While tonight’s debate will almost certainly garner a record-breaking audience, not everyone is satisfied with the choice of candidates it will showcase. This is true in my circle of friends, two of whom have checked in to let me know it. My cousin Andrew Hook, who as a passionate hobby writes political-philosophical-theological poems, often in witty light-verse mode, had one of his efforts quoted in a recent New Yorker piece titled “Donald Trump, Poetic Muse.” The writer of the article, which surveyed Trump-inspired poems on a popular website called Hello Poetry, noted that some of the contributors didn’t pick sides but simply bemoaned the coming choice. As an example he used Andrew’s poem – titled “Dual Airbags” – that ends with this curdled couplet about the coming election:

            It’s a bitter pill (more like pilloried) 

            So shall we now be Trumped or Hillary-ed? 

In a less facetious but also poetic, indeed Whitmanesque vein, my friend Tim Watt, who’s a high-school English teacher, sent me a written reflection on the debate. Tim emailed me that “I was speaking with students of mine who were expressing their depression over the coming debate, and their confusion about party differences.” He went on: “As I thought about it, it seemed to me that everyone knows what the debate will be before it has happened, and given where we're at as a country, this struck me as profoundly decadent and wrong.”

Tim went home and wrote his reflection on the debate, which I’m glad to pass along.

The America I know will not be represented tonight. It will not be represented by Donald Trump. It will not be represented by Hillary Clinton. It will not be represented by the supporters of Donald Trump, or the supporters of Hillary Clinton. It will not be represented by those who hate Donald Trump. It will not be represented by those who hate Hillary Clinton.

It will not be represented by those who fund and fuel and fulminate on behalf of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- the Super-Pacs, the lobbyists, the anonymous donors and opinion mongers and spin doctors and all the rest. Wealth speaks for itself. So too does meanness of heart and pettiness of spirit, so too do the faces of all of us, including my own, that would scream at kin mistook for a stranger, having forgotten that the person beside me is as real to herself as I am to myself.  To say we are brothers and sisters is to state a fact, before all facts. It is to recognize the reality we share, the bonding truth of being here together. We can forget it. We forget much. But our forgetting it will never turn our kinship into a mere opinion. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. We are all Americans.

The America I know will not be represented tonight. Big media - no matter their alignment -- will not and cannot represent the America I know. At the very best, they can inflict less rather than more harm. The America I know is the home of the brave, not of the loud. It is the land of the free, not of the fenced-in. It is the trembling spirit of welcome made manifest to the whole world, to my forbears and by my forbears, and to your forbears and by your forbears. The America I know longs for the individual person, and has always held itself wary of generalizations and categories, of the broad brush and its sorry inaccurate acts of description.

I have been hurt by real people whose skin I could touch and whose eyes I have seen. I have hurt real people in the same way. And I have been loved - so loved, so taught, so brought up - by real people, too: I can tell you each of their names, I can tell you all they did for me when I was a lost boy and they presented the enormity of the world in an attitude of trustworthiness.  I can tell you where they are from, and why they are beautiful and why they are brave. Yet person by person, place by place, raindrop, snowpack, desert, mountain, river and sea: this America, the America I know, will not be represented tonight.

So many are hurting, and the debate will heal not one of us. There will be no balm. All of tonight’s campaign proceedings will be noise. But we are kin. It is not an opinion. May I never grow so weak of heart to abdicate this song in my blood.


Rand Richards Cooper is a contributing editor to Commonweal. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, GQ, Esquire, the Atlantic, and many other magazines, as well as in Best American Short Stories. His novel, The Last to Go, was produced for television by ABC, and he has been a writer-in-residence at Amherst and Emerson colleges. 

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