Clinton & Trump rock college campuses, students a no-show

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
Clinton & Trump rock college campuses, students a no-show
Hofstra and Washington Universities hosted the first and second presidential debates respectively, yet neither alumni nor students of these institutions of higher learning were seen anywhere near the campus venues. What gives?

Following a sleepless night cringing through the latest Trump-Clinton Mud Toss, I’d like to make a few observations about these debates that I think many people, caught up in the salacious side of the sloppy showdown, may have missed. First, there is nothing remotely ‘town hall’ about these hyper-moderated, mainstream media affairs.

Of course we depend on the mainstream media monsters to beam these events into our living rooms. However, beyond the technological service they provide, I only see only a glaring conflict of interest allowing these corporate entities to serve as debate moderators. The mainstream media, which regularly betray its partiality and impartiality for one candidate or another (usually by simply ignoring or even ridiculing a potential candidate, as was the case with media marooned Ron Paul), are in reality the worst organizations to moderate these events.

Here is the crucial point that needs consideration: Both Clinton-Trump debates were held on campuses of American universities. The first debate was held at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. The private school has just over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students combined (Tuition and fees cost about $40,000 for the 2015-16 school year; 57 percent of students took out loans to pay the fees). The second debate took place on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, MO, also a private institution where many students are forced to pay high tuition fees, oftentimes with the help of government loans.

Since both debates were hosted by universities, I was really anticipating some active student participation in the events, perhaps even some stellar pupils serving as moderators, asking the uncomfortable questions. Obviously, that is exactly what the system does not want since not a single university student was to be seen anywhere near the stage, not even to forward a question. Instead, NBC "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt unilaterally dictated the first debate, while former CIA intern Anderson Cooper (CNN) and Martha Raddatz (ABC) fastidiously monitored the chatter of the second event, the so-called “town hall debate”.

All quiet on the campus front

You’d never guess it today, but American universities once upon a time played a historic role in questioning the powers that be. During the Vietnam War, for example, the anti-war movement got its start on college campuses, and many colleges were forced to shut down due to rowdy protests and student sit-ins, which had a big impact on the government’s decision to finally abandon the Vietnam theater. Later, during the Nixon administration’s opening of the Cambodia Campaign in 1970, student protests turned ugly at Kent State University when the National Guard opened fire on the protesters. Four students were killed and nine wounded.

Today, considering the US government’s military sprawling operations around the globe, which is draining the country of precious funds, university students certainly have good reason to have their voices heard, and perhaps nowhere more than during the presidential debates. Undoubtedly, the Trump-Clinton debates - which are only electrified by the occasional “zingers” - would have been a much more colorful and meaningful affair had Hofstra and Washington University students been permitted even a marginal level of participation.

This is especially pertinent regarding the second bang-up, falsely advertised as a “town hall debate”. Now when I hear 'town hall debate', especially one that will be hosted on the campus of a liberal-oriented university, I imagine a boisterous, spontaneous and slightly rowdy event with lots of active participation from an engaged audience, interjecting questions and receiving lengthy, thoughtful answers.

What viewers got on Sunday, however, was exactly the polar opposite. The 'town hall debate' – aside from the occasional snide remark from the two severely compromised contenders - was nothing more than a clinically sanitized corporate-sponsored affair where the 40 or so audience members resembled two-bit movie extras waiting for the director to announce a coffee break. And who could blame them? Just consider how the mediators, Cooper and Raddatz, fastidiously monitored the chatter, forbidding the invisible crowd to applaud, while maintaining an authoritarian-style ‘speak only when spoken to’ relationship with the docile audience, none of whom represented the voice of a younger generation, i.e. the university students. You mean to tell me there was not one or two fraternity members not in class to disrupt these brain-dead political exercises in sheer futility?

And mind you, that is exactly the way the movers and shakers intend to keep it: dumbed down, sexed up and puerile. The last thing the elite want is for a group of intelligent university students, fully learned and up-to-date on current political affairs, gatecrashing a corporate invitation-only party where only polite and fawning behavior is allowed, thank-you-very-much-for-coming-and have-a-nice-day sort of rubbish. You may be surprised to know there is even a corporate organization that has been enshrined to ensure things stay exactly that way.

Commission on Presidential Debates

For those brave Americans who have been following the presidential debates over the years, you may have noticed that the stage at these events always seems strangely empty, with just two candidates from just two teams banging heads – a bit like the traditional NFL game every Thanksgiving - over the same predictable questions.

The reason for this glaring lack of beauty contestants can be traced back to the sponsors of the event, known as the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is quite possibly the least-discussed yet most controversial aspect of the elections. This non-profit corporation, which is owned by the Democrats and Republicans (I repeat, is owned by the Democrats and Republicans), establishes the debate rules, including which third parties get invited to participate (to date, none), what questions will be asked, even the height of the lecterns.

Beginning in 1976, the presidential debates were organized by an outside, independent organization known as the League of Women Voters. In the 1988 race between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, however, a mutiny of sorts broke out inside the Beltway and the luckless ladies were duly informed they would no longer be hosting America’s main event. The League put out a statement, an SOS of sorts, warning that "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."

America shrugged and it was back to business as usual.

Over time, the CPD has made it nearly impossible for any third-party candidate to participate in the presidential debates, not to mention university students, or anybody else the CPD deems undesirable. In 2000, the CPD made it a requirement that for a candidate to be included he or she must have at least 15 percent support from five national polls. With good reason, critics have slammed the ruling, saying the mainstream media focuses undue attention on the Democratic and Republican candidates, thus making it impossible for third-party candidates to get their views across to the American people. And without any exposure or publicity about their platforms, third party contenders fall by the wayside on the road to the White House.

On Sept. 27, for example, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein was escorted off the Hofstra University campus after her prearranged media interviews because she didn't have the necessary CPD invitation from the Democrats and Republicans to be there.

"She was on the college campus, we asked to verify for proper credentials, she did not have them, and she was nicely escorted off the campus," a police department spokeswoman said, as quoted by CNN.

Until an outside organization is allowed once again to organize the US presidential debates, as the League of Women Voters did quite admirably until 1976, allowing fresh voices into the mix, these corporate-owned events will continue to avoid the truly crucial questions that are on the minds of millions of American voters, but which get ignored year after year.

Hofstra and Washington U. let slide a golden opportunity to challenge the political powers that be at a time when the elite's global playground is being consumed by war, corruption and untold violence.

Will students from University of Nevada make their presence known at the Trump-Clinton debates on Oct. 19? Somehow I doubt it, but we can always pray for real hope and change.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.