THE BLOG
09/26/2016 10:00 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2017

The Debate Is About More Than A Winner And A Loser

This first debate is hyped like a championship fight. Who will win? Will either candidate land a knockout punch? Is the bar lower for Donald than for Hillary? Who is more likable? Who is more presidential? Who will flinch? Whose finger is steadier on the nuclear button?

There are more questions: Who has the stamina to go 90 minutes without a commercial break, and without falling over? Is it the large, overweight, 70-year-old puncher or the knowledgeable 68-year-old woman who is almost a foot shorter than her opponent, and who is also recovering from pneumonia? Trump's corner man -- in this case his corner-woman -- uses baseball rather than boxing metaphors. She says Trump is the Babe Ruth of debaters. Just think of it, the legendary "Sultan of Swat" against an experienced and crafty woman player like Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn.

Tonight's debate discussed in terms of strategies and tactics and not much else. There will be 100 million people tuning in, which pundits say approaches Super Bowl levels. CNN already uses a visual template similar to NFL scores. Instead of Alabama v Auburn it is Clinton v Trump IN Alabama. Instead of the Jets v Giants it is Clinton v Trump IN New York.

We now can choose our metaphors from boxing, baseball, and football as we continue to watch the countdown on the top right-hand corner of the TV screen. It's all so exciting. NPR reports numerous debate parties in private homes and in numerous bars -- sports bars? Will it be beer and hot dogs, or peanuts and crackerjack? I don't care if I never get back.

And then there are anticipated attacks made by sports fans and candidates both on the referee we call the moderator. Kill the umpire. He's obviously favoring the home team. He's a Democrat. He's a Republican. This will add spice to the post-game commentary.

But this misses the point. Tonight's debate is about the future of our nation. It is about who we are as a nation. It is about much more than winning and losing. It represents what kind of America we want for ourselves, our children, and the world at large. It is about the recently surfacing ugliness of racism, the power of lies, the fear of differences. It is about ignorance being acceptable in a president.

In my consulting room, when couples fight the way Clinton and Trump seem to be doing, I work hard to help them listen to one another. I try to help them discover the roots of their disagreements - roots that one person may emphasize more than the other. Some couples try to turn me into a judge, insisting that I declare a winner - the spouse who is right vs the one who is wrong. They fear I will take sides and guard against that happening.

The couples I see are married, though they can get a divorce. But Clinton and Trump, while not married to each other, cannot get a divorce. They are both Americans, and the one who loses cannot move out. And unlike children watching a marital battle, we do have to choose between one parent figure and another. Who do we want to live with more? Who will understand us? Who will protect us? And, equally important, who will see that there IS in fact an us? Will the victor ignore those who supported the vanquished?

As a psychoanalyst I write about the dual instinct theory - the theory that we are fighting internally between life and death forces, between creativity and destructiveness, between fertility of evolving ideas and the infertility of preventing change.

Overtly this debate is about winning and losing, but it applies to all of us. We all stand to win or lose. Ultimately it is not a sport, but a struggle between those who want to tear down and those who want to build up. And the consequences are vital.

I close with a Cherokee legend, re-told after 9/11. An old chief was teaching his grandson about life. He said, "A fight is going on inside me, a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."

He continued, "The same fight is going on inside you, and inside everybody else in the world."

At last, when the grandson asked which wolf would win, the old chief answered, "The one you feed."