Crisis of leadership in American democracy

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Democratic, Republican, Joe Biden, Donald Trump

Watching the first presidential debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees was a challenging experience. It raises an immediate question: Is this the best that American democracy can offer its electorate? Are these two candidates, both seemingly unfit for the highest office for different reasons, a reflection of a deeper crisis in American society and politics, embodied by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump?

There are no easy answers to these questions. However, the ease with which both Biden and Trump secured their nominations does not reflect well on their parties or on American society. The debate, intended to be a gladiatorial battle for the votes of the American people, appeared mainly pitiful and a missed opportunity to deliberate on key issues. This was not only a waste for those eligible to vote in the US but also for those worldwide, in places like Kyiv, Moscow, Gaza, Israel, Beijing, and Taipei, who will be impacted by whoever runs the US.

The format of these televised debates, held since the 1960s, feels increasingly outdated in the age of social media. This debate was unique as the first between a sitting president and his predecessor, yet it was a missed opportunity to assess both their track records and visions for a second term. The hosts were passive when their questions were ignored, and Trump was allowed to be “economical with the truth,” which many would regard as outright lies, to the point of absurdity.

Trump’s suitability for the presidency has always been questioned. In contrast, Biden’s performance raised concerns about his age and focus. Many voters, including those watching the debate, would agree with this assessment. The role of the US president is among the most complex and demanding jobs globally, requiring intellectual and mental rigor, 24/7 dedication, and the ability to make difficult decisions under pressure and uncertainty.

Following the debate, Trump’s poll lead widened. Before the debate, his lead among likely voters, according to the New York Times/Siena College poll, was three points; it jumped to six points (from 43 percent to 49 percent) afterward. At this crucial point in the election campaign, with both parties’ conventions looming to confirm their nominations, the momentum is with the former, not the current president. Unless the Democrats take drastic action, they might face defeat on November 5.

Biden’s fatigued and unsure appearance in the debate confirmed fears that he is too old to continue as president for another four years, until he is 86. Considering that his rival is a convicted felon with numerous legal issues and a failed and chaotic presidency behind him, winning the election should have been easy for Biden. Yet, Trump’s performance, while not stellar, reinforced his populist approach and resonated with his supporters.

Trump’s debate performance involved his usual strategy of making unsubstantiated claims. His assertions about “having the best environmental numbers ever,” the security of the border during his tenure, or the economy’s collapse under Biden were either false or distorted. His claims about Democrats supporting abortion until birth and “everyone” wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade were fallacies propagated by the US right. Despite this, Trump came across as more composed and stuck to his strategy of being Trump.

Senior Democrats’ panic was evident as they attempted to limit the damage, suggesting that Biden was suffering from a cold or had been traveling intensively, even though his last overseas trip was two weeks before the debate. Biden’s subsequent interview with ABC News was an attempt to prove his mental fitness, stop his slide in the polls, and end calls for his replacement. However, his defiant declaration that he is “running the world” and that no one is “more qualified” to be president did little to alleviate concerns.

The stakes could not be higher for the Democrats: stick with Biden and risk losing the election, leaving the country and the world in Trump’s volatile hands, or act before it is too late. The fragility of American society and the international arena demands US leadership capable of navigating the rough waters threatening to engulf both US domestic and global politics. Unfortunately, neither candidate in the TV debate appears capable of doing so.

Two centuries ago, the Savoyard philosopher and diplomat Joseph de Maistre asserted that “every country gets the government it deserves.” Whether or not this is true, the current state of American politics and society suggests a crisis of leadership. The ease with which Biden and Trump secured their nominations reflects a deeper issue within the American political system and society.

As the election approaches, the American electorate faces a difficult choice. The outcome will have significant implications not only for the US but also for global politics. The debate highlighted the need for a leadership that can address the complex challenges facing the country and the world. However, the current candidates do not inspire confidence in their ability to rise to the occasion.

In conclusion, the first presidential debate exposed the shortcomings of both candidates and raised concerns about the future of American democracy. The ease with which Biden and Trump won their nominations reflects a deeper crisis in American society and politics. As the election nears, the stakes could not be higher, and the need for competent leadership has never been more critical. The American electorate must carefully consider their choice, as it will shape the future of the country and the world.

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