Dan Walters | After 248 Years, Is This Our Best?


Business mogul Mark Cuban conducted an interesting experiment during last week’s debate between President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump.

He fed a transcript of the debate into ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, and asked it to rate the two political rivals as if they were applying for a job, based on their “communication skills, clarity, problem-solving abilities and overall professionalism.”

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Cuban said ChatGPT cited Biden’s strengths as including “extensive experience in public service,” as well as “empathy” and “social awareness.” However, it mentioned weaknesses such as a lack of “coherence and clarity” and “focus and consistency.”

The bot praised Trump’s “assertiveness and confidence” and “economic focus,” plus his emphasis on “financial performance and business acumen.” But it was critical of Trump’s “hyperbole and exaggeration,” and knocked his “grandiose claims” that could “raise concerns about his reliability.”

As I watched the debate, I had exactly the same reactions. I wondered why, 248 years after a few brave colonists dared to “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” and issue the Declaration of Independence from the vast British empire, we have two such unqualified contenders for the world’s most important job.

Is this the best we could do?

The men who issued that declaration in 1776 were the best and brightest of the era — imperfect human beings, certainly, and often in conflict with each other over such issues as slavery and the structure of a new nation’s government. But they were united in their historic determination to shun a monarchy and establish self-governance.

The battle between Biden and Trump reflects the extreme partisanship that has all but erased effective national governance. The men and women who occupy two closely matched legislative houses devote most of their time to scoring gotchas on each other rather than passing meaningful legislation. The judicial system has been weaponized and the echo chambers of social media and talking-head television drown out the efforts of professional journalists to make sense of what’s happening, or not happening.

The nation’s yawning gap between two parties driven by their ideological extremes — each portraying the other as evil incarnate — takes a different form away from Washington where healthy competition has evolved into unhealthy crusades for dominance.

Slowly, if inexorably, all but a few states have become captives of one party or the other and so completely that only a handful are considered in play during the duel for presidential electoral votes.

With one-party rule becoming the norm in most states — California being a prime example — dominant parties cater to their special interests and more extreme elements while their political figures wage rhetorical war with their counterparts in other states.

Democratic voters are effectively powerless captives in Republican states, and the opposite is true in Democratic states. Those in a one-sided state’s political minority feel increasingly alienated and are motivated to migrate to states where they feel more accepted.

Political tribalization and the demonizing of those outside the tribe makes the United States more disunited.

Trump’s bid for a second presidency could be derailed by his multitude of criminal charges, despite a Supreme Court declaration this week that he is immune to prosecution for official actions, but not for private activities. Biden’s bid for reelection could be thwarted if leaders of his party persuade him to retire rather than risk defeat.

However, at the moment it’s likely that one or the other will be inaugurated next January. We don’t need a chatbot to make us shake our heads about that scenario.

Dan Walters’ commentary is distributed by CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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