Event Feature: Presidential Debate Viewing Party

Sep 15, 2016 | Town Hall News

debate-audienceDear Town Hall Friends,

Well, here we are, less than two months away from election day in this maddening, surreal year for American politics. If you’ve been following the race as closely as we have at Town Hall, you’re on an emotional rollercoaster regardless of how you feel about any of the candidates. I personally feel compelled to start offering trigger warnings to our audiences anytime I bring it up. But as the spectacle, the humor and the fun of a topsy-turvy reality-TV campaign winds to a close, we’re left with the deadly seriousness of this critical juncture in American history, and Town Hall must respond.

Historically, the last weeks of the campaign are when the stakes finally catch up to everyone watching in both the press and the voting public, reaching their crescendo at the first presidential debate. In 2012 the first—frankly boring and sometime pedantic—debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney attracted 70 million viewers. This year, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet on stage for the first time on September 26th, estimates say at least 100 million will tune in. This is Super Bowl and M*A*S*H finale territory. Putting aside all the profound political, economic, and global significance of the thing, this will be a cultural phenomenon. Animistic forces of gender, race, violence, identity, even language itself will be unleashed on that stage. As Clinton predicted, this will be the subject of PhD dissertations for years to come.

One great pleasure of my job at Town Hall is exposure to the constant stream of learned authors, journalists, and thinkers who appear on our stage. From both left and right-wing perspectives, for years there has been rumbling here of a primal unease in America. Economic, racial, environmental and political uncertainties are dominant themes in our civics series. In March Town Hall hosted an overflowing democratic caucus (overwhelmingly supporting the “political revolution” of Bernie Sanders). The radical possibilities of this political season were apparent to anyone who has been spending time here engaging with the ideas on our stage. But on September 26th no one knows what will happen. For those of us who have complained about the stale, predictable nature of American political discourse this is a definite “be careful what you wished for” moment.

Since Town Hall has been the home for me and so many of you in preparing ourselves, emotionally and intellectually, to grapple with the reality of the next few weeks in politics, we are committed to hosting this opportunity to gather in our space and watch this damn debate together. We’ll be streaming the program live on our big screen downstairs as well as projecting a curated selection of reactions from some of our favorite Town Hall speakers as they live-tweet. Plus, our new scholar-in-residence, the always insightful and hilarious Hanna Brooks Olson, will be joining us to provide the much vaunted “hot takes” of contemporary journalism. And of course, the bar will remain open throughout. 

You do not want to be alone for this debate. Whatever happens, the company of your friends, neighbors, and the Town Hall community will be there to groan and kvetch together. I’m very excited to act as host. I like politics alright but I love ideas, and clumsy though they may be these debates are actually one moment when as a country we grapple with major ideas on anything like a grand scale. Such public idea-grappling is, of course, Town Hall’s bread and butter, and as a member of our community you must appreciate that. Join us on September 26th at 6pm for the beginning of the end of this campaign, or (depending on your perspective) the world as we know it.


Thank you.

Edward Wolcher
Community Programs Curator
Town Hall Seattle

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