US Presidential Debate Hits A New Low – OpEd


The first round of the US Presidential debate is now over, which must have been viewed on television by millions of people around the world. People across the nations viewed the debate, since the US is an important country and the quality and competence of the US President does matter for world affairs, whether towards peace or conflict. While the voters in the USA exercise their franchise in favor of one candidate or the other, the  US President matters to the entire world.

As usual, many people, apart from journalists, will be discussing who won the debate and who lost. Many surveys will be carried out to ascertain what people think on the debate and whom they would support. Some will say Trump, and others Biden and the result of the online opinion surveys will be interpreted by the journalists, depending upon their own perspectives and prejudices.

While the Presidential debates during earlier elections for the US President  were not known to be of scholarly standards, the present first round of debate appears to mark a new low standard. The Presidential aspirant Biden brought down the standards of the debate by calling  Trump a liar  and saying that he was bluffing. Trump was little better, though he also unnecessarily and mischievously made reference to Biden’s son .

Most of the viewers of the debate will have felt is that whatever has been said now in the debate has been said several times before during the last few weeks and nothing interesting was brought into focus.

Ultimately, what will stand out in the debate is Biden calling Trump a liar and many people will be wondering whether this could be the language that is normally made by a street urchin and not a Presidential aspirant. 

Chris Wallace, the anchor who conducted the debate did not do any better, as he gave an impression that he was critically questioning Trump much more than Biden. So much for the objective and independent outlook of journalists. One cannot but note the fact that the anchor did not caution Biden not to use such terms as a liar.

There was much cross talk, interruptions by both the candidates, which  made one think that the debate was no better than what we sometimes see in acrimonious TV debates, where one debater does not respect the other. Should those aspiring to become the US President reflect such standards?

What is surprising is that the queries raised by the anchor were very ordinary and appeared that he too had not done his homework properly.  For example, while raising  a query about COVID-19, much more interesting questions could have been raised by the anchor, which both the candidates have struggled to answer. For example, the origin of the virus and Trump’s criticism of WHO should have been questioned, and which would not have been comfortable for Trump to answer. In the same way, Biden should have been asked as to how he would have handled the COVID-19 crisis  better, when the cause and effect of COVID-19 and vaccine for treating COVID-19 is still not clear.

It was surprising that Trump brought India’s name into the debate by stating that COVID-19 figures from India are not correct.  On the other hand, it would have been appropriate if he would have mentioned the veracity of figures from China. 

The ultimate impression that viewers of debate across the world would have gained is whether only so much talent is available in the USA for the choice of the next President.

One only hopes that the second round of debates (if held) will be more productive with all the three entities namely Trump, Biden and the anchor doing better homework and coming out with probing questions and  intelligent answers.

The candidates should ensure that abuses are avoided. Sarcasm with a tinge of humor is necessary in such debates, which is possible only if the contesting candidates and the anchor have the debating talent to emphasize their points with humor and impact.

N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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