The American people would have been better off if this year's debates between the two major party presidential candidates had not been held at all.
In this most dysfunctional of election years, the debates have concentrated less on the issues most important to the country and more on sidebars designed to increase ratings for the television networks and exposure for their moderators. They have changed few minds, according to polls. They have openly displayed why the nominees of the two major parties are the most unpopular candidates in modern U.S. history.
Sunday's second debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton was a case in point.
The first half hour of the 90-minute exercise in futility at Debate Hall in St. Louis was cringe-worthy at best, repulsive at worst. On one side was Trump apologizing for lewd, crude remarks he'd made 11 years ago and then bringing up the tawdry sexual history of his opponent's husband. On the other was Clinton saying accusations about things she'd unquestionably done were "not right," "absolutely false" and "not true."
Viewers were left only to cover their face at one candidate and shake their head at another. And one of these two, barring a real October surprise, is going to be the next president of the United States.
The last hour of the debate probably gave Trump a win on points (when a boxing reference is so sadly apropos) and stopped any free fall he experienced in support after his decade-old remarks were exposed Friday.
That's not to say he gave elegantly worded, educated answers to the policy questions that were posed but that he did what he didn't do in the first debate by turning every response into an indictment of his opponent's record and plans.
In that effort, Trump reminded voters of the failing Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's abysmal foreign policy record (much of which Clinton was architect of as secretary of state), Clinton's original use of the birther question against then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, her use of an unsecure private email server as secretary of state, her deleted and scrubbed emails, the administration's hesitancy to use the term "radical Islamic terrorists," her support of the war with Iraq, her well-heeled supporters' use of the same legal tax law he used to avoid paying income taxes, her desire to raise taxes, her use of the word "deplorables" to describe half his supporters, the administration's war on fossil fuels, and the way she increased her wealth while she was a government employee.
Unfortunately, the candidate, as is his wont, also went over the line on occasion, referring to Sen. Bernie Sanders' decision to "sign on with the devil" (her campaign), suggesting she might "be in jail" if he were president, and that she "has tremendous hate" and "terrible hate" in her heart.
Whatever truth there may be in his inferences, an uplifting debate worthy of the American people would not have included them.
However, Trump did invoke several clever retorts, once pouncing after Clinton's inane defense of a Wikileaks release of one of her speeches in which she said she was only citing Abraham Lincoln in claiming it was sometimes necessary to have public and private positions on certain issues.
"So ridiculous," he said. "She got caught in a total lie. Now she's blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe never lied," and that was the "big, big difference" with his opponent.
And though Clinton could cite and outline her policies more smoothly than Trump, she also found herself on the defensive about her energy proposals, the administration's Syria policy and the country's rocky relationship with Russia.
Election Day is four weeks from today. Before Sunday's debate, the fact the presidential race was nearly within the margin of error must be a surprise to both parties and the media.
The Clinton campaign had salivated to have Trump as its opponent, believing she could wipe the floor with him, and Big Media played along by constantly giving him exposure during the primaries. The Democratic campaign got its wish but could not fathom the distrust of its own candidate, the unpopularity of the Obama administration and the appreciation of a Republican candidate who spoke boldly to voter concerns.
Now here the pair are, nearly neck and neck. Had we known this is what would befall us, we just should have let it play out, minus the annoyance of a reality TV debate series that has been a guaranteed loser for voters on both sides of the aisle.