By Hannah R. Pitney

I’ve been on my school’s debate team for over three years. In that time, I’ve competed in many different debate formats, and I’ve watch teammates participate in the types that I haven’t done myself. There’s Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas, Congressional and more, and each has its own unique set of rules. Nevertheless, there’s not a single debate format in which the sorts of interruptions and insults I witnessed during the first 2020 presidential debate would be acceptable.

Although both Trump and Biden cut each other off, a tally showed that Trump was responsible for more than 75 percent of the interruptions. In total, there were 90 interruptions of either the moderator’s questions or each other’s. These interruptions were against the rules of the debate, as both sides knew.

This blatant disregard for the rules was the first major difference I noticed between the presidential debate and a high school debate. In my experience, when the rules for a debate are clearly outlined and understood by both opponents, there is no tolerance for breaking them. I’ve only witnessed a few major rule breaks during a debate tournament before, but in all of those instances, the guilty debater was immediately disqualified.

Most of the time, though, students adhere to the guidelines set by the tournament out of respect for other debaters. Unfortunately, respect is an element I notice is often missing from politics. This was the second difference I saw in the debate. The candidates hurled insults at each other several times, with Biden calling Trump a “clown,” and Trump attacking Biden’s intelligence.

People who hold the fate of the country in their hands shouldn’t be squabbling like toddlers. Knowing that a 15-year-old has more respect for others than the men leading our country is a little scary. We shouldn’t be seeing more civility in debates between high schoolers than we do in debates between presidential candidates.