The televised encounter between American candidates for the office of President reminds me of the story about the reporter who asked Mary Todd Lincoln, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”
That bit of dismissive, off-handed humor is one way to cope with the magnitude of the event. Another way is to walk out on the carnage and quit being a rational American citizen whose vote is the only thing keeping this country from becoming something like what we saw on our televisions Tuesday night.
For me, it was as if someone lifted a rock and exposed what many of us have glimpsed for at least five years.
A few of us have been around long enough to remember celebrating victory over nationalist, racist dictators and their followers, being tested by fear of the Russian bomb and the shackles of communism or any form of totalitarianism, and years of wars in the Middle East. It would seem we have enough to deal with in the lurking threat of a pandemic virus.
None of those historic crises are as much a threat to the America I grew up in as what we are seeing with the candidacy and the election of Donald Trump. Tuesday night, the volume was turned up and the focus was reset, but there it was, for all to see and hear.
While the analysts trade opinions over whether there should be a second or, heaven forfend, a third debate, it seems that there is little point in turning off the microphones and even the camera on one candidate to give the other a chance to respond to the mediator’s question.
We already know what to expect from the candidates. A reasonable person might prefer another choice to the Democrats' Joe Biden, but he has been around long enough, accepted and vetted by constituents to be elected to national office in Congress and as vice president. But even those who disagree with his politics know — in their hearts — that he is a decent man who would not sell out the country to feed his ego or enrich himself.
We already know Donald Trump. He has shown his ability to fill a room, to take charge of any encounter and dominate the moment with a display of personality and a willingness to destroy the opposition.
Many would call him a bully. His supporters are proud of that. Many would say he breaks all the rules of civility; his supporters insist the rules need to be broken, the swamp needs to be cleaned, he gets things done, and the weak must make way for the winners of the laws of the game of survival of the fittest.
Apologists early on said they voted for him because he thinks like them and says the things that they want to say. He gives them voice.
But the voice of Donald Trump is increasingly irrational. He defies truths that do not serve his drive to promote self. His responses to questions are increasingly hostile; he has always ignored the question and deflected to blame others for failures, but now he simply talks over the questions because he does not want them to be heard, let alone answered. He values loyalty to him more than he does wise counsel.
Hard questions must be put to a candidate for president and answered if we are to keep the monsters under the rocks so it is safe for the rest of us to walk safely through this garden of Eden we have in America.
He made his reputation as a divider. There are those who like that; they feel threatened by a coming together of different ideas. Trump’s response to the question whether he rejects racism exposes him for what he is — and what he is not.
Every one of us must answer the same question of ourselves. Our votes are still a valid way to define us for what we are — or what we are not.
Dean Minnich has been a reporter, editor and columnist and served two terms as a county commissioner. His column appears every Thursday. His email is email@example.com