Between Aug. 21, 1858, and Oct. 15, 1858, U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, D-Ill., met Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln in a series of seven debates in which they expounded on the issues of the day.
Thousands turned out to watch them cross verbal swords. In their speeches they explicated the great issues of the era as well as opining on deeper questions that continue to influence political discourse to this day.
In criticizing Lincoln’s unwillingness to accept the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision that basically said blacks can’t be citizens, Douglas said. “As a lawyer, I feel at liberty to appear before the Court and controvert any principle of law while the question is pending before the tribunal; but when the decision is made, my private opinion, your opinion, all other opinions must yield to the majesty of that authoritative adjudication.”
Lincoln, meanwhile, criticized Douglas’ apparent contradiction in wanting the states to decide on the issue of slavery while at the same time saying he believed it to be wrong and hoped it would be eliminated some day (reminiscent of many of those who support abortion today): “Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery, they have a right to have it. He can say that, logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong.”
Fast-forward 158 years and we have Donald Trump, a “billionaire” (so he says) candidate running for the Republican presidential nominee bragging about his penis size.
“Look at those hands, are they small hands?” he said at a debate March 3. “And, [Sen. Marco Rubio] referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”
Makes one agree with Edward R. Murrow who, after a debate in 1960 between U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy and U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon said, “After last night’s debate, the reputation of Messieurs Lincoln and Douglas is secure.”
On the Democratic side, we have a candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist who said during one debate that the projected rise of a few degrees in global temperature would make the globe un-inhabitable. His opponent, front-runner Hillary Clinton, is under FBI investigation and admitted during one debate that her views change depending on the audience: “I think that, like most people that I know, I have a range of views.”
Of course criticizing comments from Democrats is simply grabbing at low-hanging fruit.
Despite the incredibly inane and downright stupid comments from the candidates, the American voter eats it up while the media report on it as though it is a sporting event.
Douglas, who was nationally known, had no reason to debate Lincoln, who was an unknown and who had resorted to following Douglas around and giving speeches a couple days after him. Douglas, of course, was no coward and was willing to match wits with Lincoln. Even drunk, as he was most likely during their last debate, Douglas was able debate intelligently against Lincoln.
Meanwhile, Trump is a coward who knows he is an empty shirt and is refusing to debate now that the field has sufficiently narrowed to the point that makes serious debate possible. Trump knows that Cruz, probably the smartest and most well-informed candidate left in the race, would mop the floor with Trump.
Trump claims he wants to make America great again (implying it’s not) but he is afraid to engage in serious debate on the issues and would rather issue vulgar and childish insults. While the political insult is a time-honored tradition in American politics, they are usually intelligent and non-personal.
Trump is just a mean bully who goes crying to mommy the first time he gets hurt as he did earlier in the campaign by skipping the Jan. 28 debate because he was upset with Megyn Kelly for asking him tough questions. No wonder Trump likes uneducated voters.
How can one make America great if one is afraid to even debate the issues?