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Why the Debates Matter

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Cue laugh track.

E-mails, sexism, Benghazi, Wall Street, tax returns, racism, Bill Clinton’s infidelity, Twitter fights.

Insert eye-roll.

In an election that is becoming increasingly similar to a reality show, the presidential debates are just another episode. The dialogue is plagued by Hillary Clinton’s dull sense of humor, Donald Trump’s interjections and insults, and occasionally, some discussion of the issues the American people are concerned about.

For many, the debates are unimportant, just a further affirmation of loyalty to one's party. Candidates stand tall, looking as strong and resolute behind the podium as they hope to be at the desk in the Oval Office. It's rare for the candidates to deviate from their carefully scripted, extensively rehearsed lines. They even practice verbal and non-verbal responses to inquiries or insults that could send them off course, in order to maintain a strong, in-control façade. Candidates give concise overviews of their policies in order to sway undecided voters and inspire those already behind them. Those who are skeptical about the importance of debates claim that while viewers may learn something new, debates can’t decide an election.

Richard Nixon’s sweat pouring down his face; Ronald Reagan’s inspirational closing question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”; Bill Clinton’s empathetic encounter with a woman in the crowd; George Bush checking his watch; Obama’s disarming wit and humor. The debates matter because they give us real, unbiased insight into who the candidates are, which is more important in this election than ever.

The debates offer the American public what no other type of media coverage can: the opportunity to witness the making of history on their television screens. The debates provide a snapshot of what either candidate will do with the next four years; for well over an hour and a half, we watch candidates discuss their solutions and policies regarding the most significant issues facing our country today. Though not quite as high-pressure as sitting in the situation room, constant probing, fact checking, and insult deflection are by no means simple tasks. All of this takes place under bright lights while 80 million potential voters watch; there is no better way to both learn about a candidate's character and observe how he or she deals with pressure than the presidential debate.

More importantly, for the voters who are still undecided, the debates can help check off what one likes or dislikes about a candidate. This allows the public to make more informed decisions. For those whose minds are already made up, the debates may impart new information about a candidate or provide talking points for a drunken political debate at a Walsh party.

In this election, the debate dynamic is slightly different; the metaphorical wrench thrown into the machine is named Donald Trump. Love him or hate him (most likely hate), Trump brings something to the debates and election that no one has seen before. I’m not just talking about his bright orange iridescence, or the toupee that stays in perfect condition, even through violent convulsions triggered by mentions of e-mails or Monica Lewinsky. Trump brings us something uncommon for presidential debates and politics in general: unpredictability. Clinton, a seasoned politician, will toe the party line with her policy and respond to Trump’s insults effectively. No one can predict how Trump will debate. As a man, he is ignorant, intolerant, egregious, easily offended, and lacks any filter whatsoever. No one can predict what he will say, not even himself. The debates mark the end of Donald Trump, and they are worth watching, at the very least, for that.

For most college students, this election is the first they are able to actively participate in. Many are upset by this reality, claiming that it is no more than a choice between bad and worse. Although I don’t necessarily disagree, I’m not upset by it. We are living in history. The first election I am allowed to vote in will surely go down as one of the most controversial elections in history. The debates are the single most important aspect of this election. They give us much-needed views of candidates’ stances on every policy so no one can say, “I didn’t know that.” The elections are for the public and no one else; they give us the power to make an informed decision on who will lead us through the good times and the bad.

The election has devolved into a reality show, and we find ourselves laughing at the debates like a Saturday Night Live skit. However, unlike SNL, we can’t walk away and laugh it off as a joke, because this skit ends with a winner and a loser. But in this episode, the winner might have one tiny hand and an enormous ego hovering over a nuclear launch button, with his other hand driving a wedge between the people of the United States.