What The Presidential Debate Meant to a 20-Year-Old English Literature Major

I was never very interested in politics. Aside from being taught it was not polite to discuss politics in social settings, the subject never genuinely interested me all that much. I never really saw the point in arguing with someone who was unlikely to change his or her political views anyways. That is, until this year. With everything at stake right now, there isn’t much option for someone as interested in human rights and social justice as me to not be actively engaged in politics. There is simply too much at risk right now to not care about the state of the United States political system. So, in an honest attempt to witness and take place in the election this year, I watched the first 2020 presidential debate. I was hoping to glean something about both candidates by watching the debate, an event that even those least involved in politics can watch to get a sense of the political atmosphere and personal beliefs of the two rival candidates and their parties. Unfortunately for my best friend Hannah, (whose plans for the evening involved spending time with me until I cancelled last minute in order to watch the debate) I think I would have been better off spending the evening with her than watching what I personally believe can only be loosely defined as a debate.

I sat in my mom’s room as we watched the debate unfold before us and witnessed it all in horror and shock. How can anyone in the United States right now expect to have a civil political discussion with his or her peers when the top two 2020 presidential candidates can’t? Many have called this most recent presidential debate one of the most embarrassing they have witnessed in their entire lives and I think it is important we unpack why. 2020 has been, for lack of better term, a total and undeniable dumpster fire. As a nation, we have watched our family members die from a novel deadly disease for which there is no current known cure. We have said our last goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over facetime. We have isolated ourselves from the world in order to keep ourselves and others safe. We have seen some of the worst police brutality in 21st century America this year. We have seen our brothers and sisters lose their eyesight from being shot by rubber bullets during Black Lives Matter protests. We have seen local businesses shut down because of the pandemic and we have seen family members succumb to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and depression because so many of us were forced to stay inside and avoid human contact for months on end. We have all witnessed ugly, demeaning, and hateful speech on the internet because of rising racial and political tensions. It has been an incredibly tumultuous and taxing year for just about everyone. I think that a lot of us, including myself, were looking to Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump to let us know that, however hard it might be for any one of us right now, they would keep the country together for a brighter future. 

However, that is not what the American people got. What we got was a high-school-level battle of insults and interrupting, with President Donald Trump being the executor of several low, personal jabs at Vice President Joe Biden. Though there has been much debate over who “won” the debate, I am inclined to believe that, as upsetting as it was to see Vice President Joe Biden stoop to the level of President Trump on several occasions, President Trump was the initiator of the majority of the bickering that ensued during the debate.  Neither candidate let the other speak for what seemed like any appropriate amount of time on any given topic. Several times, Chris Wallace had to yell in order to announce the end of segments and was forced to assign two minutes of uninterrupted (yes, he did have to emphasize that the two minutes would be uninterrupted) speech to each candidate. Watching this all happen, I felt frustrated and sad. Were these two men engaging in petty arguments and name-calling the best America had to offer during the devastating year that was 2020? Was this debate indicative of what the political future of America would look like? After the debate, I spent the next few days thinking about what the nature of the debate meant to the American people. I eventually came to the bitterly dismal conclusion that it meant absolutely nothing.

When I was asked to formulate my reaction to the debate, I thought “How can I think about the debates from the lens of an English Literature major when absolutely nothing was said? What literature was there to react to?” And then it hit me – the interrupting, the name calling, and overall immature behavior on behalf of both presidential candidates was not all that different than what I have been witnessing from my friends and family since April of this year. They had stooped to our level. They had stopped listening to each other for fear that in a battle of pride versus fact, fact would win. 

What I personally think most of us can take from watching the first presidential debate of 2020 is that we could all be a bit better about listening to one another. During this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, we are all scared. We are scared of what the future holds and what that means to us as average American citizens. And what we need most during this hate-filled, angry, defensive time of heightened emotions is to sit down and talk with each other. If you do not feel like your black brothers and sisters have a reason to feel threatened by police, sit down and ask them why they might feel as though they do. If you do not feel the need to wear a mask in public, sit down with someone who thinks you should, and ask them why they feel that way. Remember that there is no “correct” way to respond to the pandemic, police brutality, looting, rioting, and general violence 2020 has been host to. Remember that you do not control the emotions of others, nor do they control yours. All that is left for us to do as a collective people is to respect that 2020 has been a time of exceptional pain for many Americans – and then talk about it. Ask your friends and family how they are doing. Check in on your coworkers. Respect the cultures and wishes of those different from you. Make sure that in the next coming month, as all of us jointly rush to the polls to make our final decision, you understand that no matter who becomes the next president, we are all in this together. 2021 will be the year of fixing. Of building our lives back up to what they once were. Of making amends. And we cannot successfully build any sort of promising future if we act as the two 2020 presidential candidates did, without regard to what the other had to say. Because we must listen to one another if 2021 will see the reconstruction of a changed (if not a little battered) American society.

“This and That” Art Exhibit by Jenita Landrum

Explore the artwork of Jenita Landrum during the premiere of her art exhibit “This and That” all next week. Jenita’s artwork focuses on gender, race, and class and their presence in urban living spaces. The event launched yesterday, Sunday October 4th and will continue in the Downtown Phoenix Library’s Vault Gallery until October 14th. Jenita has traveled the world for her art studies, having visited Africa, Germany, and Poland for various fellowships. She is currently an art history and studio instructor with Maricopa Community Colleges. We hope to see you at this event!

Check out the ASU Events page here for more information about the exhibit.

Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement Webinar

When Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez went looking for books about Latinxs who served in World War II, she couldn’t find any. She decided not only to write her own, but also to produce one of the most important audiovisual archives dedicated to Latinx veterans, activists and community leaders across the country, spanning three wars and decades of advocacy.

Join ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement for a Zoom webinar with renowned scholar and founding director of the Voces Oral History Center, Dr. Maggie Rivas Rodriguez, of the University of Texas at Austin, who will discuss her two decades of work rescuing stories of Latinx veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Get more information about the event and find the link to register via Zoom here.

Contributor Update, Cameron Barnett

Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor and Carol Brown Award-winning poet Cameron Barnett for being featured in the Poetry Society of America‘s poetry series, “Saying his Name.” The series is curated by Terrance Hayes and focuses on how the story of Emmett Till’s murder in the 1950s has influenced a new generation of black poets. Emmett Till was just a child at the time of his lynching and his story is still intimately tied to many people’s perceptions of what it means to be a young black boy in America. Cameron’s poem is titled “Emmett Till Haunts the Library in Money, MS” and touches on the invisibility with which black boys learn to navigate the world, a poignant and bitter dissection of the way black authors have been tucked aside and forgotten over the years. Check out the poem for yourself here.

Be sure to take a look at Cameron’s website here and his poems featured in Issue 22 here.

Humanities Dialogues Event

Join ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at the Polytechnic campus for the yearly Humanities Dialogues! Each dialogue features two scholars who share recent research or work-in-progress and invite discussion. The first event took place on September 24th, but there are still two events to come, including one on October 21st and one on November 17th. Upcoming topics for these talks include embracing Irish identity, transnational feminism, and using your body to learn linguistic ideologies!

Contact Professor Ian Moulton at his email, Ian.Moulton@asu.edu, with any questions or concerns. Click the link here to access the Zoom Room where the events will take place. Be sure to check out what the ASU website has to say about the event as well. See what else the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts is planning for Fall 2o20 here.

7th Annual Hacks for Humanity: Hacking for The Social Good

Join Project Humanities at ASU for a three-day virtual event for for designers, hackers, and entrepreneurs searching for solutions to some of society’s biggest issues. The three main themes of this year’s event are aging, safety, and justice. The event is an opportunity for ASU students, faculty, and staff to get together to innovate, create, network, and collaborate. Hacks for Humanity: Hacking for The Social Good will take place online this year Friday – Sunday October 9th-11th. At the end of the event, three top innovative teams will be picked as winners and $10,000 worth of cash prizes will be awarded. We can’t wait to see you there!

Find out more about Hacks for Humanity: Hacking for the Social Good here and register for the event here.

Contributor Update, Thomas Gresham

Join us in congratulating past Superstition Review contributor Thomas “Tex” Gresham on the release of his experimental collection, Heck, Texas. Tex is a screenwriter and fiction author and is currently studying screenwriting at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The book is a play on the stereotypical disreputable Texas town and lies somewhere between the real and imaginary. The book was released on September 4th and is available at Barnes&Noble, Bookshop, and Amazon.

The back of Heck, Texas reads: “Somewhere deep in East Texas, the hunt is on, fueled by self-hate, cough syrup, white whales, massive zits, freakshows, madness, dead pets, lost children, killer coffee, rats, Satan, good times, bad people, vomit, dementia, diarrhea, sex, and clowns. Your favorite brand of disease is back in stock. Welcome to Heck, Texas.”

Congratulations, Tex!

Stay up-to-date with Tex by visiting his website here or his Twitter here. Be sure to also take a look at his short story for Issue 21 here.

Contributor Update, Patricia Clark

We are excited to announce past Superstition Review contributor and award-winning poet Patricia Clark is releasing a new book of poems titled Self-Portrait With a Million Dollars. Patricia Clark has been featured in the poetry sections of Issues 7, 8, and 17 of Superstition Review. Her latest book will release October 14th, but is available for pre-order at Amazon or Barnes&Noble. Self-Portrait With a Million Dollars is the sixth volume of poetry Patricia has written and focuses on the world as she sees it, through the attentive lens of an imaginative author with a keen eye for detail. The book ranges a wide variety of topics and places and will take the reader on a journey through space and emotion.

Patricia Clark’s Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars is full of her usual wide-ranging brilliance and sly wit. It’s a monk’s travelogue, a scholar’s giddy after-party. Exquisitely rendered, these poems, for all their beauty and mastery of tone and rhythm, their sprezzatura, are at once delicate and durable, by turns landmarks, monuments, and tombstones-each a fresh testament to that most marvelous of human traits, our limitless human capacity for invention, and the necessity of witness. Whoever, wherever you are, find this book. I promise, you’ll be astonished and nourished. -Daniel Lawless, Editor of Plume

Congratulations on your new book of poetry, Patricia!

Check out Patricia’s poetry featured in Issue 7 here, Issue 8 here, and Issue 17 here. Keep up-to-date with Patricia and her writing at her website here.

Essay as Solid Object, a Guest Post by David Lazar

Essay as Solid Object

On July 18, 1974, Pete Seeger wrote to me: “Dear Dave: Thanks for your letter and the magazine. Please believe me, in a very short while most individuals’ names are forgotten. But the work we do will play a part in the future, for good or bad. And the work that millions of people must now do is to realize that it is they who are important, not a few well known individuals. I hope that you in your writing can make people proud of themselves and help them get off their asses as they will if they would only realize how effective each one of us can be if we want to. Best Wishes, Pete Seeger.” Underneath he wrote, in script, his tag line, “Take it easy, but take it.” Here’s the context: I was the co-editor of my high school history magazine, with Rob Steele (first and last names synonyms), and Rob agreed with my dedicatory desire.

I sent a copy of our magazine, a ragtag issue of mini-essays mostly indicting Nixon, though I wrote a mixed review of the recently released Planet Waves by Bob Dylan for, I now imagine, without a great deal of ballast, some arty cred. It was smart and committed for seventeen year olds, and Pete Seeger’s response—I don’t have a copy of my undoubtedly sincere letter—is a redoubt of his reputation for being a good guy. And, as you might imagine, from my little row house perch in Brooklyn, I was just so pleased that that this icon that I admired politically and musically was encouraging me to write.

In 1974, I had already had experience working in a political campaign. Rob Steele (I’m trying not to say it again) and I were co-managers of canvassing for the McGovern campaign in our Brooklyn district. This says something about our dedication and perspicacity, or the terrible organization of the campaign. There have been moments over the last 45 years when I’ve thought, “how was he supposed to win with a couple of 15 year olds directing his canvassing?” In any case, I went on to work for the campaigns of Bella Abzug and Ramsey Clark, and got into the habit of thinking that throwing my heart into the campaigns of those who were throwing their hats into the ring meant inevitable heartbreak. These were the campaigns of, to use Leonard Cohen’s phrase, “beautiful losers.”

David Lazar

My next directly political foray was working for the Sanctuary organizing committee in Syracuse in 1982-3. It was mostly a group of nuns and me meeting and trying to find a way to use the upstate Catholic churches to give safe have to political refugees from Guatemala and Nicaragua. Anyone remember all that, or has all of this faded into the morass of Reagan hagiography?

I’ve almost forgotten one other early episode: I was a on a ballot slate in the NY primary in 1977, to be an elector to choose the Democratic nominee for State Supreme Court in NY. I won a slot for undoubtedly obscure reasons—perhaps the perverse people in my district thought I was Swifty Lazar, and spent a quiet few hours months later casting an inconsequential vote.

Since then, my direct action has been limited to political donations, a few marches here and there, signing petitions, and spouting off incessantly about a series of mostly fixed betes noirs: the cupidity of the Republican party, the misery of thinly (if at all) disguised racist, misogynist and homophobic indulgences by the seemingly endless dying white patriarchy. You know: that kind of thing. I am, after all, no less a type than any one else: a progressive New York Jew born of familial connections to the labor movement. A quirky type, yes, even perhaps inconsistent, perchance unpredictable if the barometer is swinging wildly, but mostly close to the set of beliefs I had, lo, those many years ago in Brooklyn.

Now, as for Pete Seeger’s admonition about using my writing, and my own consideration of how politics has figured in my work: the result has been rather indirect, I think, but far from absent. I’m tempted to say to I’m not a political writer until I realize that I’m not at all an apolitical writer—far from it. My politics, which is to say my political self is too essential to me, too bound, to ever be too many rooms away from where I’m throwing the children’s hammer down on the walnut of whatever obsession I happen to be chasing in an essay. It makes itself known in almost everything I write, even if what I write doesn’t lead with political questions or ideations. The Rosenbergs, Donald Trump, 911 . . . my indignity at various forms of human indignities make themselves known. But to be fair these are all things that I discuss as part of my thinking-feeling self, not as leading subjects.

One of my favorie essays has always been Orwell’s “Why I Write,” just as Orwell has always been one of the polestars of the essay for me—a bit, I suppose, like saying, “I just adore Bach. He’s one of the best.” In any case, in “Why I Write,” Orwell speaks to his reputation as a political essayist and surprises, as an essayist might, an essayist should, by upending our expected sense of his motives. First he describes his sense of the political, telling us that no book is apolitical, and that he means the word in the widest sense, as the “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after” which can manifest itself in so many ways, in deeply personal writing, in fact. Along with insisting on his rational, committed, getting people of their asses motives (which Orwell, however, took more ambitiously into a desire to change consciousness), he acknowledges, “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.”

It is precisely in the ability to combine these impulses, sometimes jarring, but hardly contradictory, that great works are born. Think Baldwin, Hazlitt, Woolf’s Room of One’s Own. One of the reasons I love Orwell is his understanding of what he could never be free of: “I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.”

This is one of my favorite passages in the entire essay canon: so clear, self-knowing, resigned to what cannot be changed, what must be. The essay, one comes to almost feel here, is a solid object that can change the world a little through oneself.

Contributor Update, Kathleen Winter

Join us in congratulating past Superstition Review contributor and award-winning poet Kathleen Winter on being featured in DMQ Review’s September Virtual Salon. The DMQ Virtual Salon is a series in which authors share poems from their 2020 books. Kathleen released her latest book of poems titled Transformer in June of this year. It is currently on sale through Small Press Distribution. This collection of poems focuses on violence and domestic abuse, the pain that often comes with revisiting the past, and the nakedness with which one must present herself in order to discuss these things. Kathleen uses historical references and a transcendence through physical spaces we are all familiar with in order to craft a narrative that is electric with emotion. Congratulations Kathleen on the release of your new book and for being featured in DMQ Review’s September Virtual Salon!

Check out Kathleen’s poetry featured in Issue 13 here and Issue 20 here. Be sure to also check out an interview she did for the Chris Rice Cooper Blog here.