Transpartisan Note #17
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
The Presidential campaign has offered little substantive discussion of issues. Donald Trump earns daily headlines with insults, threats, and wild statements that the media features as lead ‘stories’ dominating the news. Media apologists explain that they cover Trump’s extreme behavior and rhetoric because it is news.
It is also entertainment. And most of the time ‘news’ is stories that entertain.
Media leaders affirm their responsibility for keeping the political debate honest and responsible. This mostly means correcting misstatements of fact. But we think the responsibility should be broader.
Voters are unhappy about government paralyzed by conflict. They want their elected representatives to cooperate and get things done. Presidential debates could provide venues for practicing cooperation if the candidates searched for agreements and explored opportunities to cooperate. The moderators could encourage them. Cooperation in debates would reveal who would cooperate, how, and on what issues.
In the second debate, both candidates expressed concerns about the slaughter in Syria. Why didn’t the moderators challenge them to explore a common position on what to do? One reason we have lost influence in the world is polarization destroys hope for continuity in policy, and no one trusts us. Rediscovering a bipartisan foreign policy is essential to restore an engaged global role that others can trust.
Foreign policy challenges are more complicated today than in the past, when our adversaries were strong states. Enemies today are mostly unknown, invisible non-state actors. Despite the differences, policy has better chances of success when we are united than when we are divided and constantly changing policies.
The media could play an important role in encouraging candidates to move beyond differences and explore solutions. They could even do this in reporting on the news when candidates have taken office. This might go a long way toward repairing our policy environment, which is consumed by conflict.