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When Democratic Traditions Slowly Fade Away

Super Tuesday just passed, but there are already clear frontrunner candidates for the presidential election. Also, we will likely never see them on the same debate stage. The Republican and the Democratic Party both have their reasons to hesitate to participate in presidential debates. However, with this decision, the country appears to be losing its democratic traditions.

Currently Losing International Reputation

The United States once was the sanctuary of democracy. Almost every country wished to structure a government as democratic as the U.S. This is no longer the case.

Do you remember the first 2020 presidential debate? It is painful just remembering it. It was entertaining, but it also showcased the concerning future of American democracy. That debate did not represent what an American debate was meant to be: an exchange of ideas that amidst disagreements, includes compromise and ends civilly. Instead, the debate was an exchange of resentment and frustration between the two candidates. 

The 2020 presidential debate was supposed to send us a signal, to show us that our democracy is brittle and urgently needs to be fixed. The country, already in a polarized environment in 2020, has significantly worsened in the past few years. We reached a point where future presidential candidates with different beliefs will probably never get on the same stage to debate. What does this show to the rest of the world? Closed-mindedness and unwillingness to compromise. If a presidential debate is held and the same embarrassing story happens again, please cancel it. We need a civilized debate, not a debate show.

It is concerning that American politics have reached the point where democracy should cancel a debate rather than hold it. Many Americans downplay the decision to not hold presidential debates by affirming both candidates did not even participate in primary debates. However, the stakes are much higher in a presidential debate.

The Difference Between Primary Debates and Presidential Debates

Primaries are mostly partisan. Commonly, the incumbent president does not participate in primary debates, because they usually have massive support from the party members and the party’s establishment.

Presidential elections, on the other hand, are societal. They represent the final run where every candidate needs to show the American people they are the best candidate suited for the job. Not holding presidential debates looks like candidates are afraid to get their ideas confronted. Worse than that, it looks like they cannot tolerate being in the same room with people who have different political values. Again, what does it show to the rest of the world? Instability. And it scares our allied countries.

What is at Stake in 2024

Trump recently proved how much power the United States holds in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) when he stated that he “would encourage” Russia to invade any “delinquent” allied countries not spending 2% of their GDPs on defense like the NATO members agreed in 2014. He even added that he would let Russia do “whatever the hell they want'' to them. Since his remark, Canada and European members have increased NATO defense spending to record levels. 

In other words, the United States’ decisions heavily impact the international scene, which is deeply unstable and polarized. Many countries are suffering from high inflation rates while others face pressure from the current escalating wars. On top of all that, America’s democracy is on life support. The most powerful country in the world is unstable because its people lack communication, an understanding of differing beliefs and compromise. The different political discourse between the previous presidents is so polarized that many allies are trying to distance themselves from the United States because the country’s direction can entirely change every four years. 

Something needs to happen to ease the anger, the resentment and the political divisions wandering in the country. Unfortunately, it is not by canceling every presidential debate that the country’s democracy will heal. On the contrary, it will probably increase political polarization between both parties because their ideas would never be directly confronted. 

Presidential debates still need to happen but in a civil manner. Showing both opponents on the same stage, debating properly and shaking hands afterward would show what the United States should represent: peaceful, democratic and civil. If the United States does not show unified leadership to ease the tensions in the world, who would do it?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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