From 1988 to 2015: hoodwinking, fraud and hate in US presidential debates

It´s quite obvious now that Donald Trump is intentionally spewing racist, sexist and otherwise polarizing and degrading one-liners to capture the attention of the American public.

Sadly, the tactic of extreme baiting and rallying of people’s fears, disappointments and insecurities has worked well for him so far. But should it be allowed in televised debates?

Whether his raunchy appeal wears thin or results in actual impact in the elections, in the end, is it fair to drag the targets of these rants - mostly non-white people and women - through months of humiliating, objectifying attacks for the purpose of some strange entertainment? And is it fair to everyone else to be distracted and manipulated in this way?

One of Trump’s most outrageous displays, the Thursday night GOP debate, earned Fox News some of its highest ever ratings, with a record 24 million viewers, “bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups”. Viewership means advertising dollars and profits, which signals to executives to produce more of the same.

Should they be allowed to profit from what may be - or may be getting very close to - hate speech?

Ironically, it was The League of Women Voters which began sponsorship of additional election season debates, in 1976. But as the parties demanded more and more control over format, moderators, and other conditions, LWV withdrew sponsorship in 1988, stating:

The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates…because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

Fast forward to 2015: Fox/Facebook sponsored debate filled with disparaging jabs at women, received by a cheering, laughing audience, all the while, a civil rights group, DreamDefenders was censored via deletion of their account on Instagram (owned by Facebook) during the debate.

Regulation of hate speech tends to depend on the standard of whether the speech would incite violence. So, should we revolt?

Well, we can call on the Federal Elections Commission, which oversees the Commission on Presidential Debates, to promulgate and make public regulations which would stop this kind of abusive speech and penalize violators.

This isn’t about silencing someone.

Other candidates deserve attention consumed by the irrelevant, sexist banter spewed by Trump. And we deserve to hear them.

Did Ohio Governor John Kasich quote the Bible in explaining his programs to assist the mentally ill and reduce prison populations? That seems worth exploring.

How exactly do Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s views on education differ and what are the facts supporting each?

How would the only black candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, approach issues of racial profiling, terrorism attacks and police brutality against black Americans? Maybe he has some ideas we should hear out. What do the others think?

Dr. Carson’s airtime during the debate was so limited, he replied to his second question, 40 minutes into the debate, “well, thank you Megyn, I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again.”

And, how do any of these views compare with those of candidates outside the GOP top contenders?

There’s a real cost to us all if information about the candidates is suppressed in this way. If no governing authority will step in to return dignity to the debates, I say we tune out. #turnoffhate.


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