The Great Debate

I will begin by stating, firmly and loudly, that I did not watch the 26 September ‘debate’ between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I was getting ready for bed by the time it started and was asleep by the time it concluded. I do not feel that I missed anything important and, based upon the clips and bites I have seen this morning, nothing happened that was not expected. The event completely exposed Donald Trump’s ignorance, rashness, impropriety and cluelessness in terms of anything presidential. Although these debates are largely performance and bear no resemblance to anything like a proper debate (i.e. where ethos, pathos and logos are all employed), their usefulness as an experiment cannot be underestimated. It is like placing two potentially volatile substances into a glass box, forcing them together and standing back to see what happens. No one was swayed by this spectacle; not a single American suddenly realized that Donald Trump was a wise statesman worthy of his or her vote.

The debates are not meant to persuade the so-called “undecided” voters: they are intended to be political prize-fights, bouts of rhetorical upper cuts and sly jabs at personality or character. It is akin to a football match where each club has its fans and the goal is to both win and, if at all possible, put on a good show for your side.Each club has its rabid followers, its regular fans and those who just want the green team to win. It is the same with American politics. There are the alt-right zealots who see Trump as a new Messiah. There are the moderate types who don’t particularly care for either candidate but don’t like Trump’s ranting and so will cast a vote for Clinton. The spectrum is wide, but the debates, arguably, fall outside that spectrum. It is not held to enlighten us about policies or ideas, missions or goals. This election has been slogging on for upwards of a year: we know where the candidates stand and we know their philosophies. No secrets can be brought out, no plans detailed. If a candidate does not have an answer by the time of the first debate, that candidate will never have an answer and would serve the nation better dropping out entirely. If two diametrically opposed forces have not solidified their respective camps by the end of September and have not convinced the unconvinced electorate, their efforts are wasted as these individuals will likely forgo voting altogether rather than bring themselves to make a decision. Elections in this country are not about ideas: they are about churning up enough outrage in one’s supporters to compel them to go and vote. It is not a battle for hearts and minds but a call to arms, a summons for each party’s faithful to rise and be counted so that the other side doesn’t win.

The general consensus seems to be that Donald Trump lost this first debate. His interrupting, his flares of temper, his disorganization and disinterest in evidence or facts all contributed to this verdict. However, what did we truly expect? Donald Trump has made it his signature persona to fly off the handle at the suggestion he is not being genuine. It is his devil-may-care, screw the establishment, you can’t tell me what to do attitude that has appealed to so many* Americans. Why did we expect anything less from the man who does not believe in the Twitter posts that bear his name and who faults the mythical left-wing media superstructure for any failure on his part. Are we truly surprised? Trump could have stood on that stage, debated a chicken for 90 minutes, lost and still blamed the chicken for misrepresenting his words or conspiring with the liberal poultry media to make him look silly. No, Donald — you don’t need any help looking silly.

*By so many Americans I mean the core of Trump’s constituency: angry and confused white men with a lot of angst because they don’t realize the world doesn’t care what they think any more.

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