A debate is a constructive argument expressing two or more opposing points of view. Its purpose is to illuminate the topics under discussion in a restrained and constructive manner.
A debate, especially a political debate, is also a contest, a game of strategy where wit, passion, conviction and other devices can strategically enhance the persuasiveness of one’s argument and sway, if not one’s opponent, at least the audience.
Typically, eloquence, cadence and rhythm are also useful devices in public speaking such as debating, providing, colour and warmth that illuminates and humanizes the matters under discussion.
Winston Churchill always comes to mind, a quick-witted, formidable orator, a man of comprehensive interests, a writer, a painter who could be both rousing and acerbic without ever being gratuitous.
And of course, his famous asymmetrical phrasing laid emphasis with perfect measure, making him the personification of what he had to say, which also made him trustworthy and convincing.
There are others too on the American side, such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, who eloquently tried to elevate the discussion and rouse the nobler instincts of those they addressed.
In an era of reality TV, none of these attributes is necessary to prevailing in what now passes for debate.
Shouting, overwhelming an opposing point of view not by offering an articulate counter argument but by petulantly attacking the person who holds the opposing point of view, seems more effective now in rallying others to one’s position.
At a time of enormous conflict and strife around the world and indeed domestically in the US, what is desperately needed is inspired leadership.
However, what the first US presidential debate offered to Americans and by extension to the world, is abysmal.
The media and its pundits, instead to trying to decide who won this excuse for debate should instead ask how these two almost universally disliked individuals became the only choice to lead the most powerful nation in the world.
Donald Trump is not so much a functioning, cognizant individual as he is the avatar of reality TV. Being the ultimate manifestation of that medium, Trump possesses the instincts to inflame and legitimize all that is symptomatic of a disaffected mob.
He knows how to unleash and orchestrate the groundswell of brutal, benighted certainty that is the dark issue of mass ignorance.
Hillary Clinton, though her approach is more covert than Trump’s, she is also motivated by greed and vanity. She wants the presidency yet expresses the most pedestrian assertions as to what she might accomplish if given the office. She has no vision and the only urgency she expresses is the urgency to win. Everything she has to say is calculated, devoid of spontaneity and wit. Her words are so rehearsed, rolled out, rolled over and rolled out again that they are purged of all moral and intellectual leavening.
That over 84 million viewers tuned in to watch Trump and Clinton, the highest ratings of any US presidential debate, is ironically a negative phenomenon. It is safe to assume that most tuned in, not out of any expectation of an edifying debate or an interest in the issues, but out of the same bovine curiosity that attracts all viewers to reality television.