Watch the CNN presidential debate with theGrio. Our pre-debate and post-debate specials will break down all the political drama

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I am both intrigued and scared about Thursday night’s presidential debate. My feelings are all over the map, and I need to figure out what I think because TheGrio has tapped me to be part of our pre- and post-presidential debate coverage on TheGrio Cable Network on Thursday night beginning at 8:30 p.m (You’ll also be able to watch the CNN debate on our cable network). Michael Harriot, April Ryan and Natasha Alford will be there, too. If the pre-show started right now, I don’t know what I would say except this is a wild moment in political history. 

This election has not been about policy, and I don’t expect it to become about policy. Yes, people have a lot to say about the economy, the right to access abortion, and our relationship with Israel (and our lack of a relationship with Palestine), but for the majority of voters, this election is not really about those things. It’s about personality and worldview, as in what reality do you subscribe to? Do you believe what Trump tells you or do you believe, well, reality? Who you’re going to vote for is based on who you believe. There isn’t much room for believing both sides when we’re talking about who won the 2020 election, who was behind the Jan. 6 insurrection, whether Trump’s 34 convictions are fair and whether Biden is mentally fit enough to still be president.

The central question this time isn’t about health care or jobs or the Supreme Court or immigration. There are important issues to be decided, but the central question right now is do you think that Biden or Trump can function effectively as president? One side thinks Trump’s character is a disqualifier. They think he lacks the moral compass to be president. The other side thinks Biden’s mental state is a disqualifier, as in, he lacks the cognitive ability to be president. There are few people who think both men are qualified to be president. 

The debate is historically a chance for voters to compare the candidates, but this time, what is there to compare? Many voters will be watching Biden closely to see if he seems too much like their senile grandfather, but beyond that, are voters still using debates to help them decide between the candidates? I think in the last two cycles, the debates have not made much of a difference, and I don’t think it will this time, either. Are the debates still a valuable part of a presidential campaign? I’m not sure. 


At the debate, I suspect that Trump will be disruptive, insulting and obnoxious. That sort of blatant disrespect for traditional systems and legacy media will look good to his people. They want to feel like he’s a rebel who’s uncontrollable. It plays into his “drain the swamp” vibe. He will not give substantive or honest answers to questions about policy because that’s not who he is. The debate’s rules — mics off after you’re done answering, no audience, no props — all seem designed to keep Trump on task and limit how disruptive he can be.

I honestly don’t know what we’ll get from Biden. Will he seem like a doddering old man who barely knows where he is, or will he seem like a dignified statesman? The rules include no pre-written notes and no interaction with campaign staff during the debate’s breaks, and I bet the Trump campaign pushed for those rules in hopes that they would help expose Biden. 

The latest polls show a close election, but I don’t think there are many people who are weighing whether to vote for Biden or Trump. I think there are voters out there who are deciding between voting for Trump or staying home and others who are between voting for Biden or staying home. Whichever candidate can pull in more voters who would otherwise not vote will win. I think Trump’s most recent conviction damages his standing with some of them. I think Biden’s stance on Israel will damage his ability to get some of them. I don’t know if the debate will motivate either group. 

Watch debate coverage on TheGrio Cable Network hosted by April Ryan and Natasha Alford with guests Touré and Michael Harriot, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Pre-debate show: 8:30 p.m. ET (TheGrio Cable and app)

CNN Presidential Debate Simulcast on TheGrio: 9 p.m. ET (TheGrio Cable and app)

Post-debate show: 10:30 p.m. ET (streaming everywhere)

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s.” He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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