Submitted: How to Watch the Great Debate(s)

We live in a great football town. Win or lose, we are Packer fans. We tend to bring those sentiments into other contests in life, like the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Trump supporters will root, tweet and post their delight at some winning debate point. Ditto for the Clinton supporters. When Trump stumbles, Clinton fans will cheer. When Clinton drops the verbal football, Trump fans will applaud. That’s the way some people will watch the debate.

Other people will feel compelled to watch this political Super Bowl, even though they hate both the teams playing.  After all, it’s a spectacle and everyone else is watching. Unfortunately for these folks there won’t even be many funny commercials to break up this clash of undesirables. Instead they will watch the spectacle with an eye toward the moment that everyone will be talking about the next morning.  It’s watching to be entertained rather than to be illuminated.

There is an alternative to watching as a cheering fan or hopeless cynic. Namely, we could watch the great debates like we occasionally watch the Olympics. It’s an extravaganza to be sure but sometimes we learn about entirely new sports and athletes. That’s how, years ago, I came to appreciate a then obscure sport, women’s gymnastics, and soon embraced a complete unknown, Nadia Comaneci from Romania.

What’s the benefit of this kind of Olympic-style viewing? We might learn something new about the mental gymnastics of the politicians. We might discover how political contests and issues have shifted over the years. And we might glean something new about how these contestants perform on the political balance beam.

As an educator who teaches about the power of thoughtful debates, I hope we have many Olympic-style viewers.  I’m optimistic. The polls make it pretty clear that unlike other elections, there aren’t too many Green Bay Packer-like fans on either side. So, if we can resist spectacle-like viewing, we might learn something definitive or discern some illuminating pattern of thought. Olympic-style watching may help us make better, wiser choices. We are not going to discover the next Nadia Comaneci or Gabby Douglas but we might learn something important.  At the very least, this will help every voter shape more realistic expectations about the course of our nation in the ensuing tumultuous four years.

By Phillip G. Clampitt, Blair Endowed Chair of Communication, UW-Green Bay (aka Dr. So What)

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