Las Vegas Debate: Lesson in Democracy
The eyes of the nation and of the world will turn to Las Vegas and the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this evening for the final presidential debate of the 2016 election.
The fact that this debate is being hosted in Las Vegas highlights some important roles that Las Vegas, the state of Nevada, and the American southwest play in electoral politics. Most people who follow politics regularly already know that Nevada is an important swing state. However as my UNLV colleagues have explained eloquently in various forums, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/2016-why-nevada-primary-matters-clinton-sanders-213641 few also realize that Nevada is also an important bellwether. Specifically, Nevada has voted for the presidential candidate that has been elected in every election but one since 1912. More importantly, the population of Nevada represents demographic trends in many American states. Indeed, Nevada’s growing population includes a rapidly growing percentage of Latino, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and African-American residents. In the future, America’s national elections are increasingly likely to be decided by the candidate capable of winning swing states in the American southwest.
One of the most incredible facets of having the final presidential debate take place at UNLV was the opportunity to host an International Debate Study Mission (IDSM). https://www.ndi.org/debates The IDSM is a group of international delegates from 29 different nations. These delegates are the progenitors of political election debates in their own home countries and are visiting UNLV so that they can better understand the process of hosting political-election debates. From Argentina to Zambia and all points between, these delegates are dedicated to the principles of fostering civil democratic discussions. Hearing the delegates stories and discussing the hurdles that they have faced was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Their sacrifice, hard work, and unrelenting commitment to debate should make every American feel humble and grateful for our nation’s democratic traditions. Because of the dedicated work of those in the IDSM, there are now political-election debates in 80 countries around the world.
What can we expect tonight? Scholars of presidential debates will uniformly report that the Clinton-Trump debates have no historical analog. However, the first two debates can provide us with some insight into what we can expect for the final debate. Trump’s poor performance in the first debate set a new low bar for the genre. In the second debate, Trump improved, but both candidates were still mired in discussions of character and fitness for the office. This takeaway suggests that neither candidate adequately focused on critical discussions of policies and issues that could make a meaningful difference in the lives of all Americans. The overall perceived negative tone of the two in preceding debates was laid bare by the collective glee surrounding the second debate’s final question asking the candidates to “name one positive thing you respect in one another.” This reaction illustrates the desire of many Americans to move beyond the negativity of this campaign season and to embrace policies that will move our nation forward in a productive manner.
Given the adversarial tenor of the first two debates and the likelihood that the third debate may be even more negative, some have suggested that the third debate should be cancelled. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/10/14/enough-enough-scrap-third-debate/32oyCuhCjolz9ptFt3Ty0H/story.html While these critics have made some reasonable arguments, we must realize that cancelling the third debate will not eliminate character attacks nor will it silence anti-democratic statements. In fact, cancelling the debate might actually amplify both. In the end, there is no solution to anti-democratic rhetoric except for more vociferous pro-democratic rhetoric. The delegates of the International Debate Study Mission know this all too well. Many delegates fought to craft debates in democracies emerging from decades or centuries of monarchical or dictatorial rule. A delegate from Guatemala described his country’s first large political debate occurring with tanks surrounding the building where the debate was being held. The delegate’s story paints a poignant picture of the value in having one’s voice heard.
At the end of the day, it is fair to assume that individuals from all nations want the opportunity to have their voices heard. Following in the footsteps of those who fought for our right to voice, this final presidential debate affords UNLV a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pave roads of our own. As we set the stage for the final presidential debate tonight, we firmly place our footsteps as a campus community in the bigger picture of voice in the American southwest and democracy as a whole.
This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with the four presidential debates held this fall by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Each of the four debates will be held at a college or university, and the author of each post in this series will be a professor at the participating school (Hofstra University; Longwood University; Washington University in St. Louis; and University of Nevada, Las Vegas). To see all the posts in the series, visit here.
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