Presidential Debates Have Outlived Their Usefulness

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John McWhorter writes in Persuasion: Donald Trump is incapable of meaningful participation in such an event. Only in the sense that “match” can apply to both chess and mud wrestling could the word “debate” apply both to the Kennedy-Nixon event and to Trump’s on-stage behavior. Trump cannot help but distort a debate into a cage-fight. He will, again, shamelessly lie and endlessly interrupt.

This is especially problematic because Trump’s behavior during such events can be misleadingly seductive. Being highly focused on the details of political issues is by no means a human universal, and probably should not be. But this means that what can determine elections, especially with our modern media, is charisma. To many, Trump’s unplugged alpha splatter lends an enticing sense of vigor, strength, and even leadership quality. Showbiz inevitably plays a role in any debate—Nixon famously lost the first one with Kennedy because he was sweating and had a five o’clock shadow. But Trump’s verbal towel-snapping is extreme—he is now renowned for the ability to entrance an audience while communicating all but nothing of importance. Even if Biden summons the same speechmaking chops that he did in his State of the Union address, the problem will remain.

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