Opinion: Democracy has already lost | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 10.10.2016
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Opinion: Democracy has already lost

Millions worldwide will be watching the second US presidential debate to see who wins this dirty fight revolving around sex, violence and power. According to Ines Pohl, it is democracy that will be the loser.

It's a centuries-old tradition in the United States of America for presidential candidates to confront their opponents in the form of a debate. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is reputed to have been one of the masters of the art. He's the man behind what is probably the best-known definition of democracy, which he understood to be the "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

This Sunday another debate is taking place, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump embarking on a war of words in the battle over who will occupy the White House. The debate is expected to draw more than 100 million viewers - across the entire world. American TV commentators are comparing it to the Super Bowl American football championship, the biggest TV spectacle in the country.

Violence, power and sperm

Ines Pohl (DW)

Ines Pohl, DW correspondent in Washington

They're right, unfortunately. Because most people won't be sitting down in front of the TV screen to find out who has the better policies for tackling the serious problems affecting this country. They don't want to know what ideas are being put forward for stopping the daily slaughter in Aleppo, or helping the thousands of refugees who are drowning in the Mediterranean because they're fleeing or in search of a better life.

They want violence and power and sperm. They want to be there, live, when Donald Trump is made to justify his disgraceful comments about women as heard in a recently released video. And they want to see what strategy he employs for using the adulterous Bill Clinton to damage his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Following the release of the video, Trump finds himself in a crisis he cannot overcome with political arguments, but only with a good show. People want to see who'll be first to lose his or her self-control. They're hoping for exciting, rowdy, raucous, confrontational television. This is what the election campaign for the most important political office has come to.

Harbinger for other countries

And this says a lot about the state of American society. It's also a harbinger of developments elsewhere. For let's not deceive ourselves: The big question is what direction democracy is going to take in this world of fragmentation into social-media groups and a one-dimensional, mass-media culture. What happens when governments are elected by people who no longer have any interest in politics - who only want spectacle? What does it signify when only those who shout loudest are heard? When only the most basic scapegoat theories can succeed as political concepts? And there are no elites with the ability to answer these existential questions?

Like other demagogues before him, Donald Trump is just a phenomenon of his time. And this kind of phenomenon will not end with the election campaign. What a shame Abraham Lincoln isn't able to join the debate. It would be very interesting to hear what his definition of democracy would be today.

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