Organs of the Utah Body Politic were understandably proud of themselves Tuesday night when the debate between the two major party candidates for governor was followed by the debate between the two major party candidates for president of the United States.
The Utah debate, between Republican Spencer Cox and Democrat Chris Peterson, was a model of civil discourse, with compliments exchanged and rules followed. In some ways there wasn’t even that much space between the candidates on substantive issues.
Peterson correctly called out the distressingly regressive nature of the Utah tax structure but, trapped by a very Utah impulse to oppose anything that smells like a tax increase, didn’t seem to have a remedy.
The national debate, on the other hand, was a 90-minute smear on the whole idea of American democracy. The incumbent commander in chief spewed out a cacophony of lies, red herrings and cruel attacks.
Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, seemed befuddled at times but did well to mostly hold his temper. The best debate line since Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” was Biden’s expression of the feelings of billions worldwide: “Will you shut up, man?”
Only caught the second half. That was dumb. And sad. I still believe in our country and our better angels. May we each strive to be better individually than what we saw tonight.— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) September 30, 2020
At the end of the evening, Cox understandably allowed himself a Utah humble brag about the difference in mood and content between the two debates.
“Only caught the second half,” Cox tweeted about the evening’s main event. “That was dumb. And sad. I still believe in our country and our better angels. May we each strive to be better individually than what we saw tonight.”
Which is fine. Except for the fact that Cox supports the reelection of this vulgar, bigoted and lying president. He’s late to the game and hardly among the incumbent’s most fervent backers, but Cox has abandoned the brave and principled Never Trump stand he took four years ago, apparently out of a belief that it was necessary for his own political survival.
And as long as Cox does that, he has no justifiable claim to any public office. Nor does anyone else who supports this global embarrassment.
It wasn’t necessary for Cox, or anyone else, to have suffered through the whole 90-minute debate to have that fact confirmed. All that was necessary was the last few minutes.
Moderator Chris Wallace was pitied by some and attacked by others for losing control of the event. But as the debate was winding down, it became clear that it wasn’t so important that Wallace be either a dominating presence or a badgering interrogator. What he did was loft the softest of softball questions to the president and watch him whiff on it.
Would the president, Wallace asked, renounce his white supremacist supporters? What could be easier? Just say, yes, I reject the support of white supremacists. Because that should be easy for anyone to say.
But he couldn’t do it.
Not saying anything may have been the most honest thing the man ever said. He relishes the support of bigots. He knows he only rose to his office on the support of old, white pseudo-Christians who care about nothing so much as their fear that they are going to be replaced by brown people from around the globe.
What the president also said should frighten Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, chief of the Utah election system, to his core. The president went on and on about how the coming election is going to be rife with fraud because more states are using the basic method of conducting elections already perfected in Utah — universal vote by mail.
The president went on to call upon his own version of the Brownshirts, the ultra-right Proud Boys and others, to “stand by” for what he clearly sees as a street battle designed to suppress the vote and destroy public confidence in democracy.
If Spencer Cox does not stand up to the president and his thuggish legion of brutes, and say, “Not in my state, you don’t,” he should immediately retire to his farm and let the United States burn around him. Because there is absolutely no doubt that is what the president wants.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, likes elections and hopes this year’s isn’t our last.