11 July 2024

The question is not whether there is a better way to measure two political leadership contenders than the US presidential debate, which is due to take place hours from now.

The real question is whether it is good for American and world democracy because, all things being considered, it won’t make a healthy system of governance.

A spectacular show it may be, but a worthwhile event it may be not.

In other words, does America’s presidential debate _ a Super Bowl of US politics if you will _ still really matter under the circumstances?

This question is divisive. What can cause more divide, though, is the oncoming debate itself.

Proponents of the traditional debate cite great chances to “compare” and “scrutinise.”

They say it is a good way to provide voters with enough and useful information before a fateful decision is made.

Doubters argue that best doers aren’t necessarily best speakers.

Also, the non-believers insist that apparent demagogues with malicious motives are all aplenty.

They say evil can come with the hair well combed and the presidential debate can present a great opportunity for that.

Yet the biggest infamy of the American system, if we really think about it, is the fact that Joe Biden and Donald Trump will only have a face-to-face exchange for the first time since October 2020.

That America’s two most qualified leaders _ each commanding faith, trust and support of one half of the country _ haven’t been in the same room over the past four years during which each only thought about how to destroy the other is simply ridiculous.

Is that supposed to be a genuinely-good system of government?

For starters, since Biden and Trump are decidedly America’s “best brains” with the greatest charismas and followings, shouldn’t they sit and talk continuously to discuss ways to improve the economy and make world peace long-lasting?

If two best brains of a company meet only once in four years, try to cut each other’s throat in that meeting, never care to text each other to talk constructively afterwards, and only plot to undermine each other all the time, how can that company move forward, if survive at all?

America is one big company. It sells cars, builds ships, produces jet engines, makes weapons, hires foreign labours, looks after its finances, continues to do headcounts, seeks energy sources, promotes synergies and minimizes rivalry and has to steadily check its walls for possible holes or leaks.

One brain, no matter how brilliant, cannot be right about all of the issues all the time.

Two presidents _ one former and the other sitting _ will have put forth their ideas on foremost national affairs face-to-face for the first time in four years. The system will make one half of the country reject or ridicule one man and his proposals completely.

Good democracy shouldn’t divide and bring a country closer to breaking up. This weekend debate will do just that, full stop. It will do little else, because pro-Biden voters will not change their minds and neither will pro-Trump people no matter what they see on TV.

So, is there a better way to judge political competitors? Boxing has championship bouts. Soccer has finals to decide who wins the trophies. Runners and swimmers have the Olympics. Tennis has the Grand Slam.

Good politics is not sports, however, so it’s a lot more important to work together than compete. Democracy should put qualified people and best skills together, not separate them and make them fight or wait, in many cases endlessly.

The current US presidential debate, the earliest in history, is being treated as a sport. Biden has been encamped like an athlete, being prepped by experts including someone pretending to be Trump.

The other side is demanding that the sitting president _ old, slow and allegedly suffering from cognitive problems _ undergo an enhancement drug test.

Political analysts in America are considering it a make-or-break moment. If it was a boxing match, it wouldn’t go the distance, because either Biden or Trump would slip and be knocked out, one commentator said.

“In a few hours we will see an irreversible trajectory,” one phone-in analyst told a news programme a few days ago. His opinion is that if one man takes a large lead from the debate, it will be a big blow that the other will not recover from.

New debate rules including the muting of the microphone to prevent interruptions or the prohibition of cheering audience in the studio are being analysed inside and out for advantages and disadvantages. Restrictions on advanced notes are also deemed to be deadly important.

Will Biden freeze and show signs of old age? Will Trump get carried away aggressively and thus self-destruct? Does CNN being the host mean the Democratic Party’s huge advantage?

News coverages have focused on those rather than what really matters (e.g., the apparently conflicting US stands on Ukraine and Gaza, the prevalence of firearms and the question of what should the best immigration policy in increasingly-diversified America be.)

US Vice President Kamala Harris, in a public statement possibly intended to help Biden before the debate, said she dreaded to think what her country would look like next January.

Interpretation: She is ok with the status quo, and the US presidential debate is all right, as long as it helps her side.

Democracy, if it’s serious about itself, may beg to differ.

By Tulsathit Taptim
Writer’s note: This article was written before the first Biden-Trump debate.
//Photo : AFP