This presidential election is like no other in history, and it should not be treated like any other. That includes the debates.
Traditionally, presidential debate moderators have been white men over 40. In 2012, all four moderators — Martha Raddatz, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer and Candy Crowley — were white people over 55. It was the first time in 20 years a woman had been chosen to moderate.
This isn’t what America looks like. Issues around race, gender, immigration, discrimination and justice are not just talking points — they’re a matter of life or death for many. We need moderators who better reflect this reality.
Young adults between 18 and 33 are the most racially diverse generation in American history. Forty-three percent are non-white. Large numbers of these young people date outside their race. They believe in a gender spectrum. About 68 percent of those young, non-white people believe government should provide health care for all. Almost half of young people who are black report having had “negative interactions” with police. According to Pew Research Center data, Hispanic voters age 35 or younger will account for almost half (44 percent) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic voters in 2016. That’s more than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.
But as The Washington Post reports, young people are also less likely to vote. Could it be because they don’t see themselves as important to the electoral process? Could it be because they’re not included in the important conversations?
It’s no secret that young voters flocked to the Bernie Sanders campaign — in several polls, Americans under 30 showed more support for Sanders than for Trump and Clinton combined. Why? Because the senator consistently spoke out about issues that truly matter to younger people: Student debt and affordable education, as well as this country’s economic disparities and social injustices. A fall 2015 Harvard Institute Of Politics survey found that nearly six in ten college graduates between 18 and 29 consider the American Dream to be “alive.” They are hopeful, and they are the future: By 2020, minorities will be the majority. Representation matters. Inclusivity matters.
We owe it to young Americans — the people who have to live in this country in the future — to have a debate that deals with the issues important to them. We need a moderator who will ask about Black Lives Matter. We deserve a moderator who will ask tough questions about immigration. We are owed a moderator who will question the candidates about Islamophobia, who is not afraid to question the nominees about abortion, about deportations, about paid maternity leave, about LGBTQ discrimination, about student debt. If America’s future is young, brown, queer and female, America owes it to itself to listen to those voices during the presidential debates. Reporters who are gay, women, black, Latino, Asian and Native American should be considered for the moderator roles. And we’re not talking about brief cameo appearances by black and brown faces invited to ask uncomfortable questions before being shuttled offstage.
There are plenty of excellent options: not just traditional network anchors like Maria Elena Salinas and Lester Holt, but fresh voices like NBC’s Perry Bacon, Buzzfeed’s Darren Sands, The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe and Abby Phillip, Boston Globe’s Shira T. Center, Fox News Latino’s Bryan Llenas, CNN’s MJ Lee and FUSION’s Jorge Rivas.
Who is asking the questions matters: In January, at the Iowa Brown and Black forum, Jorge Ramos asked Hillary Clinton not to use the word “illegals” when speaking of undocumented Americans. At the same event, Drake University junior Thalia Anguiano asked Clinton, “What does white privilege mean to you?” With race, ethnicity and identity being some of the most talked-about subjects during this election cycle, voicing non-white perspectives is essential. A bonus would be journalists active on social media since, let’s face it, that’s where young people get their news.
On Nov. 8, the United States will be forever changed. But before we get there, we owe it to this country to make changes in how the candidates are questioned. The people moderating the debates ought to reflect those of us who will inherit America.
Alexis Madrigal, editor-in-chief of FUSION, which says it is a “media brand for a young, diverse and inclusive world,” was a senior editor at The Atlantic and a staff writer at Wired. He is the author of “Powering the Dream” and a visiting scholar at Berkeley. Dodai Stewart is the executive editor of FUSION and was previously deputy editor at Jezebel.com.