Presidential debates have never been warm and fuzzy, but they have been at least respectful and informative. Topics, usually the hottest and most controversial, are presented and each candidate states their party’s take on the matter. These debates aren’t constitutionally mandated and didn’t start until 1960 when John F. Kennedy faced off against Richard Nixon. The idea is to move undecided voters to pick a candidate.
When we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic, having these debates in a room full of people allows the audience to ask the candidates questions. Americans want to get to know who will be the leader of our nation for at least four years. It seems fair that we have the opportunity to hear them speak directly versus reading articles or news headlines.
Nothing was fair about the first debate of the 2020 presidential election, however. It was a fucking mess, and the only thing I learned was that it was too triggering to watch. So I didn’t. If the debates are too much on your nervous system, you are allowed to avoid them too.
No one is under any obligation to watch two (three, with the moderator) white men yell at each other. While Biden and Wallace did a better job of staying calm, Trump’s gross display of toxic masculinity and disrespect made me feel embarrassed to be a part of a country that elected a man so willing to let his ego and arrogance talk over another man—when it wasn’t his time to speak—who struggles with a speech impediment. Trump’s game plan was to talk over Biden, not just to silence him but to take advantage of his inability and unwillingness to throw quick remarks back.
Biden is measured and thoughtful. Trump is a bully and doesn’t care about anyone’s thoughts but his own. I know the frustration of not being allowed to speak and to have your thoughts constantly being interrupted. I don’t know what Biden was feeling, but watching someone do to him something which has been done to me was too much for me to stay engaged.
I felt angry and unsafe. The stress and anxiety of the arguing, the gaslighting, and the lack of being able to follow a string of verbal text because of words lost from interruptions and talking over one another wasn’t worth my time. The silence of what they didn’t say was maddening, too. Listening to two white cisgender, straight men assume they know what’s best for the country without amplifying marginalized voices is an insult to the diversity of this country and the millions of people hurt by a system not set up or changing fast enough to serve actual minorities. Waiting to be seen and respected as a queer person should come with call ahead seating because it’s exhausting to wonder when your number will be called during these debates.
There is nothing to be gained if your mental health takes a beating because you feel like you should watch the debates to stay engaged or informed. With the amount of coverage, news outlets, and social media channels we have access to, you have plenty of information available to make a decision about a candidate. Though because of all of what I just mentioned, I find it hard to believe that anyone can be undecided at this point.
Decided or not, it is not a civic duty to watch candidates bicker and insult each other. Stay informed, but in a way that protects your well-being. You are not being passive or apathetic if you actively avoid a situation you know will be upsetting. We should all go outside of our comfort zones at times, but torturing ourselves to the point of panic attacks, agitation, and lack of functioning isn’t the discomfort that breeds growth.
The world is full of uncertainty and chaos right now. My stress levels are high and I struggle to maintain productivity because of said chaos. My house is loud and filled with kids who are often on the edge of a meltdown because they are kids, they are still living through a pandemic too, and they are overwhelmed with school and masks and all of the “I don’t knows” I have to give them. I cherish the moment all three of them are asleep because it’s finally quiet. No one is arguing, no one is being a dick, and no one is making my blood pressure rise.
Why the fuck would I want to invite that back into my life by watching a debate that is full of all of those things, while also being out of my control to separate the people fighting until they can get their shit together? The only option is to turn it off.
I know who I am going to vote for, and I don’t let the fear of missing out influence my decision to tune into the debates, because I know they are going to be upsetting to me. I scroll Facebook to see friends’ reactions in real time. I see what’s trending on Twitter while the debate is going on. And I know I can snag highlights after the debate is over or the next day.
I see enough division and arguing in my everyday life when it comes to the religion, race, LGBTQIA+ matters, and other “controversial” topics. I am all set with inviting it into my life. I am not confrontation-adverse, but I have learned to set limits for myself so that I can remain productive in my advocacy of civil rights.
Not watching the debates doesn’t make me less American, or less involved in politics. I just care too much about my mental health and know there are better ways to spend my time than to be triggered by men, specifically Donald Trump, acting like assholes.