A Hard Day’s Debate Night

Steve Russell
5 min readJul 2, 2019
Photo by Dylan Collette on Unsplash

If you care about the United States of America, it’s a hard time to be a retired professor.

Just this week, the POTUS, who appears to be the President of the Vladimir Putin Fan Club as well as the United States, was asked to respond to Putin’s recent statement that “Western-style liberalism is obsolete.” It was the kind of remark you might expect from a successful autocrat who has discovered how easy it is to manipulate elections to attack the European Union and the U.S. without firing a shot. It also showed that Putin knows something about the broad progress of thought in the academic discipline called political science.

Mr. Trump proceeded to display the kind of cringeworthy ignorance that would make persons with any national pride regret that the question was asked in Japan. Putin’s remark had plainly whooshed over his head, and Mr. Trump gave an answer that conflated classical liberalism — the philosophical basis of all modern democracy — -with the social liberalism that marks the distinction between Republicans and Democrats, the coasts and the heartland. It was particularly humiliating to be on foreign soil when the POTUS was asked a question about John Locke, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo and he answered with a criticism of the Berkeley City Council.

He was similarly clueless when, in the same press conference, he was asked a question about busing in the context of the Democratic candidate debate and he answered as if the question were about transportation rather than public school integration.

At least the frustration on the Democratic side was not about matters covered in the freshman political science curriculum in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and if Putin’s remark was any indication, the Soviet Union. The Democratic problem involved history and policy formation. The latter is also taught in political science but in upper division courses and the former only comes when the survey courses are completed for context and students are offered courses on areas of their interest — in this case, the U.S. civil rights movement.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was able to demonstrate that former Vice President Joe Biden may be too old for the job, but perhaps by elevating stagecraft over substance. She left an opening that Biden was not nimble enough to exploit by disregarding a…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)