Civility in Politics and the Presidential Debates

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Are you seeing this right now?” my friend texted me on the night of the first presidential debate. “This can’t be real.” Across social media and the Internet, thousands of people were outraged by the sheer chaos occurring on the debate stage. People were making memes, having arguments over who won, and coming to the general consensus that this behavior shouldn’t be allowed in politics. Many people, including myself, were shocked that one of these men was to be the leader of the United States of America. If they couldn’t refrain from insulting each other every two minutes, how can we expect them to run a country?

Though one might claim “Oh, Trump was way more unprofessional!” or “Biden was definitely worse,” both candidates did and said things that were uncalled for. It felt like I was watching two siblings argue over who gets the last cookie, not a presidential debate. Even if President Donald Trump was more unprofessional with his constant interruptions, Former Vice President Joe Biden shouldn’t be calling the president a “clown” or telling him “Shut up, man” on live television. Trump’s behavior was also inexcusable: he shouldn't have brought up controversies surrounding Biden’s son, and he needs to learn that a debate involves both parties having a chance to speak, not just him. However, even if this might reasonably provoke Biden into insulting Trump, fighting fire with fire does nothing. The American people deserve to have both candidates cooperating and being civil to best understand each of their political views. Biden’s response to Trump’s uncooperative behavior is understandable, but that does not justify it. Insults and interruption should not be allowed in a presidential debate, no matter the circumstance.

As much as people try to point out the humor in the situation, I find it depressing that America has come to this: two grown white men throwing schoolyard insults and constantly interrupting one another. It’s disappointing that we have to pick the “lesser of two evils,” rather than pick a candidate who accurately reflects our political views. Ultimately, we are the ones who got ourselves into this situation. We chose to vote for these candidates in the primaries and now we’re paying the price. As a country, we need to elect better leaders if we want to see actual progress and change.

However, the vice presidential debate proved to be a stark contrast to the presidential debate, showing how people should act in a political environment. Aside from the occasional snarky comment or interruption, which was to be expected, the debate was actually civilized. The two vice presidential candidates listened to each other and respected one another’s time. They didn’t insult each other and weren’t constantly shouting. The two debates were so violently different from each other that it surprised me. Both Kamala Harris and Mike Pence showed professionalism during the debate, and I respect them for that. Even if the price paid for civility meant that the most interesting thing that happened during the debate was the fly that landed on Pence’s head, at least I could understand the political views of the two candidates. Another example of political civility is the Supreme Court hearings; they may be extremely boring, but at least you can understand what is going on. In contrast, I found myself lost during the first presidential debate because of the constant interruption and deviation from the original topic. Now, one might argue that civility can distract from the seriousness or danger of what the candidates say. Is rudely saying something controversial worse than politely saying it? I’d say yes. Politeness should be expected in a debate, and though rudely saying something might garner more attention, it has just as much of an impact.

Even though politics is a game of deflection, lying, and persuasion, the one thing we’re supposed to be able to expect from politicians is professionalism. In the case of Biden and Trump, neither of them showed that. Hopefully, by the fourth debate, both candidates will have learned their lesson so that the American people can finally hear what they have to say.