scorecardWe should hand the job of debate moderator over to a mother. Moms are used to dealing with tantrums and bullies.
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We should hand the job of debate moderator over to a mother. Moms are used to dealing with tantrums and bullies.

Melissa Petro   

We should hand the job of debate moderator over to a mother. Moms are used to dealing with tantrums and bullies.
LifeInternational5 min read
  • The first 2020 presidential debate was a chaotic mess filled with yelling, constant interruptions, and unintelligible cross-talk.
  • Melissa Petro, a New York-based freelance writer with two small children, says that next time around, we should give the job of moderator to a mother — "assuming there's one out there with some room on her plate."
  • Mothers know how to confront bullies, institute moral behavior in others, and lead by example, she writes.
  • We need a grown-up in the room — and studies show that women's participation in peace negotiations leads to more successful outcomes.

Thirty minutes into the exchange between President Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, I fell asleep on the sofa, a pile of unfolded laundry at my feet.

As the mother of two children under three — our second born just weeks before our toddler's daycare was shuttered as New Yorkers were ordered to "shelter in place" — this is a typical scenario: It's hard to stay awake through a favorite TV program, let alone what is being described as "a shambolic shout fest, with scarcely a single morsel of substance to be found."

From what I saw, this analysis sounds accurate: Instead of a constructive dialogue, two grown men — bidding for control of what was once a powerful nation — interrupted one another and volleyed personal attacks.

For his part, Biden tried to address the American people and present his plan to lead the nation out of an unprecedented public health crisis and the worst economic downturn since the Great depression, while Trump lobbed unfounded accusations and made-up statistics, displayed his racism, and stoked division between moderate Democrats and the Progressive Left.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News lost control within minutes.

After convivially welcoming all and explaining the rules, both candidates spoke for their allotted two minutes before the debate devolved into what Wallace called "open discussion." Wallace struggled to regain an appearance of authority, admonishing the president for speaking over Biden and disregarding the rules. The awkward exchange repeated throughout the night, Wallace rebuking the president, who'd respond with something along the lines of "nu uh, I did not!" and "he did it first!"

You know, the kind of retorts you'd expect from a badly behaved preschooler — not a 74-year-old man. And certainly not the president.

I imagine mothers across America, if not passed out from exhaustion, poised on the edge of their seat, all but jumping through their TV screen to intervene just as we would if we witnessed a squabble in a sandbox. It made me think: Next debate, we ought to hand the job of moderator over to a mother — assuming there's one out there with some room on her plate.

Moms know how to deal with bullies.

Temper tantrums. Not listening. Poor impulse control. President Trump is incoherent but speaks vigorously, much like my toddler desperately negotiating one last story before bedtime or adamantly refusing to eat anything other than green Jell-O for lunch.

When he snatches a toy from his playmate's hands, then cries victim as his friend takes it back, or insists he didn't hit his sister when I literally just saw him do it, my son isn't being a manipulative little jerk; he's being a typical 3-year-old, still learning social conventions and moral behavior, and developmentally incapable of moral beliefs.

Children display these traits because their communication skills are limited, and they have immature egos. What's your excuse, Trump?

Moms know a lot about instituting moral behavior in others.

Had a mom been last night's moderator, instead of the night descending into madness, I imagine she'd have brought the discussion back to the issues at hand.

One pressing issue: In a consequential number of American homes, it has become the mother's job — in addition to her paid work and other unpaid responsibilities — to keep our families safe during a global pandemic and somehow replicate what is being lost with the closure of schools, libraries and community centers.

I am one of four moms wrangling a pod of four toddlers plus the baby four days a week, tasked with a professional educator's job of socializing my neighbors' children along with my own. Moms like me across America are teaching the next generation the social conventions that President Trump seems to lack, along with everything else kids typically gain from in-person social encounters.

It's rewarding work, but it's also exhausting — and it is repugnant to think this hard work is necessary as a consequence of our president's incompetence.

Last night's debate failed to hold President Trump accountable.

While other nations heeded scientists' advice and took the COVID-19 pandemic seriously — shutting down nonessential businesses, and ordering citizens to shelter in place — Trump lied to Americans, and downplayed the threat.

Leaders of other countries mandated masks, conducted mass testing and instituted contact tracing to contain the situation so that their schools could safely reopen in the fall. By contrast, our leader repeatedly undermined experts, said COVID-19 would go away on its own, and asked why we couldn't just inject ourselves with disinfectant. It's a great question when asked by a 4-year old; it's terrifying coming from the Chief of State.

Comparing Trump to a toddler might be entertaining, if it weren't so consequential. Even less humorously than #toddlerinchief, Trump's behavior has also been compared to that of an abuser.

I vividly recall how, during the 2016 debate, he skulked behind then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, attacking her in ways that only a man can attack a woman, that smug sneer on his face. His demeanor is triggering, particular for women and others who've grown up in chaotic homes or experienced abuse.

After a long day with my kids, perhaps my disengaging last night was a much-needed if not inadvertent act of self care. Day after day, my toddler tests me, and I frequently lose my temper — and so I sympathize when Biden capitulates to Trump's taunts.

Last night, Biden called Trump a "clown," and said "you are the worst president in American history." When Biden said "Will you just shut up, man," I realize he was only being human. Still, as a mother, I cringed. So much for modeling kindness and respect.

We need a moderator who will keep the focus — not get caught in the fray.

The risk in allowing the next debate to turn into mayhem is that it alienates both sides, and the pandemic is already expected to suppress voter turnout. We can't let that happen — not when nothing short of our children's futures is at stake.

Black children and families are in particular peril. Last night Biden cited a horrific statistic to argue that President Trump has not been good for Black Americans: 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have died in the COVID-19 pandemic. We need a moderator who takes that seriously, as opposed to Wallace who said "I'm going to ask a question about race. If you wanna respond about something else, you can." A mother would say something more along the lines of, "Oh no, mister, you are going to answer that question" and then withhold dessert until they do.

But seriously: Studies show that women's participation in peace negotiations leads to more successful outcomes. That's what the next moderator here needs to do. To bring peace to our hurt nation, we need a grown up in the room.

Take it from the mother of a 3-year-old: If you fight with a toddler on his level, you won't win. And we can't afford to lose.