I’m not recommending that anyone watch the presidential debate tonight, nor the other debates to follow. It can’t be good for the soul to listen to a politician point fingers, particularly when inevitably some of the fingers are pointed in your direction. However, I realize that millions of people will watch the debate, and if that number includes you, how do you protect yourself from the damaging effects of the radioactive rhetoric?
There are many things you can do, but the simple thing I can recommend for many people is a cup of tea. Why tea? Tea is widely held to be comforting and familiar, and at the same time, it is made by the efforts of people who work outside the imaginary line that defines the borders of the United States. When you drink tea, you are drinking a beverage that the protectionist candidate in tonight’s debate would have you no longer drink simply because it is not domestically produced. Tea is grown in and imported from countries like, well, China. Imagine how smug and defiant you can feel listening to a hothead talking about bringing China to its knees while you sip on a beverage that comes from that country. Reflect on your kinship with the men of the American Revolution and the famous Boston Tea Party — you are drinking your cup of tea months before Congress has any chance of enacting the proposed new tax that could double the price of tea along with the other goods of the world. If you are letting your thoughts stretch that far, you might as well take that next step and think about the way drinking tea demonstrates one way in which you are the same as anyone else who ever drank tea, or coffee or wine, or water or any other beverage. We all need to drink something when we can because it is our nature, reflecting the way we are all descendants of the same ocean.
When you start to think of it this way, drinking a cup of tea during a political debate can be a revolutionary act. It connects you not just to a physical product of the larger world, but also to the more abstract world of possibilities that gave rise to the physical product. That may serve as a reminder of something that no politician on a stage will ever tell you — that the changes that matter don’t come from institutions of power like those that a candidate represents, but from almost everywhere else but. Think about that long enough and you might even decide not to watch the rest of the debate.