“This presidential debate will be the most extreme contrast that we’ve ever had,” says Atlantic columnist James Fallows. “Right brain versus left brain, gut versus any part of the brain at all, instinct versus experience, and of course, at the most primal level, woman versus man.” The stage is set, and on the evening of September 26, the curtain rises: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will square off in the first of three nationally televised Presidential debates that may decide the future of the nation. In The Atlantic’s October cover story, Fallows reflects on the impact of Presidential debates past—from Kennedy-Nixon in ’60, to Bush-Gore in ’00—and tells us what to expect from this year’s edition.
Accompanying the cover story is a five-minute video narrated by Fallows, and if it doesn’t get you excited about the debates, nothing will. “The best way to judge presidential debates is just to turn the sound off,” Fallows says in the clip. “There’s a long, long saga of the images from debates mattering more than anything else,” he continues, citing 1960, when John F. Kennedy looked suave and composed, and Richard Nixon, by contrast, was sweaty and disheveled and “looked like hell.” We all know the outcome of that one.
But it may not come down to appearances alone. Up to this point, says Fallows, “Donald Trump’s entire approach to debates has been not simply that I win, but that I humiliate you.” However, he’s yet to face Clinton, a seasoned debater “who, arguably, is at her best when being attacked by men.”
Fallows is also the author of the “Trump Time Capsule” column, a daily chronicle of the unorthodox Republican’s words and actions leading up to the election. This marks his fifth consecutive Atlantic pre-debate cover story. One of the most experienced political writers in America, he has written for the magazine for nearly forty years, following a stint as the youngest Presidential chief speechwriter in American history.
“The presidential debates are the one chance that people get to see in real time, unscripted, the two candidates face-to-face, and you never really know what’s going to happen. This year in particular, it’s hard to imagine how this debate will not really matter.”
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