This Sunday, the political battlegrounds reopen for Secretary Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump to continue fighting for the presidency of the United States. At the first debate on Sept. 26, both candidates showed up with guns blazing, ready to shoot each other down to get the desired results. According to CNN, this monumental debate had a record-breaking audience of over 80 million viewers, and unfortunately, it can be summed up in three words: unprecedented, unprofessional and disappointing.
When watching a presidential debate, one would expect the participants to be just that: presidential. However, Clinton and Trump were both decidedly more interested in bringing up each other’s flaws than actually answering questions about policies.
As moderator, Lester Holt held the metaphorical key to Pandora’s box. He had the ability to open and shut both candidates’ lids in accordance with the pre-determined guidelines, giving him a powerful position on the stage. However, when he insisted that “he would press for specifics,” in the opening statements, we expected more. Instead of directing the candidates’ arguments, pushing them to cover specific details of their agendas and properly managing their time, Holt let the candidates run away with the debate.
A pertinent question may be, “How much of Trump and Clinton’s grandstanding and generalizing is unavoidable?” Well, let’s look at the debate objectively. During the opening statements, Holt explained that the candidates would cover three different topics — achieving prosperity, America’s direction and securing America — and that each candidate would have equal time (split into six, 15-minute sessions) to debate and effectively sell themselves to the audience.
When Holt began the debate, he explained that the candidates had previously signed a formal agreement to adhere to the time limits, guidelines and expectations of the debate, and he began with a pointed question about how the candidates would try to put money back in the pockets of Americans. However, when Clinton responded, she quickly broadened and generalized the topic, straying from answering the question by claiming “First, we have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. That means we need new jobs, good jobs, with rising incomes.” Taking such a broad approach to the very first question created a jumping-off point for both candidates to push their personal platforms instead of their political agenda. We understand that this was a timed, two-minute overview of their talking points, but it did not seem nearly as effective as hard facts.
Trump was no better, with his blustering, posturing and interrupting. His own opening statements were disjointed and broad, just like Clinton’s. The major difference between the two was the presentation; while Clinton came off as semi-professional (though smarmy and full of herself), Trump lacked the ability to logically support his points. While Clinton was able to back her argument with numbers (that are of course supported by her “unbiased” fact-checking website), Trump bumbled his way through his arguments using hyperbolic statements frequently interrupting Clinton’s rebuttal and sometimes spoke over Holt’s questions.
Although the candidates managed to transition through each category of questions fairly easily, their arguments throughout the debate became less and less factual. PolitiFact’s fact checking of each presidential candidate has a complete list of all fallacies in Trump and Clinton’s arguments. The debate quickly became less about policy and concrete plans, which the audience seemed to have no problem with. The studio audience, while required to be silent during the debates, proceeded to cheer and clap several times when their favored candidate made a particularly potent dig at the other, making the debate seem even more like a sitcom.
The Presidential election of 2016 has become the source of comedy for the nation (and many nations who are tuning in). The candidates both have a problem with credibility, and because they are both more centrist than any candidate in the past two elections, their often overlapping opinions adds another layer of confusion to this already confusing race. What this election needs is a harsh reality check, whether that be in the form of a time-sensitive mute button on the debate microphones or a moderator that can force the candidates to fully answer their questions (or even bringing in a third-party candidate to change things up).
The future of the American presidency is being decided in a little over a month, and our candidates seem unprepared and unconcerned with how their public performance in the debates will impact their chances. Hopefully in the next debate all parties will be more prepared to sell their platforms and not just drag the other through the mud.