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Political Scientist Rick Valelly '75 Wants Key Question Asked at First Presidential Debate

Rick Valelly '75

The Huffington Post: Our Black Swan

Political scientists like me have wrestled over and over with how best to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon. It has been a social science gift: something unusual and very unexpected. Something to be analyzed and explained!

But the crisis that has emerged has also startled us. Trump is our black swan. 


So here is my suggestion. The moderators of the first presidential debate, scheduled for September 26th, should ask both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the following simple question.

If you lose, do you commit to telephoning your opponent and to publicly congratulating him ― or her – on winning the election fair and square?  

One way to get the moderators to ask this question is through social media. The hashtag here is #FirstDebateDemocracy. Use it to get the question out there.

Again, if you lose, do you commit to telephoning your opponent and to publicly congratulating him ― or her – on winning the election fair and square?

If the burden of making that phone call in the end falls to Trump we may see him evade the responsibility.  At the debates we may see him shirk the task of agreeing to establish trust and comity across the partisan divide ― even when he is on the spot, accountable to a vast national audience.

But this question has to be put.  It would be a step toward curing the damage that Trump has done to our democratic norms.

There are of course other questions for the first debate – and the subsequent debates. How do we make voting inclusive, not a struggle? How do we start to reduce polarization in Washington? How can we expand policies that we know have worked well, such as Social Security and the Affordable Care Act? 

But one immediate obligation is the health of this election ― and of the decent customs that have been part of presidential elections. The moderators of the presidential debates should be thinking now, as they prepare for September 26th, about how they can help with that urgent task. 

Read the full article. 


Rick Valelly '75 is Claude C. Smith '14 Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, where he has taught since 1993. He is the author of the award-winning The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (2004), American Politics: A Very Short Introduction (2013) and Radicalism in the States: The American Political Economy and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party (1989). His current research focuses on the political development of LGBT rights in the U.S. with a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.

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