This election has been so bogged down in racism, sexism, and generalized anxiety that the country's character has been elbowed out of focus. Every news item is fresh crisis, placing us in an emotional state of emergency and wholly obscuring the identity of the average American. That is, until Ken Bone—the undecided voter who just really needs to clear up the whole energy thing.
Sunday night’s town hall debate was distressingly unfocused, an excruciating interlude which inflicted pain while denying progress, like an episode of The Bachelor, except no one gets eliminated. Given the opportunity to deliver the defining moment of the evening with a final question, Ken Bone asked, "What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job layoffs?"
Energy. Just one month before election day, Ken Bone does not know who should be the leader of the free world, but he does have this one question about energy. He’s the operator of a coal plant in Illinois, so this is deeply relevant to his day-to-day. Ken Bone is a nice guy, and he would really rather not have to fire anyone, especially after they got him such a nice cake for his birthday last year. He’s thought a lot about this. Still pretty torn between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, though.
Ken Bone says he wore the red sweater as a plan B to the debate because he “split the seat of my pants wide open” https://t.co/H9eL2wi5as— CNN (@CNN) October 10, 2016
At the most fraught political moment in the history of this country, asking a question about energy feels like discussing the weather on the shuttle bus to Hell. It’s not clear how a person could have caught even one tenth of the past few months of election coverage and still think, “Well, I think I don’t want to judge a book by its cover!” There are bad opinions and truly evil opinions, but also no opinion at all, somehow.
Who is Ken Bone, and what has he been doing?
To be invested in this election is to be consumed by it. We’ve been shouting so much, we’re hoarse. We’ve been reliving the horrors that stick through the fleshy core of this country, waking up each morning with a splash of hydrogen peroxide in our national wounds. Ken Bone recently had a cup of coffee at that new place down the street. He wishes they had a better muffin selection, but it’s nice to have somewhere to stop on the way to work. He’s still not sure who he might like to be President.
Indeed, we finally have our American everyman—and he’s out of touch entirely. He’s not Joe the Plumber, a symbol of hard work or any other iteration of American greatness. He’s a meme. He’s a guy who wore a red sweater after he ripped through the pants of his one nice suit on the way to the Town Hall. He’s a guy who had seven Twitter followers before this—and two of them were his grandma because she forgot the login info on her first account.
"One of the audience members from the #debate is going viral. His name is Ken Bone..." https://t.co/rtwMdhe1Iy pic.twitter.com/Q6WH2MmV9i— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) October 11, 2016
There is something absurdly endearing about Ken Bone, and it is sans partisanship; neither side wants to exalt him as a stand-in for their value systems. Ken Bone is just Ken Bone, and isn’t that so sweet? It’s like we’ve been watching this epic morality play, only for the narrator to break the fourth wall and make a joke about how, lol nothing matters. There are really people out there who aren’t so angry they want to explode! They are just out of earshot of our perpetual screaming match, and they’re fine with that, thanks.
This entire election season has faced lingering questions about people in the middle. On social media, there’s an endless war between trolls and social justice warriors, while Ken Bone sits at home watching a new episode of The Big Bang Theory. It turns out the in-between isn’t some rotten core of toxicity; it’s people caught up in their day-to-day, vaguely wondering how all of this might impact their thimble-sized microcosms. It’s sweet, simple, Ken Bone, who could really go either way with this whole election thing. One of the presidential candidates is threatening to both grab pussies and ban Muslims, but can we please lock the definition of “going green?”
It turns out the in-between isn’t some rotten core of toxicity; it’s people caught up in their day-to-day, vaguely wondering how all of this might impact their thimble-sized microcosms.
It’s hilarious—and God bless the meme makers, truly—but the greatest threat to our nation is this dopey optimism. We’ve reached this point because of the lingering falsehood that, “Both outcomes are bad, but either way, it will be mostly fine!”
While most understand that there is no “mostly fine” guarantee this season, there are still some who think this catastrophic mess remains a question of “the lesser of two evils.” Ken Bone might be a well-deserved spot of comedic relief, but he’s also a pressing reminder of the tiny particles that make up our national identity.
The big, bad villains are a distraction from the mind-changing that counts, because it turns out our obstacle isn’t just hatred: it’s an uninformed lack of conviction. It’s benevolent ignorance. It’s Ken Bone in a sweater asking about energy.