Sound and Fury: What I Didn’t Learn from the Debates


After three presidential debates and one for vice presidential hopefuls, I know more about emails and Twitter than I do any of the candidate’s actual policies.

Climate change, arguably the most important issue of our time, was completely ignored. Not one question in any of the debates. The only person who even remotely brought it up was Internet sensation Ken Bone! While glaciers melt and global sea levels rise, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are busy throwing mud.

What we got, instead of what have could been informative, revelatory, and heated climate change discussions, were seemingly endless questions about terrorism. Terrorism here, terrorism there; based on what the debates told me, I shouldn’t go outside anymore. The actual facts? The FBI admittedly doesn’t have a concrete definition of terrorism, so it’s hard to say. That aside, it is a certainty that the rate of terror attacks in the U.S. today is a fraction of what it was before the 1970’s. According to the Global Terrorism Database, we’re the safest we’ve been in 40 years, but you definitely wouldn’t know it.

When it comes to taxes, all I know is that Donald Trump doesn’t pay them. (This somehow makes him smart.) I know Hillary Clinton wants to raise them, Trump wants to lower them, just like every Democrat and Republican before them. Both claim their plans will help grow businesses and jobs in the US. Now, I’m not asking for an economics class, but it would be nice if I knew just how much she wants to raise taxes and how much he would lower them, as well as just how these plans would help the economy. The only time the conversation turned to policy, in the final debate, Mrs. Clinton sidetracked the conversation by taking a jab at Mr. Trump, who responded by calling her a “nasty” woman.

On the subject of health care, I was able to gather a little bit more information: Hillary Clinton likes Obamacare and wants to improve it – I still don’t know how she’ll do that, though – and Donald Trump doesn’t like it because, I can only assume, it has Obama’s name on it. What would the former reality star replace it with? I guess we’ll find out if he wins. Mrs. Clinton claims she has the most progressive Democratic platform ever. That includes healthcare, of course, so let’s hear about it: Would she turn to a single payer option, where the government provides all citizens with healthcare, as the rest of the modern world has, or would she stick with the current, public option? Since she didn’t say, neither I nor the American people have any idea.

So whose fault is it? Why didn’t the debates inform viewers of each candidate’s policy? The blame partially rests on the candidates. It was their hideous discourse that took the debates off the rails. They wouldn’t even shake hands. But it was up to the moderators to hold each candidate to his or her own policies. Was the behavior of the candidates suitable for a presidential debate? No, of course not, but that does not excuse the moderators for letting these unwieldy, messy debates proceed as they did.

The moderators asked the questions and could call the candidates out on lies. They could have dug for policy information. Rather, they asked about terrorism, tax returns – very different from tax policy – and, again, terrorism. NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt let the candidates bicker for minutes. ABC’s Martha Raddatz, the VP debate moderator, let Mike Pence lie blatantly about running mate Donald Trump’s record. Neither Raddatz, returning for the second presidential debate, nor her co-moderator, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, actually asked any questions themselves. Instead they let “undecided voters” ask them. Chris Wallace, a Fox News anchor, was actually the best of the moderators, asking pointed, precise follow-up questions. Even he, however, failed to keep the candidates on track, and allowed them to bicker once more.

I don’t know who won any of these debates, but I know it was the American people who lost each and every one.