I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who watched both the Democratic presidential debate and Donald Trump’s twitter feed last night. The latter mostly included re-tweets of affirmations that the debate would be better if Trump were in it, and his own predictable brash assertions.
“@keksec_org: The only winner of the #DemDebate is @realDonaldTrump.” This is not a great debate – a little sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2015
In fact, it was great (this is likely not the only thing upon which Mr. Trump and I disagree). There was no spectacle or ostentatious bombast of the kind that serves as Mr. Trump’s loyal companion. Instead it was refreshingly respectful; when Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia and decorated marine who served in Vietnam, was asked if he took issue with Senator Bernie Sanders’ status as a conscientious objector during that same conflict, Webb said no. Sanders made his choice, he said, and I made mine and that’s fine. Nobody condescended to other candidates; nobody tried to lob “gotchas” or chuckled in belittlement at rival mediocrity.
When, at the start, moderator Anderson Cooper tried to get Sanders and then former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee to categorize themselves—the former: socialist; the latter: Republican turned Independent turned Democrat—none of them took the bait. Instead, we all got an educational earful about the merits of democratic socialism and about the need to make sure that everyone has a fair economic share. Applause all around.
Furthermore, when was the last time legitimate discussion of economic theory and practice made an earnest appearance at such an event? They spoke of issues! Domestic ones! Too often those seem to get short shrift in deference to grandstanding fear mongering (generally from Republican quarters) over Iran, Israel, China, Russia—anywhere but here, it seems. The issues abroad are critical, certainly, but to a lot of voters questions of education, social security, civil rights, and gun control are equally vital. The candidates spoke of climate change. Two of the candidates—count ‘em, Two!— Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, named it as a threat to American security. That climate change was mentioned at all seemed like a glorious, long-needed revelation.
Could they have gone deeper on the #blacklivesmatter movement? Absolutely. Did they miss an opportunity to discuss how they’ll defend against the scary and worrying curtailment of reproductive freedoms? Definitely. (Hillary Clinton did introduce some discussion of instituting paid family leave, and all five candidates are pro-choice. To those who argue she’s robotic and unappealing, I point you to her appearance this week on the stellar podcast, Another Round, where she name-checked Kanye, revealed that she practices yoga, and made an all-around excellent impression.)
Happily, there are five debates yet to take place. I say that with anticipation, if last night is any indication of what we can expect. Hopefully they’ll continue to cover the gamut: #blacklivesmatter, the Middle East, the European refugee crisis, economic injustice and more. Hopefully, those debates will similarly be fora for articulate, considered engagement—the kind the Republicans, and all of us, would do well to learn from.
Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.