Moderator Susan Page closed Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate with a question submitted by a Utah eighth-grader. I mean, why not? It’s not like Mike Pence or Kamala Harris were answering Page’s questions.
Besides, it was absolutely as relevant as any policy or performance query, where all roads inevitably led back to the great/horrific job done by the current president, depending on the speaker’s vantage point. Young Brecklynn Brown’s question was timely, fair and, ultimately, more important than the United States' relationship with China or President Trump’s taxes.
“When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along? How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?”
Other than the now-famous fly landing and taking refuge in Pence’s hair, that question will be my lasting memory of the debate. To no one’s surprise, there was no specificity in either answer.
Harris took it as another opportunity to shill for Biden: “Joe has a longstanding reputation of working across the aisle and working in a bipartisan way. And that’s what he’s going to do as president.”
I liked Pence’s response better, but it was a fairytale: “Here in America, we can disagree. We can debate vigorously as Senator Harris and I have on the stage tonight. But when the debate is over, we come together as Americans. … We love a good argument. We always come together and are always there for one another. And we’ve especially learned that during the difficulties of this year.”
Pence’s answer reminded of the ’80s whodunnit “Clue,” where the audience learns who did it with what weapon in what room only to have the movie cut to a title card that reads, “That’s what could’ve happened, but here’s what really happened.”
Instead of coming together, we’ve come apart.
We don’t love a good argument, we love our own argument.
We don’t engage in heated political debate and then have a drink with each other as supposedly used to happen, we just get more heated.
We unfriend. We post memes. We mock.
We turn anything and everything, even masks, into a political holy war.
But we take our cues from our leaders on all of the above. Tweeter D has turned divisiveness into an art form. The opposition party is only too happy to join in.
The president would have you think COVID-19 is less of an issue than the seasonal flu. Harris,meanwhile, would pass on taking a COVID-19 vaccine if it came from Trump.
Imagine an eighth-grader like Brecklynn Brown trying to make sense of politics.
How is she supposed to reconcile that, to Republicans, it’s perfectly fine to replace deceased Supreme Court justices during an election year as long as it’s a Republican doing the nominating. Or that if the makeup of the court takes a turn that isn’t to the Democrats' ideological liking, well, maybe it’s just time to add a few more justices.
Those in power make, or at least interpret, the rules. And Americans on both sides of the aisle — on the coasts and in the heartland — seethe.
Google, “Is America more divided now than ever?” You’ll find political scientists and professors and all manner of commentators saying yes. You’ll see polls of U.S. citizens saying yes.
Finally, something we can agree on. Of course, it’s probably a myth, but it sure feels like fact.
And regardless of what happens on Nov. 3 — or in the weeks that follow Election Day considering the probable legal challenges ahead of us — that’s not going to change.
Trump has shown no ability, not even an inclination, to unite over the past four years. And despite being 10 points ahead in polls, the main thing people like about Biden is simply that he isn’t Trump.
“How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?”
The real answer — not the political one, not the pie in the sky one, but the honest one — is, it’s not.
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Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.