I was not looking forward to watching this debate, and if I hadn't accidentally flaked on a friend, I would have missed it (I fell asleep, since chronic insomnia has turned me into a pseudo-narcoleptic). But I decided it was my civic duty and tuned in anyway.
I was mostly prepped by various articles published online throughout the day (I check The Guardian, Slate, The Atlantic, and CNN often, the latter for a more mainstream, false-equivalence narrative). Trump's plan seemed to be to attack the opposing presidential nominee for her husband's actions, which just reinforces the misogyny inherent in Donald Trump, aside from that whole "grab them by the pussy" business.
It seemed Mr. Trump was prepped by professionals and a healthy dose of Ativan this time, though it was still more of the same—the absolute inability to answer whatever he's asked, making shit up and insisting it's true, ignoring the presence of reality, rudeness, bluster, and banter, blah blah.
The one aspect that made this feel different was the town hall format, which lets candidates move and walk around, presenting a physicality that was less apparent in the first debate. Quite frequently, the Donald loomed behind Clinton to the point where I half expected him to suddenly whip out a sword, scream "BOOOONNNNSSAAAAAAIIIIIII!!!" like a maniac, and lop her head off. But, no—he just interrupted a lot. Again.
Let me explain what is so disrespectful about interrupting someone's speech, aside from the general rudeness of not allowing someone to finish. It signals that what you have to say is unimportant; that your thoughts and opinions have no value; that my thoughts have priority; that my words are right and, thus, yours are wrong, so I won't even let you waste my time by allowing you to speak them. Of course we know he actually, consciously thinks this—he's said so.
What makes it doubly disrespectful is that, throughout much of history, women have been conceptualized and treated as inferior to men in every way except our capacity for objectifiability. Historically, women have been interrupted, cut off, shut down, and shut out for speaking their minds in defiance of a man or male power, sometimes imprisoned, hospitalized, or—still, today—murdered for such intransigence.
Just as the debate was finishing, there was a knock on my door. It was too late for the mail, I'd just spoken to my mother, Hannah is coming tomorrow...who could it be?
Ta-da! The LDS! Three baby-young missionaries in customary black pants and white dress shirt with surprisingly fashionable neckties knocking at my door after dark white Drumpf droned on in the background. Well, this should be interesting, I thought.
I always talk to missionaries when they come a-knockin. As a natural atheist (I was not raised in a religion, so consider myself fairly free of its corrupting ideations), I find discussion about faith quite interesting, and I also wish to convey the impression to people of faith that not all atheists are ranting devils who think they're stupid or that religion should be banned, etc.
So far, all of them have been willing to engage in this dialogue with me, and these three young men were no exception. They began by apologizing for disturbing me so late in the evening, and had I heard of the book of Mormon, and did I know that Jesus Christ loves me very much and knows me personally and is an active, parental figure in my life. I explained that I have read the Bible, but not the Book of Mormon, and that I was a non-believer.
They were very polite—of course—and the youngest one asked me something like, "If you don't mind my asking, wouldn't you find such great comfort in knowing that God is real and has a plan for you and loves you and watches over you?" I explained that I understood why this was comforting for him, as for so many other people, but that I did not need that comfort—that I had a strong sense of ethics and self-guidance, etc.
Then one of them asked what it would take for me to accept that God is real, and I said that, when I die, if God exists and he is as loving and forgiving and welcoming as you say, then I will meet him and he will have judged me by my life's actions, not the vanity of recognition, and welcome me all the same. They all said, "Yes! He will welcome you with open arms!"
I wished them the best of luck, and they offered me a pamphlet—I always accept them. This one is titled "The Plan of Salvation," and my cat keeps sniffing it suspiciously. Before they left, however, they asked my permission to say a prayer for me, and I acquiesced. They invited me to join them by crossing my arms and closing my eyes, but I smiled and watched them. They asked their Lord to bless my "kind and intelligent spirit" and send his love to me so I could accept him in my heart.
They were really quite sweet.
WTF does this have to do with the debate, you ask? Well, aside from interrupting my watching of it, returning to the divisive bile spewing out of the television after I shut the door, I was reminded (again) of how low political discourse in this country has become, and—from the encounter I just had—how easy it was not to go there.
I just spent 10-15 minutes having a conversation with three strangers whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to my own, and yet that conversation was curious, friendly, and even affectionate. For me, difference is a rich source of wonder and discovery, or at the least an opportunity to learn.
What is there to fear in people who whisper a different name for the same god in their prayers? What is so threatening about an evolutionary adaptation that affects skin color? What is so intimidating about a differing opinion? It seems to reflect deep insecurities for which anger is the sole response.
The best behavior I witnessed tonight came from those LDS missionaries. I don't know how often they encounter atheists, but their reaction to me seemed surprised enough that I might say not often, or at least not ones eager to engage. Despite such a fundamental difference of belief, they were kind and warm and genuine, and I'm grateful to them for it.
Sadly, more of the country is alike to Trump than those missionaries, so my hope from such encounters is tempered by reality. How do we combat this? How do we counter arguments from people immune to facts and dismissively suspicious of any and all countering opinions?
I have no freakin idea.
Maybe I'll become an atheist missionary and go door-to-door to preach the freedom of unbelief. Maybe I'll write a blog post 4 whole people will read and feel relieved of personal responsibility toward action and advocacy. Maybe I'll join that prayer, after all, and hope that the world doesn't consume itself alive between now and the next debate.
If you exist, then seriously, I beg you—cut it out!