OPINION: Countdown to the 3rd: By your logic

Joe Rogan is a would-be debate host; Trump and Biden prepare to lock swords



The debate format is hackneyed, and due for a revamp — perhaps in the form of Joe Rogan’s podcast.

JACOB HERSH, Evergreen columnist

“My first thought was, he lied in every word.”

-Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

Joe Rogan wants to host the presidential debates.

The UFC-commentator-turned-podcast-host voiced his opinion earlier this week in response to an ex-MMA fighter’s call for a Rogan-hosted debate. Moreover, Rogan isn’t the only would-be participant weighing in. Donald Trump, in a Monday tweet, voiced his support for the idea.

Obviously, there was an outcry and some measure of public backlash with some saying Rogan would delegitimize the debate structure itself. Others, including Meghan McCain, vehemently supported the idea, calling Rogan an “everyman” who would “speak truth to power.”

With that said, the notion that the presidential debates were ever accurate metrics by which to measure a campaign is patently ridiculous.

In fact, as a former high school debate kid, I’d argue that any kind of off-the-cuff debate is one of the worst ways to impart information to the average audience — in this case, the American people.

I’ll grant that they’re highly entertaining at times, in a Thunderdome-esque spectacle of pain kind of way. Two men enter, one man leaves and so on. Whether it’s Gore Vidal and William Buckley, or Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson, there’s a certain inherent repressed violence to televised debates. On occasion, the American public is able to tap into that violence — and get some kind of entertainment out of it. It’s like UFC for the policy wonk.

2016 brought us “trumped-up trickle-down economics,” “Pokemon Go to the polls,” “basket of deplorables,” “nasty woman” and a whole litany of catchphrases, that were funny for precisely two seconds and then lapsed into the soy-speak of Matt Yglesias and Charlotte Clymer, among others.

What I’m saying is — the immediate spectacle of the debates is fun for the general population. The pond-shallow “deeper meaning” is fun to kick around for the Pundit Class — think Vox editors, lanyard Dems and anyone who wore a suit to high school. The rest of it, however, is mealy-mouthed intern-written drivel.

At the end of the day, the debates aren’t an effective or informative way for anyone to learn more about the candidate. They merely give two rich elites more screen time to publicly disgrace themselves trying to relate to the average voter.

The moderators serve very little purpose. Ostensibly, they’re supposed to wrangle two or more unwrangleable people, but they very rarely even accomplish that.

2016 was a distillation of the debates in their purest form — in the rare instances where the candidates weren’t interrupting each other, they were trying to cram in buzzwords and catchphrases, infinitely quotable in the burgeoning GIF-set journalism economy.

None of this is to delegitimize Joe Rogan as a debate host — in fact, I’d actually support it. With millions of listeners and a multimillion-dollar Spotify deal, it’s obvious people engage and interact with his content. That’s a good thing.

For all that can be said about the non-efficacy of the debates, at the very least, to have a higher number of people watching would boost political engagement.

Even if they’re watching for Rogan’s DMT-laden trip reports or weird chimp commentary, at least they’re watching and engaging with some facet of the American democratic process, regardless of how unabashedly stupid and cruel it may be.

I have very clear memories of being 15 and live-tweeting the 2016 elections, making fun of the candidates in some early attempts at political satire. Those tweets have thankfully been lost to the scourges of time, but it was Baby’s First Intro to Politics — and it brought me to where I am now.

The televised debates sucked me into politics, and the second I realized how dumb they were, I moved on.

There’s a whole other facet to the debates that I haven’t touched on, and it’s the frankly gladiatorial facade to the whole thing. The winner, if there can be said to be one, isn’t the guy who lays out his points calmly and cohesively.

The winner is the guy who flares his traps, flexes a bicep and calls his opponent a loser in the loudest voice possible.

Donald Trump proved this time and again on the campaign trail and in the debates. Clinton may have had a cleaner, more incisive debate presence, but Trump was loud — brash, like some kind of ‘50s union rep, bragging about his “guys” through bites of a hoagie.

That’s how it’s going to be in 2020. Trump and Biden will face each other on some stage. It might be Rogan’s podcast studio or it might be some bloodless college auditorium in a backwater East Coast burg like Hofstra. They’ll stand, toe to proverbial toe, ready to flex their intellect on the national stage.

Then Trump will say “Sleepy Joe, he’s got poop in his diaper” or something equally low-brow. The debates will be over, Trump’s win rating will go through the roof, Nate Silver will be flummoxed for the second consecutive election and the American public shan’t learn a damn thing. Cheers.