Anyone who habitually watches competitive team sports knows that it is vitally important for referees to stamp their authority early on in matches. If they fail to do so, contests tend to degenerate into chaos. While Thursday night’s debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump wasn’t disorderly, thankfully, it was largely devoid of substance.

As I understand it, the debate format was meant to give the two candidates opportunities to articulate their views, without interruption, on some of their most important policy positions. That, in my view, assumed that both men have the discipline to stay on message. Everyone knows how the former president operates so this kind of set-up was asking for trouble. He spent the entire ninety minutes making all kinds of claims that went unchallenged because the moderators were mostly spectators, almost like the millions of us who were watching. But the main problem was that his opponent, who was supposed to hold Mr. Trump’s feet to the fire by debunking his assertions, didn’t even have the energy or presence of mind to express his own thoughts.

For me, the most frustrating aspect of the debate was the fact that the moderators allowed the candidates to completely ignore the questions they were asked. To their enormous credit, the moderators prepared and posed quite substantive policy-oriented questions. The disappointment was that they failed to step in and force the candidates back into line whenever they went off on a tangent, which is what happened throughout the evening. Because of that, I didn’t feel that I learned anything new at the end of the debate. It was a huge missed opportunity. Given the special importance of this presidential election, millions of people around the world had tuned in to watch but, based on the later commentary, most of them felt the way I did in the end.

President Biden and his aides must shoulder a big part of the blame for the fiasco. It was quite clear from the opening seconds of the debate that he was weakened by some illness. We expect our presidents to be superhuman but physiologically, they are just like everyone else. We all know that we are not supposed to show up for work or social events when we are sick. If he wasn’t well enough to perform adequately in such a high-pressure setting, I personally would have preferred a postponement, or even cancellation of the debate. Large events are routinely put off when unforeseen circumstances arise, and that could have applied in this case.

A number of people I have spoken with have said that the president’s poor performance was mainly due to his general inability to communicate his thoughts without notes or a teleprompter. If that is the case, and things are likely going to get worse with his advancing age, then he should do the nation a favor by standing aside. This country is facing some monumental problems that require energetic and vigilant leadership to confront.

We have heard numerous times from President Biden and his team that this election is about safeguarding democracy. If we are going to keep telling the world that our form of government is better than autocracy, then we also have a duty to ensure that we show the best face of democracy at all times. This debate didn’t do that. Organizers of future presidential debates have to do a better job on the format to make sure that whatever discussions take place are substantive.