OpinionOpinion Features

The Downfall of the Political Debate in the US

By Will Calabrese

Staff Writer

“Will you shut up, man?”,  

“Did you use the word smart? Don’t ever use the word smart with me…”,  

“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe. 47 years, you’ve done nothing.” 

“Everybody here knows he’s a liar…You picked the wrong guy on the wrong night at the wrong time…” 

Presidents Biden and Trump (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

All of the quotes shown above look like something you would hear in a dumb argument with your friends or with a significant other at times; but no, these were ACTUAL quotes from the 2020 Presidential Debates between then candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There were tons of memes and videos galore that infiltrated people’s media feeds when these debates happened, but looking into it, this is a terrible outlook for both International and US politics as a whole. Sure, Biden telling Trump to shut up, and Trump essentially calling Biden an idiot was hilarious for both Republicans and Democrats, but how does any of this look in the eyes of, say, a moderate voter? Politics in the current day have begun to shift from a respectable position for one to hold, to a toxic echo chamber that feels like they never want to hear the opinions and arguments of the other side they are against, especially when it comes to debates. 

The political debates you see on TV nowadays show numerous examples of disrespect among politicians. Today, it looks as though federal politicians in Washington and other countries use debates to just full-on slander and roast their opponents. If you can recall, both the 2016 and the 2020 Presidential debates were full of insults from candidate to candidate and dragging each other’s careers through the mud just to gain votes and support from the people watching. The debates boiled down to a witch hunt against each other, with both sides believing they will “save America,” while their opponents are seen as a “dirty Nazi” or a “filthy Communist” hellbent on destroying America and establishing an evil dictatorship. Looking at a debate from older eras such as the 1960s to now, the difference is night and day. 

To explain further, let’s take a look at the first 1960 Presidential Debate between future Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The 1960 election is pretty well known by history and political experts as one of the best debates between two political candidates in US history. The one thing that stands out about this date compared to the modern day is both candidates, even though they are from different political parties, still show respect towards each other throughout the entire debate. For example, when the Democrat JFK gave his opening statement in the first debate, he started off by greeting the moderator and his opponent with, “Mr. Smith, Mr. Nixon.” On the other side of the aisle, when the Republican Richard Nixon gave his opening statement, he also started off with a greeting, “Mr. Smith, Senator Kennedy.” Another example comes from Candidate Nixon’s opening statement, where he states, 

The things that Senator Kennedy has said many of us can agree with. There is no question but that we cannot discuss our internal affairs in the United States without recognizing that they have a tremendous bearing on our international position. There is no question but that this nation cannot stand still; because we are in a deadly competition, a competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking. We’re ahead in this competition, as Senator Kennedy, I think, has implied.” 

Presidents Kennedy and Nixon (Photo courtesy of US News & World Report)

Even though Kennedy was Nixon’s opponent in this debate, he still was able to treat his opponent with as much respect as he was able to, without having to throw insults or any jests toward him. 

Comparing the 1960s debate to more recently the 2020 Presidential debate, there is more of a sense of tension and disrespect between the two candidates: Former President Donald Trump and then Candidate Joe Biden. Throughout the entire second Presidential debate, Trump and Biden were at each other’s necks, interrupting each other at many points throughout the debate. For example, when former Candidate Biden was speaking on how Trump handled the COVID-19 Pandemic, Biden laid into Trump’s handling by stating, 

“The fact is, that when we knew it was coming, when it hit — what happened? What did the President say? He said don’t worry, it’s going to go away, be gone by Easter. Don’t worry, the warm weather. Don’t worry, maybe inject bleach — he said he was kidding when he said that, but a lot of people thought it was serious. A whole range of things the President said. And even today, he thinks we are in control. We’re about to lose 200,000 more people.” 

Even with the seemingly unstoppable smear campaigns and the ever-growing tension that have come out of modern political debates, both in Congress and Presidential debates, the political debates and events of the past have had similar tensions that can be compared to the debates of today. One of the major examples was the era of McCarthyism from the 1940s to the 1950s. During this era, multiple political officials were spreading propaganda about influence and espionage from the Soviet Union, accusing multiple politicians, political officials, Hollywood directors and actors, and sometimes average citizens of being Communist spies. During this time, hundreds of people were arrested, tried, and subpoenaed for suspected Communist espionage, and many of these accusations can still be seen today in Congress and everyday life. 

Political debates have essentially devolved from a proper battle of words between two candidates fighting for a political position, to a complete smear campaign against each other, where one person is painted as the savior of the country and the other one is a Communist demon hellbent on destroying America and making it a fascist hell hole. If you watched a Presidential or sometimes a Congressional debate in 2016, 2020, or recently, it feels like every five seconds or so, one of the candidates just disrespects every single thing the other candidate has done in their career with no hesitation. For the people to trust and fully support political candidates, there needs to be respect toward one another, no matter if they hate each other’s guts or think they are in some form of a deep state conspiracy. Respect can go a long way for many people, especially in the world of politics, yet respect is nowhere to be seen in modern politics. 

Contact Will at william.calabrese@student.shu.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest