Pence v. Harris
It’s easy to forget about Mike Pence. Trump seems to have hired him in part because he wouldn’t have to think about him, and has kept him busy ‘reaching out’ to potentially disaffected evangelicals with repeated assurances that they are the ones who constitute ‘the American people’. His persona – that of a reanimated fossil from a 1950s that never actually happened – is innocuous enough that a fly could sit unperturbed on his skull for two minutes while he insisted the government has done well by African Americans. Much of last night’s vice presidential debate amounted to counterfactual historical fiction or speculative fiction. How would a Biden administration have handled the pandemic? Had the debaters discussed with their elderly running mates the possibility that they might turn into corpses while on the job? In Pence’s narrative, the president is a dignified philosopher-king, the righteous guardian of the American way. (As he spoke his boss was tweeting with paranoid gusto: ‘Obama, Biden, Crooked Hillary and many others got caught in a Treasonous Act of Spying and Government Overthrow, a Criminal Act. How is Biden now allowed to run for President?’) Once the proceedings settled into realism, Kamala Harris had the advantage: calling a catastrophe a catastrophe supports the logic of voting out the incumbent.
‘Almost half of American renters are worried about whether they’re going to be able to pay rent by the end of the month,’ she said. ‘This is where the economy is in America right now. And it is because of the catastrophe and the failure of leadership of this administration.’ If Trump, Pence and the Republican Party were serious about winning on 3 November, they would have passed another pandemic relief package last week. Instead, they left a Democratic offer of $2.2 trillion on the table because it’s too generous. The pandemic, mass unemployment, and one in five American businesses tanking? It’s China’s fault, according to Pence, and an opportunity for the American people to make heroic sacrifices.
The Republicans offer right-wing recklessness and the Democrats moderate amelioration: tax hikes for incomes above $400,000; regulations on natural gas extraction; no more chokeholds; continued coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. Ho hum. Polls indicate that these less than inspiring policies will give the Democrats a path to victory smoother than Pence’s forehead. Meanwhile, the spectacle of an infected commander-in-chief has turned the national farce into an orgy of shaming and casual sadism, on the one hand, as fantasies of the president and his courtiers gasping for breath go viral, and an occasion for defiant propaganda, on the other: helicopters, steroids, ‘Don’t let it dominate you.’ A good slogan for a nation in lockdown, on fire and coughing itself to death.