Without question, in a free society one should be able to express views, even vile ones.
This does not entitle said person to a megaphone to amplify their ideas to a huge audience. Nor does it entitle said person to be inoculated from criticism. Say something nasty and unpopular in a public “forum,” and expect responses that you yourself deem nasty, unfair or intolerable. As much as many on the Right would love to believe otherwise, being called out, or even the much ballyhooed “Cancel Culture” is no violation of the First Amendment.
If we define “debate” as merely the right for all sides to express their position somewhere without government interference, then I support debate.
If, however, debate is defined as a boorish clash of personalities holding wildly divergent ideas, (especially when current Far-Right trends of proto-fascism are involved) I don’t value debate.
Even in its purest form, true forensic debate, complete with opening statements, timed rebuttals, questions for the other side and so on, adds little to the discourse. It may be exciting to participate in a formal debate such as this, sure. Any given person may excel at the particular rules of debate. But what’s that mean?
It means one can score points as dictated by the agreed upon rules, judged by appointed arbiters. In other words, it is a game that people can play well or play poorly, like any other. Know the rules, practice, and gain an edge in strategy to win.
Yet whichever side you fall on, and whether you emerge victorious is detached entirely from the veracity of your claims. The winning contestant can present an entirely false position. In the case of candidates for public office, especially for executive posts such as governor or president, nothing in the discharge of the office’s duties will ever resemble the mechanics of such formal debates that our country loves so much.
It’s theatre, and way too often it’s poor theatre.
In this age of cable news and internet information, the public no longer even needs a staged debate to get an idea about their candidates. Everything upon everything in regards to positions (or lack thereof) is already clear. Just check websites, speeches, social media posts, and so on.
Trump didn’t think he could win this game in 2020, so he simply refused to show up for all of the scheduled debates against Biden.
I for one would love to see presidential debates eliminated for the reasons I’ve listed above, among others. Fruitless endeavors insofar as policy and fitness for office.
Yet there is another type of debate that is even less worthy of our time and our consideration in this country. The rules are less defined for this type of debate, and that is the point. I am referring to whatever spectacle tends to arise when anyone is foolish enough to accept an invitation, usually from someone online, to debate them on their pet issue.
It’s a favorite of right-wing conspiracy theorists and other nuts, yes. But you would be well advised to decline any invitation for these pissing contests. Because that is exactly what they are — free-for-alls where almost certainly the loudest one is considered the winner. Verbal WWE fisticuffs designed only for self-aggrandizement and the throwing of bloody meat to whoever the challenger’s following happens to be.
In the heat of a moment, too many people accept these challenges for supposed “debate,” for the same reason duels would be accepted in days of old: nobody wants to look the coward.
“Afraid your ideas won’t stand up to a little debate?”
Well, here’s the thing; they may or may not stand up to fair debate, whatever that may be worth. But you won’t get a fair debate anyway.
Nobody who challenges another average citizen or celebrity to a debate is interested in even so much as the formal Oxfordian type of song and dance I mentioned earlier, let alone an exchange of actual ideas and information.
About 98% of such challengers want the opportunity to verbally pummel the other side. (Especially if the other side has some form of clout or renown.) If you have a particular constitution that prevents you from ever being rattled or misspeaking a single word under such onslaughts, great. I find that admirable.
But your cool headed participation will still not contribute to an exchange of ideas. The challenger will not be convinced because that is not the point. You will not be convinced because you are almost certainly correct already. And any supposed audience that is tuning in to make up their mind on anything based on such a contest is really not worried about learning a thing.
So let’s normalize refusing to debate. We need to get away from this notion that it is only American to agree to debate any Tom, Dick and Harry that insists our ideas won’t hold up to scrutiny. The vast majority of people who are uninterested in such shenanigans are not cowards. They just refuse to elevate what passes for debate these days into a sacrament of democracy.
I’ll start here and now: I won’t live debate anyone on anything. Not because I don’t believe in my positions, but because I don’t believe in snarky sound bites and adolescent preening.
Write something. They can write a rebuttal. Post a YouTube, and they can leave a comment or post their own counter video. All ideas are still on the proverbial table. Anyone actually undecided can still make up their mind. Everybody is still expressing something. But the rightness of your cause won’t then be determined by whether or not you mutter, “uh” in the face of some timely (or lucky) zinger.
Same goes for comment sections online…an ever-deepening cesspool of anonymous trolling and latent psycho-sexual fears of inadequacy.
Support true discourse and expression. Avoid “debate.”