Picture this: It’s a Tuesday night in late September, and you sit down with your roommates to watch the first 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. If you were one of the unlucky people who had to experience this exact scenario, I am so sorry. Additionally, if you somehow forced yourself to watch the entire thing, then you truly have my deepest condolences. I assume that you, like myself, have now entered a prolonged state of mourning. There is a long list of takeaways from this debate, very few of which have anything to do with policy. Now, I find myself focusing on two primary questions: “How did we get here?” and “What does this mean for voters?”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the more humorous aspects of the debate and, more specifically, the public reactions to them. If you didn’t watch the debate or have yet to hear anything about it, let me draw you in with this statement made by CNN’s Jake Tapper: “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” A variety of commentators echoed similar sentiments, including the following statement made by Lisa Lerer of the New York Times: “I can tell you the loser of this debate: the voters.” In terms of the actual content, a variety of wild moments occurred, including when Biden told President Trump to “shut up” when Trump made a declaration about Democrats wanting to “take out the cows” and the many unintelligible moments where the candidates and the moderator were all talking at once in an unseemly chorus of chaos. Sounds like a party, right? Sure, there is humor to be found in this ludicrous display, but much of that is overshadowed by the real sense of concern we should all feel.
Whether or not you pay close attention to politics, I think it’s fair to say that we are all aware of the importance of the November election. If the debate conveyed any message, it is that this is a moment in our country unlike any we have seen before. I know we have all heard this statement thrown around plenty of times, especially during 2020, but this is truly the case. This debate was so disastrous that there is real consideration of giving the moderator the ability to mute candidates. We, as a population, are divided and scared. Sure, this fear manifests itself in different ways surrounding a variety of sources, but the fact remains that the anxiety and uncertainty of this year have overtaken our lives. Fear has power. This is my best answer for how we got here. But we are not yet doomed to stay here. This brings me to the question — what will this mean for voters?
It is now becoming abundantly clear that the candidates are not going to do the work for us. It seems very unlikely that voters will be able to learn about the positions and policies of each candidate from debates. Therefore, the responsibility to stay informed falls even more heavily on the shoulders of each voter. If we truly want our country to not be ruled by ignorance and fear, we must, as individuals, hold ourselves accountable. We have seen the ridiculous outcomes of refusing to listen to or respect other human beings, and how it turns the democratic process into a laughingstock. To reclaim democracy, we must channel the energy we spend talking over one another into informing ourselves and voting.