Like millions of other Americans, I found that watching the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden gave rise to a curious admixture of emotions. The first of these was, for me anyway, surprise at the inability of the moderator to restrain either of the participants, followed by boredom, and, finally, an almost indescribable feeling of dread.

This is not a plea for civility or for a more highbrow approach to political debate. We don’t deserve these things and would not be capable of having them even if we did. The United States is not a country in which it is possible to imagine two sober, intellectually capable statesmen talking about grave affairs of state any more than it is one in which anyone really believes that stolid citizen-legislators meet in an august forum for deliberation, after the manner of Roman senators.