“I think that was worse than our seventh-grade mock debate.” That’s what our 14-year-old said after Tuesday night’s presidential debate, which had been assigned by the high school politics teacher to watch and analyze. I murmured agreement as I wasn’t quite sure what else to say at the moment — but woke up the next morning wondering how that ninth-grade teacher was going to handle a class discussion about the debate. Clearly, there was more to talk about beyond the specific campaign issues.
News headlines seem to suggest consensus about how bad the debate was, some deeming it the worst in presidential history and an embarrassment to society. The theme of many stories covering the event can be summed up in a single word: dysfunction. Dysfunctional debates are characterized by not listening, jumping in and cutting others off, grandstanding, boasting, using sarcastic or biting tones, and not acknowledging others.