There’s not much I want to say about last night’s debate, mostly because I decided not to watch it live and only followed along via Twitter and clips while Brooklyn Nine Nine played on my TV (if y’all remember how I watch horror films, this approach wasn’t that far from that…)
And what a horror show it was, even from the relative distance of reaction Twitter. But there are two moments in the evening I would like to draw attention to.
First was when President Trump, when asked to disavow his white supremacist supporters, told one of the more violent organizations to “stand back and stand by,” a call that these violent supporters have already taken as tacit permission to crack skulls at the first sign of a Trump loss.
This no-longer-a-dog-whistle should scare you. Studying violent populist movements of the 20th century reminds us that it’s not the monster at the top who commits the violence, but the persuadable masses at the bottom just waiting for the excuse to enact their own form of justice on their neighbors. It is a BFD that Trump not only addressed the organization by name, but specifically did notdistance himself from their movement.
I feel like the crazy woman who is shouting into the void, but if you look at tipping points of genocide in Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Rwanda in 1994, one of the common through lines is the political elites relying on paramilitary-like populist movements who do the dirty work when given the means and opportunity to do so. What Trump says matters, because heavily-armed and violent organizations listen.
But the second moment I want to point to is when Joe Biden discussed his son Hunter’s drug use. As shared by The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany, Biden said “My son had a drug problem but he's overcome it and I'm proud of him”. His full quote was “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He's overtaken it. He's fixed it. He's worked on it. And I'm proud of him.” And he said this after Trump interrupted him while Biden was talking about his other son’s military service and sacrifice.
And right there, in those fifteen words, Biden showed how he has more character in one fingertip than Trump does in the entirety of his existence. Because as someone who wakes up every day promising herself that today I will not drink, I want someone who shows this sort of empathy and kindness towards those who tackle addiction as our president.
And to my substance-struggling brothers and sisters out there watching this shitshow and getting triggered, hang in there. IWNDWYT.
Last night, I was shaking with anger and sadness and rage. So what am I going to do for the rest of the week? I’m going to call voters in swing states like my life depends on it. Because it does. And so does yours.
And please: don’t attempt to meme-away that fear you are feeling right now, having witnessed what you did. Now is not the time to be ironic or surly or sarcastic or dismissive of the earnest anxiety and stubborn hope so many of us are feeling.
Vote. Make sure your friends and family vote. Donate. Phone bank to a swing state. Text bank. Write letters. Become a poll worker.
Show us why it matters.