Debate Wasn’t Surprising: Indian-American Prof on Trump vs Biden

“Unpresidential” is what best signifies the first debate between Biden-Trump, Prof Shakuntala Rao told The Quint.

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The Indian American
2 min read
Televised debates, which began in 1960, had been able to rationalise political rhetoric though American politicians have had a long history of name calling and vitriol, professor Shakuntala Rao told The Quint.
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"At one point during the debate the exasperated Vice President Joe Biden put his hands up and said, ‘This is so unpresidential’. The phrase – perhaps just an off-the-cuff remark – best signified the first debate between Biden-Trump", Professor Shakuntala Rao told The Quint.

Rao is a Professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh.

"I was not surprised by anything that happened at the debate. Trump was his usual blustery self and his language was similar to what he tweets every morning. Biden too, was predictably and desperately trying to avoid outrage politics".

Presidential Debates of Elections Past

"There has never been a televised presidential debate that has been filled with so many interruptions, innuendos and name calling and definitely not from a sitting president. Televised debates, which began in 1960, had been able to rationalise political rhetoric though American politicians have had a long history of name calling and vitriol. But television has become a way to professionalise the language of politics where politicians refer to each other in a civil manner, however much they may disagree with each other's policies," Rao said.

"Even as far apart as President Ronald Reagan was from Vice President Walter Mondale during the 1984 presidential debates, they smiled and shook hands with each other during and after the debates and neither interrupted one another. Governor Dukakis and Vice President George Bush's 1988 debates were more contentious but each held on to their decency and acknowledged each other’s political acumen," she added further.

“President Trump, unlike his recent predecessors, never agreed to any political rules, on or off camera; unlike his predecessors, he did not follow the rules of the debate. He did what he does every morning on Twitter: vilify, attack and lie, and had no intention of either letting Biden speak or to listen. Trump did not come to the presidency – or to the debate – to play by the rules and, in that sense, there is no modern-day precedence to what the audiences watched.”

Where Do Presidential Debates Go from Here?

"It is not good for an electorate to watch their leaders resort to a nationally televised rhetorical shootout at the OK corral,” Rao told The Quint.

"Political candidates – and audiences – have to re-think the value of presidential debates. As this debate showed, they can easily become food fight. Do audiences really get any information from these debates or is this just a grotesque form of television entertainment?" she questioned.

With reference to Trump testing positive for COVID-19, Rao said, "I am hoping this is the last debate we see for a while – especially given that President Trump is in the hospital – and that we take stock, collectively, in the next four years to the future value of presidential debates".

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