I found myself, like perhaps many did, unable to turn away from the presidential debates last night, despite it being awful to watch. The gravity of the moment seemed large: with the environment collapsing around us, the economy tanking, foreign policy eroding American image, and the United States essentially on the brink of civil war. Finally, after never seeing the two candidates clash, we were going to see some meaningful interaction on the key issues, with maybe a bit of Trumpiness on the side. Instead, we got three grown men trying to shout invectives at each other: one going scorched earth (interesting for the incumbent), the other trying to stuff the evils of Pandora back in the box with words, and the third trying to address the American people directly with actual policy while loud sirens of madness sounded in his tired head.

My shoulders began to life, my palms to sweat, and my heart to beat like an angry tomtom. I realized, man, I was really anxious….

But I’m not sure it wasn’t a function purely of the content of the circus, but perhaps because of a simple complete lack of simple listening etiquette. Interruption is fundamentally disruptive to the human mind, even experiencing it vicariously. With interruption after interruption, the accumulation of these mental disruptions can cause instability and stress. The last thing this nation needs is more instability.

But, especially for the younger generation, I think the source of anxiety was far more insidious than even this explanation. I think that three channels of loud banter all occurring at the same time were all too reminiscent of way that we have come to exist in a world dominated by digital technology. Even in writing this post, I’m switching between windows on my laptop: checking email, looking up files, responding to imessages. It’s truly organized schizophrenia. When we see that with our “leadership,” it reminds us of the chaos of our own lives, the ones at least I, myself, similarly can’t turn away from.

Let’s be frank, probably very few of our young people paid much attention to this debate, unless they were assigned it by government or history teacher. But they must feel the trickle down effects from their parents and society generally. I could barely get of bed this morning– it was the closest I’ve gotten to hang over since graduate school–and my kids know intuitively that dad’s not available.

While Covid-19 rips through our country, the true pandemic may be that of disunity and civil strife and its reverberations. We owe our children better than this. We owe them a sense of safety and security to take head on an increasingly difficult world. This was not it. Not it at all.