‘Respect the Mic’: No Debate, That Was an Embarrassment

Adobe Stock illustration
Adobe Stock illustration
Keshawn Townsend is a senior at Aiken H.S in Cincinnati, a poet, and a Democracy & Me Intern

Commentary by Keshawn Townsend, Aiken H.S.

What is a debate? Well, a debate is a formalized argument or challenge of ideas in which candidates discuss a topic from two opposing sides. In any debate, the number one rule is Respect. If you can’t respect your opponent when they are speaking, you do not deserve the mic yourself. When you’re disrespecting the speaker, you’re wasting your time, the speaker’s time, and the time of the people who you’re trying to convince. Both sides are supposed to respect each other, no matter how much they disagree. There are even rules set up to remind everybody that as much as you’re talking, you’re also supposed to be listening. Among spoken word artists, slam poets and rappers, the saying is, “Respect the Mic,” meaning, there’s power in the platform—use it wisely. And respect whoever has the mic.

The 2020 Presidential debate held in Cleveland on Sept. 29 was by far the most disappointing debate held in American history, and not just for the obvious reasons. Yes, this debate showcased how much embarrassment the United States is currently facing and will continue to face until the Presidential election is finally decided in favor of one of these men or the other. Being a viewer of this debate was similar to being a kindergarten teacher on a playground watching two children fight over who gets to go down the slide first. President Donald J.  Trump acted out like a five-year-old, throwing tantrums when it wasn’t his turn to speak, desperately looking for more inaccurate excuses to cover up his lack of responsibility as President, and most incredibly, giving encouragement to his most racist and violent supporters (the Proud Boys have been designated an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) when asked to denounce white supremacy. He urged his supporters to “protest,” and then to loiter at polling places, “watching”—watching who? why?—but earlier, referred to peaceful racial-justice protests as equal to riots. “The people of this country want and demand law and order,” he said—so will President Trump bring in the National Guard against his supporters, if those protest turn “ugly”?

Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t show all the same childish antics as Donald Trump, but he did show a high level of incompetence for the Presidential role. Throughout the debate, Biden gave inaccurate information, revealed few details when it came to his plans for current-day issues, and failed to show leadership on the subject of working with state and local leaders dealing with “riots” in their city centers. (Here’s a link to NPR’s live debate fact-check, for more on all that.)

But, as Biden really likes to say a lot, here’s the deal: We are now living in a time like no other. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow humans have died from COVID-19, who didn’t have to, and many more have lost their livelihoods. With the physical realm suddenly unsafe, technology has become our reality—while the real world is burning and flooding and falling apart. I don’t have to tell you who’s suffering the most in those cracks.  

This is a new era. We now have a new generation of leaders breaking out and taking the mic, on social media and out on the streets, fighting not only for their rights, but everyone’s rights. The United States declares itself to be a melting pot, a rich mixture of a multitude of races, ethnicities, religions, genders, abilities, and identities. Yet, when looking at who represents the people of this diverse nation, the field is as white as snow. There is a shortage of diversity when it comes to our entire government and whole American power structure, but most importantly, in the 2020 Presidential field. Why are we still allowing these rich old white guys to run our country—entitled men who can’t even listen to each other, for two minutes at a time, in a formal Presidential debate? At the end of the day, they just want to make sure their pockets are well fed.

Respect the mic. Respect us. Or go home.

1 Comment

  1. The debate certainly demonstrated the worst that the United States has to offer in terms of politics. As far as international onlookers are concerned, this is how the country is maintained. Knowing that the debate reinforces such a negative perception is disheartening, and it stems in part from the fact that neither speaker truly respected the mic. Rather than a argument, the televised debate sounded like an unintelligible ramble that forced not one perspective to be heard. I also agree that having a discouraging lack of diversity in the presidential race is poor optics for the nation, especially with protests over racial issues in the background of the debate. Going forward, it is necessary for any future debate to exhibit a level of respect not just to the mic, but to the citizens that are being addressed through it. Allowing distasteful ideologies to flourish will only deepen divisions.

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