This week’s second presidential debate has been canceled because of a sensible decision that was made by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
That group decided last week to make the remaining debates virtual events, meaning President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would be in remote locations discussing the issues through digital connections. This is being done out of precaution amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But Trump objected, demanding instead that the debates be held in person. He subsequently chose to withdraw from the debate once the virtual format was announced
But, given the status of the pandemic — and particularly in light of Trump’s own COVID-19 infection, which was reported just after the first debate — the wisest course forward is to proceed remotely.
Technology allows for such distant interactions, which is something that practically all of us can attest to these days. Software such as Zoom has become fixtures in everyday life. So, the ability for such interaction is everywhere. If schools and civic organizations can meet and interact regularly on a remote basis, it should be doable for a presidential debate.
On the same note, the ability to do this actually isn’t new at all. In fact, one of the three 1960 presidential debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon was held through remote links, with one candidate on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast taking questions via a satellite hookup from a moderator in a split-screen television format. So the precedent is there and, technology-wise, ancient.
What makes this format even more pressing is Trump’s recent COVID bout. What we know currently is that Trump (along with many other people) was likely infected at a White House ceremony announcing his Supreme Court nomination on the Saturday before the first debate the following Tuesday. What is less clear is when precisely the president first tested positive and, thus, if he was infectious during the first debate. If he wasn’t, it was still too close for comfort given what happened afterwards. As such, this event brought into focus how unnecessary it is to put the candidates, the moderator and any attendees in jeopardy when there are safer options readily available.
Apparently, one reason Trump is against a remote debate is because he is loath to be cut off or silenced when his allotted time is up for answering a question or making a statement. He said as much in a tweet this past week. This suggests a willingness to disregard the debate rules, which is something that marred the first debate as both Trump and Biden began talking over one another. The remote format would bring restrictions that would apply both ways, meaning both candidates would face the same constraints.
Ultimately, the big loser in the cancellation of the second debate is the American public, which has generally learned to function remotely in this pandemic.
It’s an unfortunate and completely unnecessary turn of events, but something that could be remedied simply by embracing the technology just as most of the rest of us have been forced to do.