Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Not-So-Great Debates

In 1858, two men held a series of debates across Illinois. Those two men were Abraham Lincoln, who would later become President, and Senator Stephen Douglas. The "Lincoln-Douglas Debates" are considered to be one the best examples of political debate in American political history. 


The main topic of the debates was the issue of slavery. With new states coming into the Union, the balance was always potentially shifting between slave and free states. When you read the rhetoric these men employed, it is a stark reminder of how coarse the English language has become today. For example, from the linked page, Douglas said:

Mr. Lincoln, following the example and lead of all the little Abolition orators, who go around and lecture in the basements of schools and churches, reads from the Declaration of Independence, that all men were created equal, and then asks, how can you deprive a negro of that equality which God and the Declaration of Independence awards to him? ... Now, I hold that Illinois had a right to abolish and prohibit slavery as she did, and I hold that Kentucky has the same right to continue and protect slavery that Illinois had to abolish it. I hold that New York had as much right to abolish slavery as Virginia has to continue it, and that each and every State of this Union is a sovereign power, with the right to do as it pleases upon this question of slavery, and upon all its domestic institutions. ... And why can we not adhere to the great principle of self-government, upon which our institutions were originally based. I believe that this new doctrine preached by Mr. Lincoln and his party will dissolve the Union if it succeeds. They are trying to array all the Northern States in one body against the South, to excite a sectional war between the free States and the slave States, in order that the one or the other may be driven to the wall.

Lincoln, regarding the equality of blacks with Whites said in response:

I agree with Judge Douglas he (the black man) is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.

While the terminology used is jarring in our ears, these are men with powerful skills in rhetoric and reasoning. These are not lines written by professional speech writers and then regurgitated by empty suits from a telemprompter. These are their own words.This is a substantive debate over a substantive issue being carried out by men of substance. The issues they raised about the equality of all men under the law and the sovereignty of the individual states would carry forward to the Presidential election of 1860, won of course by Abraham Lincoln, which led to the declaration of secession by the states that would make up the Confederate States of America and the Civil War/War Between The States/War Of Northern Aggression, whatever you call it. The Civil War would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the aftermath would change the course and the very fabric of America. 

Whatever you think of the two men involved in the debates, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were serious men.

Fast forward 162 years. America is once again on the verge of a major clash of ideologies. Once again there are the rumblings of secession and civil war and political violence. The issues we are fighting over get to the very root of the American experiment and who we will be as a people going forward. 

Is America still the land of opportunity, an imperfect union but superior to every other nation on earth, the shining city on a hill that people around the world long to come to? Is the history and heritage of America mostly praiseworthy and deserving of being remembered and memorialized? 

Or is America a nation built on "White supremacy" that has treated women, sexual degenerates, blacks, mestizos, Asians, Jews and every other subgroup you can think of poorly since the founding? Is this injustice something that can only be resolved by tearing the whole thing down, taking from heritage Americans to give to everyone else, and starting over with a new, more "progressive" vision?

These are not compatible visions and we need to have a serious, thoughtful and sober debate to decide which vision will win out and how we should approach the future to hopefully avoid massive bloodshed.

That is not what we are going to get.

Tonight, assuming Biden's team doesn't pull a fast one and find an excuse to keep him off stage, two men will square off in the first presidential debate of the 2020 election season and what will probably be the last time in American history that the two candidates for President are White heterosexual men.

The debates between President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden promise to be many things. A dumpster fire, off the charts cringe, probably hilarious if you enjoy that sort of thing. Thoughtful? Serious? Sober? Addressing at all the actual issues of the day in any substantive manner?

Hell no.

Shouting at and speaking over one another, ad hominem personal attacks, outright lying and boasting will be the order of the evening. Best of luck to moderator Chris Wallace because this is going to be a circus. 

It is not simply a question whether Trump and Biden will have a civil, thoughtful debate. Rather it is an issue of Trump and Biden being incapable of having a civil, thoughtful debate. In his prime Joe Biden wasn't particularly intelligent but he was clever, in the way that Bill Clinton is clever without being especially intelligent. Today, Biden can barely string a few sentences together. On the other side, Trump is a blowhard, an up-jumped used car salesman, a carnival barker. Stirring up a crowd? Sure he can do that. Elucidating a point with any eloquence or evidence of having given it some thought? Not going to happen.

Will Trump blow an artery? Will Biden have an involuntary bowel movement or challenge the podium to a fistfight? If you play a drinking game and take a shot whenever Biden misstates the year or says "Come on man!", you will be black out drunk within 45 minutes. The same if you drink every time Trump pats himself on the back for being the bestest Prez evah!

I was for sure going to watch up until a a few days ago but I am not sure I can do it. If you choose to, John Wilder is going to have an open comment section for the debate at his blog: 


I might see you there but really the whole thing is just depressing so I might clean my guns and take an updated inventory of ammo and food stocks because it is about to go down.

In 1992 as a young college student majoring in Political Science and about to vote in my first Presidential election, I watched the Vice Presidential debates between Dan Quayle, Al Gore and James Stockdale. Never have three dumber people been on one stage together. The whole thing was awful, devoid of a single serious moment. The debate tonight might match that one for stupidity. 

The "winner" tonight will not be determined based on who gets the best zingers and certainly not who makes the most persuasive argument. Nope, the winner and loser tonight will come down to this: can Biden's team pump him with enough medication to keep him sounding coherent for a couple of hours or not? If Biden doesn't come across like someone who should be in a nursing home, he wins. If Trump can get him to go off script enough that everyone sees that Biden is mentally incompetent, then Trump wins. That is the whole debate, does Biden hide his dementia well enough or not?

Said it before and I'll say it again. We are living in Clown World and the clowns running President are not the men we need but they are the men we deserve.



1 comment:

  1. It's been a race to the bottom for many years now and it seems like the Republicans finally won (lost?) it four years ago. Of course, it was partly a result of them finally listening to the things the Dems had been saying for several decades. Morals don't matter (ref: Bill Clinton). Intelligence doesn't matter (ref: Jimmy Carter). All that matters is whipping up the base (ref: Obama)

    The fact however remains that the media wanted Trump most of all. Their goal was to make a mockery of the rest of the Republicans because they figured he'd have the best chance of losing to Hillary. For that reason above all others I'm glad Trump won.

    Oh to live in a time of great orators and serious debate, but it is doubtful those days will ever return.

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