Who really won the second presidential debate?

I’ve never written a column about politics and I’m not going to start now—at least not in the way you might expect from the title of this column.

So let me be clear—I’m not going to discuss Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

I am going to discuss the winner of the debate Sunday night.

His name is Karl Becker.

This is what he looks like.


In case you missed it, here’s what happened.

The debate was in a Town Hall format, which means that
pre-selected audience members were called on to ask questions that they themselves had written.

A variety of people from all over the political spectrum were called on. Each nervously read their prepared question from a notebook, often with (understandably) trembling hands. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond.

The two candidates had a vitriolic debate. (The New York Times called it “brutal”, the Wall Street Journal called it “caustic”, and the New Yorker correctly labeled it the “darkest and nastiest Presidential debate in modern history”.) The candidates detest one another so much that they couldn’t bring themselves to shake hands. No matter how you feel about the individual candidates, you’d have to agree that the atmosphere was poisonous.

And that would be generous.

Almost exactly at the moment this slugfest was scheduled to end, Martha Radich announced that they had somehow managed to squeeze in just one more question before signing off, and that question was to come from one….

Karl Becker.

Who stood up, with straight shoulders and no notes, looked both candidates in the eye, and in a calm and unwavering voice said the following words:

“My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

With those 26 words, this mild-mannered auto parts salesman from St. Louis accomplished something that very few people on the planet will ever come close to accomplishing: He changed the energy of about 80 million people.


He certainly changed the energy in the debate hall of Washington University.

Both candidates—just for a nanosecond—visibly softened.

Donald Trump said the first kind and gracious words about Hillary Clinton that he’s uttered publically in more than a year.

Hillary Clinton said the first kind and gracious words about Donald Trump that she’s uttered publically in more than a year.

Donald Trump said that he admired how Hillary was a fighter and how she never gave up.

Hillary Clinton said that she admired how Donald Trump had raised his kids.

And then they shook hands.

Forget politics for a minute. Just on a human level that’s got to move your emotional needle just a little.

Look, folks, I’m not saying this whole mess is going to have a Disney ending. But it’s still worth talking about exactly what happened in St. Louis last night, because it was momentous.

Karl Becker changed the conversation. He completely transformed the energy of the debate. And I’m willing to bet he momentarily affected the physiology of about 80 million people, including the people present in the debate hall.

If, in some science fiction universe, you were somehow able to plug electrodes into the brain of every single participant and audience member in the moments after Becker asked the question you would have seen significant neurological activity. You would have seen areas associated with empathy and gratitude (the prefrontal cortex) light up, while the lights in areas associated with anger and fear (the amygdala) would be turned down.

If ever there was a demonstration of how your thoughts can change your physiology—and even the world— this was it.

What you actually think about—what you concentrate on, what occupies your psychic real estate—actually does make a difference.

Not just to you, but to the people around you.

Focusing on positive and loving things—even when it seems like the hardest thing in the world to do—has real benefits. And those benefits show up regardless of what metric you use to demonstrate them—adrenal health, brain waves, blood pressure, mood, optimism, energy—even body weight. ‘

The fact that the internet is all a-buzz about Karl Becker and that he is, apparently, a new social media hero is just confirmation of this fact that no one aspires to hatred and bitterness. People aspire to be like their better angels.

That’s who we really want to be.

Karl Becker reminded the country of that last night.

He was the true hero of the 2016 presidential campaign.



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