A White House that muses openly about not counting votes. A Senate rushing to cement in place a fiercely conservative Supreme Court. We have plenty of reasons these days to despair for our democracy. The Commission on Presidential Debates has just added another.
This independent blue-ribbon panel has produced every presidential debate since 1988. The 2020 debate series will launch this coming Tuesday, and the Commission has now announced the six topics that will each get 15 minutes at the initial square-off between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Those six topics, as selected by Chris Wallace, the first debate's moderator: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.
This imprecise jumble of broad categories and specific issues makes little logical sense. Are we talking here about "race" or "racism"? Can a question about the "economy" come up in the 15 minutes devoted to "the Trump and Biden records"? And how can a topic list for a presidential debate in 2020 -- the year West Coast skies turned red -- not make any reference to climate change?
The Commission claims to be looking "forward to bringing high-quality, educational debates to the electorate" in 2020. Tuesday's debate will bring us nothing of the sort. We will get instead an exercise that reveals the emptiness of our contemporary democratic dialogue. We simply do not have the capacity to seriously confront, let alone solve, the real challenges we as a society face. We seem structured to fail.
And that brings us to another massive concern absent from Tuesday's topic list: our staggering maldistribution of income and wealth. Tuesday's debate will almost certainly come and go without any serious discussion of how economically unequal we have become as a nation. In these days of despair over the state of our democracy, we desperately need that discussion. A deeply unequal society can never be a vibrant, healthy democracy.
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