment–ensured that these candidates would not be heard. If views with significant public support were excluded from debate in a foreign country, the United States would immediately denounce this as tainting the freedom, fairness, and legitimacy of the electoral process.)

“Debates” of this incoherent sort just add to the already severe national angst over our democracy’s ability to govern competently.  Political reporting in the United States is now indistinguishable from sports coverage.  It is all about how the game is played, not about its consequences for the citizenry or the world. This is no way to select a leader or to gain a mandate from the people to govern. It provides no guidance about what must be done and how, and it unnerves rather than reassures our partners abroad.

Chas Freeman
Senior Fellow in International and Public Affairs