Where “For Arthur, For England,” was, let, “For the Debates, For America” be.

My late mentor, and leadership guru, Warren Bennis, once told me that Merlin’s credo was, “For Arthur, For England.”

Like millions, I watched the first Presidential debate between President Trump and Vice President Biden, and my strongest reaction was not frustration, upset or even embarrassment. Rather it was disappointment at the missed opportunity for it to give something to the American people that it is starving for, namely the chance to have trust, confidence and hope regarding our future.

I’m not faulting Chris Wallace, who did his best to keep it from going off the rails and then when it did, never quite getting it back on them. It quickly appeared that once the thriving-on-chaos-genie of Trump was out of the bottle of civil discourse, it was clear it was never going back in.

For his part, Wallace did give the Commission on Presidential Debates the grand opportunity to exercise 2020 (not election, but vision) hindsight going forward.

It was with that in mind, I began to ponder what Merlin might do if he were to moderate the upcoming debates.

If his credo of “For Arthur, For England,” could be adapted to, “For the Debates, For America,” he might advise the moderator, Susan Page, and subsequent moderators to do the following:

  1. Suggestions for viewing the debate – announce to Americans the day before, “To get the most from the debates between VP candidate Mike Pence and VP candidate Kamala Harris, I’d suggest you listen to each for which ticket offers you the greatest chance to have trust, confidence and hope for your future. Another way you can also evaluate that is to ask yourself which ticket you distrust more, have less confidence in and offers you less hope and then select the other party. I think that what would help me to best evaluate the candidates regarding trust, confidence and hope are the following. Regarding trust, are they telling me the unvarnished truth such that when there will inevitably be fact checking afterwards, who is the one that will come out the most honest, candid and truthful? With regard to confidence, what is their and their party’s Presidential candidate’s track record of judgment calls with regard to the decisions they have already made on strategies and policies, during crises and most important, in the selection of the right people for the right positions at the right time to successfully execute those strategies and deal with crises. And finally, regarding hope, what ideas and plans are they proposing that make sense in that they sound reasonable, feel right in that they could actually work and seem doable in that they seem realistic.”
  2. Suggestions to VP candidate Pence and VP candidate Harris – announce to them the day before, “I have made the following suggestions to viewers of tomorrow’s debate (then read the above suggestion made to viewers). In keeping with that, I will be posing questions that I, and the people who have advised me, believe are the areas that Americans are most concerned about and will be listening most closely to each of you for solutions. You are free to answer each question and respond to each other however you choose, but I have advised viewers to continually evaluate your responses according to which of you and your party’s ticket offer the best and most realistic chance for trust, confidence and hope leading America into the future during these crises filled times. Furthermore, I have advised them to be listening for truthfulness, candor and the track records of each of you and your party’s Presidential candidates, so choose what you say wisely.”

You might ask, if that is being heavy handed in suggesting that moderators offer such a strong directive? Or if that is asking moderators to abandon a neutral position?

Maybe so.  But maybe not if they were to tap into their inner Merlin and see that their role and responsibility is to be: For the Debates, For America.


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.