On Oct. 4, the vice presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana took place at Virginia’s Longwood University. The candidates continued their intense dispute over a myriad of topics, one of which was Mexican immigration.
Kaine brought up Trump’s past racist remarks about Mexicans, specifically when he characterized them as “rapists” and accused them of “bringing crime” to the United States. In response, Pence said “you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” indicating his frustration at critics’ tendency to focus on Trump’s racist and sexist comments.
The Latino community took issue with Pence, seeing as he downplayed Trump’s hateful and racist rhetoric concerning Latinos in the U.S. Many felt that he neglected to consider the implications of Trump’s statements.
One of my main concerns centers around a political environment that so quickly discards vocal opposition to racism. Pence and other politicians often write off Kaine’s condemnation of racist comments as a political strategy instead of acknowledging Kaine’s superior moral values.
Both sides of this dicussion are focusing on the wrong aspects of this debate. Rather than being concerned about the speakers and discussing the way their speeches were delivered, they should pay more attention to the potential effects these speeches can have on listeners.
The Latino community had a slightly different set of concerns. Many felt that their interests were being taken advantage of by Kaine to score points in the debate. Kaine’s repetition of Trump’s racist remarks during this event could be interpreted as a calculated effort to appeal to Latino voters. Though repeating his remarks several times could be seen as a way to purposefully fuel his own agenda, Kaine was emphasizing that the racism of a presidential candidate must not be tolerated.
Political debates are not battles between heroes and villains, but between debaters who use strategic methods to win. These strategies include attacking the opponent’s weaknesses and defending oneself by any means necessary. Kaine made a valid point when he mentioned Trump’s remarks multiple times because his ultimate goal was to win the debate. Pence’s rejection of Kaine’s remarks was necessary for him to do his job as a formidable debater.
We know that the statements made in the vice presidential debate, or any other political debate, are made because the speakers ultimately need to gain listeners and supporters.
Condemning politicians like Pence who write off legitimate accusations of racism as political maneuvers upholds the moral fortitude of the United States. However, this also has the potential to hinder freedom of speech in this country and does not actually help eradicate racism.
It is unfortunate to see political leaders so readily dismiss racism and sexism. Political debates are a platform for candidates to gain favor by saying what the people want to hear. The only way to stop politicians from dismissing racist remarks is to convince their supporters that they are not acceptable. Society should promote political discourse outside of national events in order to foster a deeper understanding of these statements.
In short, I believe that calling out Trump’s statements, whether strategic or not, is a part of democracy. What we need to do in response is voice our opinions in a democratic manner, no matter which side of the issue we support.
My Khe Nguyen ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science.