An editorial column by Stephen Dare, discussing the bizarre and historic second Presidential Debate.
Having watched the debate, I must admit that I was struck by a number of issues--some of them directly related to the presidential election, some of them a little more general. As a result Ive found myself wondering what anyone thought about the debate itself. Feel free to weigh in and discuss any of these points.
It was historic, I think.
I was kind of shocked by Trump's behavior and attempt at bullying all the way throughout the event. Even more than I thought I would be, but there were things that stuck out.
The 'press conference' before the debate was both bizarre and a new low in politics.
But I think that it established a precedent that will become the norm after this.
Not the tawdry content. But the format: Facebook Live.
He broadcast, for free, to millions of people across the country without having the intervention of fact checkers or editors keeping his remarks and behavior from being delivered to viewers.
This is a powerful tool, and it will revolutionize politics. Latching on a free, uncensored delivery format to a heavily marketed political event whose benefit you piggyback was sheer genius, even if employed by the most loathsome national political figure of the century so far.
I suppose that this would be the natural order of things. Who else but a loathsome, heavily scrutinized figure whose lies are constantly being fact checked would need such a tool? Once done, the technique is easy to see and replicate.
The trick will always be finding ways to piggyback onto larger mass media marketing.
To me, this will probably be the one thing of the debate that will be remembered and have lasting significance.
During the debate itself, Trump continued to burn down his possibilities of election to President with his boorish, bullylike behavior. But Hillary's complacence (in order to allow his unconstrained venom to show itself to its maximum potential made her seem dominated at times. She never appeared cowed, she looked a little off balance. Which speaks to a key criticism from the Trump camp: That she is the weaker negotiator on trade and international deals. Will she be taken off balance during a hostile negotiation?
Trump comported himself the way we imagine these negotiations to go down, and I personally am unsure whether this worked to his advantage with people who believe his chief benefit lies in his skills as a business negotiator or if his crude and boorish behavior made him seem even more like a monster to middle americans, especially women. I wonder what you all think of this?
In this context, I dont think that it matters whether or not he is a pathological liar,---which he demonstrably is---because I think we imagine that during negotiations, winning the argument to your advantage is more important than being truthful during the process itself. Many people think of complex and business deals as a larger game of liar's poker, a game at which liars win.
People who like him because they believe that this is a mercantile age whose future is dictated by setting the terms of trade deals decisively simply won't care that this animal doesn't tell the truth. They simply care whether or not he can dominate the discussion and dictate the rules.
Which I think he did.
Also historic was the truly frightening threats from Trump to 'jail' Hillary Clinton for crimes for which he has already prosecuted and convicted her in his own mind. This is the type of thing that literally destabilizes a Democracy, no matter how old or stable. It has to be put decisively to bed, either through massive public condemnation prior to the election or a total electoral landslide (which seems likely at this point).
Like the demonization of partisan differences and the politics of personal destruction, this eats away at the stability of a democracy because it forces rational people to choose not to participate.
Sure, politics is a rough and tumble business, and there has never been a halcyon period of rigid genteel civility except in the comfort dreams of nostalgia.... but this is new, and as discussed elsewhere, a hallmark of strongmen and dictatorships.
To be threatened with jail time as a consequence of losing an election is literally beyond the pale. If the outcome of politics is violence, complete character assassination and imprisonment then who except the psychotic and dangerous amongst us will end up participating?
Which makes the threat historic.
I don't think a case can be made that we have reached a low point. Certainly any student of American History with enough chops to remember "Ma, ma! Where's my Pa?" would agree that our politics has enjoyed a few particularly low moments of salaciousness.
But I do think that there is a case to be made that the salaciousness may end up being the only saving grace of this election.
Trump is more than just a boor. He is as dangerous a demagogue as any in the history of American Politics, and he is riding the kind of lightning that brings down a Republic. Much has been made of his tacit encouragement of the worst parts of this country. From playing footsie with the Klan to adopting the language of the New Right and the centrality of Alt Right leaders to his campaign to the anti minority violence that he fomented (and continues to foment) at his rallies, to the ugly white nationalist ethos that comprises much of his underlying appeal and family history he has brought nativist violence and intimidation to the national political conversation. In an age of American interdependence and economic globalism, there are obvious inherent problems with this approach even if our domestic politics were arcadian and blissfully calm.
But the demagogue has aspirational strategies designed to counter the democratic process that he has been delivering over the bizarre information bubble world of the Alt Right media platforms.
If Trump doesn't win, the system is 'rigged'.
That is the message going out to millions of people who have already condoned or participated in the baker's dozen of demagogic destabilizers of the Trump 'movement'.
In the week prior to the debate, the message was going out that hordes of Mexicans were being illegally allowed into the country: Imported to vote for Clinton.
He has intimated that unless he wins, he won't accept the election as 'legitimate'.
In my mind, the epic scandal, in which the candidate was caught on mic bragging about grabbing women by their genitals--because of his stardom-- couldn't have come at a better time.
After the first debate, Trump was on his way to a narrow loss against Clinton. A narrowness that would have come about by third party candidate votes, i conjecture.
It would have been a perfect breeding ground for the kind of conspiratorial disavowal of the election results that Trump has been seeding for months.
But now, thanks to the candidate's unbelievable coarseness, there will be little doubt in the popular mind as to why he lost, should he do so.
So I suppose in a certain way, its a good thing that Trump has made himself so socially objectionable. It leaves little room for later interpretation.
Please weigh in reasonably in the comments. I would love to hear thoughts on the Facebook live press conference and the election.
A totally opinionated opinion piece by
Stephen Dare photo by Toni Smailagic