While the presidential debate devolved into ear-splitting nonsense, Kamala Harris versus Mike Pence was a refreshing exercise in clarity.
While the Vice Presidential debate is usually superfluous (an exercise in “yeah, what he said”), this one arrives at strange times, as the representative of the White House, Mike Pence, is not vouching for an administration, but rather how far the plague has spread. It was also a tour of a possible future, as both parties are representing the oldest American President in history.
The debate opened with a severe admonishment, akin to how the school administration responds to students who were extremely rowdy on last week’s field trip. Moderator Susan Page said that this time would be different as the American people expect and deserve a discussion.
Immediately, I was struck by something foreign, a plank over the back of the head. Cogent sentences, a point, facts. What are these strange things? What am I feeling? The first debate gave me a familiar headache, this gave me hope; of which I’m not entirely sure which one is worse, what I can handle.
The last four years have been an exercise in rolled eyes and dashed expectations, run-on sentences and baseless accusation. This, oddly, reminded me of a time before each year became somehow worse than the one before it; the hideousness of 2016-present, where politicians could talk, and bend the truth and lie, and make us believe it.
Kamala was passionate, compassionate, and empathetic. An island in the writhing sea of noisy stupidity. Pence, even when toeing the nonsense party line, defending the closure of traffic to China, and proudly running the response to COVID, he was everything that Trump wasn’t. Sensible, daresay it, borderline on gravitas. Even when pitching something as stupid as “Operation Warp Speed,” it didn’t sound like the punchline it is.
The debate reminded me of a time before each year became somehow worse than the one before it; the hideousness of 2016-present, where politicians could talk, and bend the truth and lie, and make us believe it.
It was not to last. Quickly, we were submerged in the treacle of absurdism and buffalo-wing nationalism. In response to the 200,000 dead due to COVID, Pence thinks of every lost American every day, and in their thoughts and in their prayers.
When directly pressed about his role as steering the official response to the pandemic and, indeed, him appearing at the Washington Rose Garden party that turned into a super-spreader event; that also allegedly afflicted Trump with COVID-19.
In response, his party was about the freedom of the people. The democrats were complainers. In asking them to be responsible for controlling the virus, they were controlling people. One of Pence’s oft-mentioned answers was his trust in the American people, because the American people; after all, they were the American people; yay, the American people.
Through the prism of the question, which was why Pence and Trump grouped hundreds during the pandemic, they chose to do that, because they’re about freedom, freedom from fear of the man. Yes, the President got COVID, but he had the freedom to contract it and possibly die. That’s America. (Incidentally, Pence is married to a woman named Karen.)
Every time Pence says “The American people” stab yourself in the eye.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) October 8, 2020
From there, it devolved into willful amnesia. After briefly dabbling into whataboutism, likening the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic with COVID-19, drawing a clear line between comparable deaths. While Pence admitted that Swine Flu epidemic wasn’t as deadly, but it could have been. Therefore, it was Biden’s fault. In Pence’s mind, Biden did nothing, so perhaps Trump’s failed something is better by comparison. Pence continually wagered the lives lost to the possibility of lives saved. As Jessica Valenti put it after Mike Pence discussed abortion, “Pence is pro-life, but let 200,000 die.”
More to that point, Pence, minutes removed from mourning the fallen 200,000, he openly bragged about the (quite illegal) drone strike that killed Iran’s top military general, Qassem Soleimani. For those playing at home, Trump’s people said that Soleimani was en route to harming Americans, but fact-checkers have noted that: “The Trump administration has repeatedly said this but never provided evidence of an imminent threat to Americans’ lives at the time of Soleimani’s assassination.”
Another thing on Pence, while he admitted the climate was changing, he (and his boss) would “continue to follow the science.”
As an outsider living in Australia, the discussion of international diplomacy (read: American exceptionalism the rest of the world has to deal with) was interesting. To Pence, China is the new red under the bed. A dragon smoking an opium pipe lifting untold wealth with their genitals. To Harris, it’s the same, but put nicer. To Harris (backed up by Pew research), Americans love a communist more than they do Trump, and that was the real crime.
Pence, strangely, then focused on the loss of an individual, Kayla Mueller, who was killed by Islamic State in 2015. That death mattered. Countering it, Harris decried Donald Trump not pressuring Vladimir Putin over Russia secretly placing bounties on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan. The deaths of civilians in either theatre or the numerous countries ruined due to either invasion was not discussed.
It reminded me of Richard Nixon, who, in taking over the war in 1969 (which had American fingerprints on it since the battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, they were paying 70% of the French war effort) suddenly focused on the Americans taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. Using it as a platform for re-election, one writer opined that Nixon reframed the war, in that the POWs were those who mattered, and the war was waged to get them back. Therefore, Nixon won, because America won, even if the opposite was true.
— The Recount (@therecount) October 8, 2020
While there were no flies on Kamala Harris, one literally orbited Pence’s head, prompting the mainstream media to document its voyage. This tidbit also pushed the fly to join Twitter and is now pushing for gay rights. Good for it.
A fly landed on Mike Pence's head during the debate and rested there for nearly two minutes https://t.co/HIEcRsrHa4
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 8, 2020
We closed on parallel versions of optimism, bordering on delusion. Responding to a question submitted by a student in eighth grade (who was worried about the constant political bickering they see on the television), both parties said America is a fine place, one where everyone gets along. While that is certainly not true, today’s debate passed with a lot of the questions remaining unanswered, but figuratively, and literally.
Personally, I felt something, and that made me feel awkward. Like a primary school student who responds to warm feelings they don’t understand with a tug of the ponytail of who they like, I wanted a Kamala Presidency, and thus, immediately justified why that couldn’t possibly happen.
Who won the Debate?
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) October 8, 2020
While the media and the rest of the collective world notched up a win for Kamala Harris, the hideousness of today is that it doesn’t matter what we, or those who watch CNN think. Pence alluded to it, thanking all those (from all walks of life) who support Donald Trump, that whole half of America that we don’t see, or do our best to ignore. To those people, Pence ran circles around Kamala Harris, who is a shill, or pious, or a woman, or black, and therefore, wrong.
We’re under thirty days to go, and the neg vibes have set in. While Kamala was eloquent and emboldening, it means nothing to those who had already chosen not to listen. The landscape of Twitter pages with the American flag in the handle attest to that. Indeed, the race isn’t up to her. Next week, we’ll get the second bout of Biden v Trump, and I fear the hope and optimism today will soon be extinguished by the partisan tension headache of last week.