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Debate briefing: can Joe Biden make America 'decent' again?

The first in this year's Face to Face debate series

The first of this year's new Face to Face debate series takes place on Wednesday 20th January from 6.30 PM on Zoom - FREE entry and all welcome

About Face to Face debates

We believe there are three ingredients to civil disagreement that you only get by debating face to face: listening to what other people have to say, looking them in the eye when you tell them you disagree, and stepping into their shoes to understand why they think differently.

This is what we require all of our speakers at our Face to Face debates and though this has been made a lot more difficult by the pandemic, holding them on Zoom has allowed us to continue this tradition while moving all operations online until it is safe to stage live events.

What this debate is about

This debate will take place hours after Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America, which will also mark the end of the turbulent presidency of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Trump built his presidency on his promise to 'Make America Great Again'. In contrast, Biden has spoken of restoring decency to public life in America, not least when addressing the nation in response to the siege of the Capitol on January 6th.

Yet the question remains of whether it is even within the gift of a single President to change the character of a nation. Also, how much can the polarisation of public discourse and the violence that has followed be blamed on Donald Trump in the first place, let alone be fixed by Joe Biden? Or are we exaggerating the problem in the first place by viewing loud and violent localised exceptions as symptoms of a general national malaise?

In any case, the challenges facing the new president are hardly unique to the United States, which makes his response to them highly relevant to the many democracies, including our own, who will be watching with interest and anxiety.

What to expect and how to take part

Face to Face debates are all about providing a space for people to practice civil disagreement themselves, so we recruit speakers from within our own community and give them a platform to make the case for or against each debate motion.

We set only ONE condition: they must agree to defend whichever position we assign them, even if it means arguing against what they personally believe. This is how we encourage our members to step into the shoes of people who think differently and try seeing the world through their eyes. It is then for our audience to work out if they genuinely hold the position they are defending.

The audience has a big role to play on top of this. After being given time to discuss how they feel about the topic in breakout rooms before the debate starts, we then hand the floor over to them after hearing the opening arguments for both sides, so they can cross-examine the speakers with their questions and comments.

The debate ends with closing arguments from both sides and an audience vote. We follow that with a short discussion to see how many people changed their minds and why.

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