Mike Pence sure showed Donald Trump how it’s done during Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate. Pence put on his smug, condescending, holier-than-thou pants and interrupted nonstop. He didn’t yell and spray spittle like Trump. He just calmly, doggedly ignored time limits, ignored moderator Susan Page’s pathetic attempts to hold him to his time, and ignored the question he’d been asked. The pattern was Pence getting a question, answering something entirely different for his full time, and then simply continuing to talk for another full count—sometimes to answer the original question, sometimes to level an unrelated attack, sometimes seemingly just to dominate. And Page allowed it.
So the story of watching this debate—at least if you’re a woman who doesn’t like to be condescended to and interrupted—was sheer rage. In that context, Sen. Kamala Harris’ control and calm was unbelievable. That’s not to say she took it lying down. More than once, Harris reclaimed her time, calmly smacking Pence back for interrupting her—“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking”—or calling directly on Page to give her equal time to what Pence had seized. And Harris reaction shots lit up Twitter, because she managed to be extremely expressive, with lots of “oh no he didn’t” moments, without showing the rage she must have felt at Pence’s lying, condescension, and dodging.
Harris had the exquisite control of her tone, which was needed to switch from fighting for her fair time and laughing in disbelief at Pence’s lies to directly addressing the American people, authentically and emotionally, on subjects like the police killing of Breonna Taylor, the coronavirus pandemic, her faith and that of Joe Biden, and the integrity of U.S. democracy.
For his part, Pence tried to paint criticisms of the Trump administration’s failures as attacks on “the American people.” He tried to convince viewers that Donald Trump has been willing to condemn white supremacists. He lied about Trump’s jobs record. He lied about the science on climate change. He made his absolute, bone-deep contempt for the truth, the debate rules, and the woman of color he’s running against clear and visible in every moment.
We just hope he did all that without spewing coronavirus into the air around him, since he should have been in quarantine, not on a debate stage.
On Twitter, the rage at Pence’s smugness and lies was palpable—and often conveyed through Kamala Harris reaction shots.