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What the Debates Will Make You Forget

It's easy to lose track of the real world at a horse race.

The first and only vice presidential debate is tonight. We’re live-streaming it, because it’s a major news event and we had a sort-of-fun time together during the first presidential debate, before the incumbent president caught the deadly disease that has torn apart our country for the past seven months.

The debate, between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, is most likely going to dominate the political news cycle for at least the next 24-48 hours. At the pace events have been moving in the past week, that’s practically a lifetime. This is not, I hope, a preachy post about the efficacy of debates. We’ve been over that before. I’m going to watch it, many of you are going to watch it, millions of Americans are going to watch it because we are all morbidly fascinated by the machinations of our country’s politics and cannot look away.

Instead, what I hope is that we can take stock of our actual political priorities before a short trip to the racetrack. The horse race is in full swing; for what it’s worth, Biden seems to have a commanding lead. He may very well win this thing. A commanding performance by Harris, who has already established herself as a sharp and capable debater, may give Democrats cause to celebrate. This thing is almost in the bag. We have heard this all before but maybe, maybe this time it will go better.

But while we let the fever dream of debateland take over the news cycle for a few days, the world keeps turning. We have been reminded repeatedly just in the past 24 hours of what has actually been happening out there.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump pulled the plug on negotiations over a new stimulus package, something that in a functioning country would have been hammered out and delivered to the American people on at least a monthly basis for the duration of this crisis. Trump has since been all over the place about what he wants, but what’s certain is that the stimulus is caught in the political purgatory between ineffectual Democratic demands and the GOP’s outright urge to murder as many prospective voters as possible. The current focus is on a standalone bill to bail out the airline industry, an employer with major hubs in most of the country’s swing states. This would help a ton of Americans who work for an airline but not really anyone else. It is not enough.

On Tuesday evening, the New York Times published a report showing that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with top Justice Department officials including Rod Rosenstein, directly targeted children in the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.

“We need to take away children,” Mr. Sessions told the prosecutors, according to participants’ notes. One added in shorthand: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”

This story is almost sure to fade out of sight over the next few days. It doesn’t really tell us anything new about the Trump administration, besides what we already knew. What we shouldn’t forget, no matter how many zingers Harris lands on Pence tonight, is that the practice of using mass deportations — including ones that separated families — as a deterrent to immigration was a widespread practice during the Obama-Biden administration. The only difference is the Trump administration did it a whole lot more publicly.

The Times also reported on Tuesday that federal contracts for hospital gowns went to companies owned by an ex-NFL player and also one of the gun runners that the Jonah Hill/ Miles Teller movie War Dogs was based on.

We are picking and choosing of course. There are so many more stories out there that serve to illustrate the only point I want to get across. This is the system that Biden and Harris, if they win, will inherit. They are comfortable within this system. They do not, as far as any of us can tell, have many plans to change it. So what are we going to do after the debates are over? What do we do after the election is over? I’m not writing this in an attempt to get anyone to toss out their ballot: I believe that electoral politics and electing an all-Democratic government will slow the bleeding somewhat, and give a truly leftist movement more space to grow. But I also don’t want anyone to lose sight of the long game here. This debate is ultimately a blip, a distraction, a drop in a bucket that is filled with the bureaucratic vomit of a barely-functioning republic.

I’m still going to tune in. I hope Harris absolutely rakes Pence over the coals, I hope she humiliates him on a deep enough level that Trump wishes he’d switched him out for Nikki Haley months ago. I will get a thrill out of that. But afterwards, we all have to go back to work.

Image: C-SPAN