Monday, September 26, 2016

The First Presidential Debate

Before the debate got started, I managed to get up a quick comment on social media. It's followed by my post-debate thoughts.

Pre-Debate Thoughts
This is, in many ways, the most unprecedented debate in American history. For one, it features a woman as one of the major party candidates. In 240 years, the republic has never seen that. (For those who wish it was someone other than the former wife of a president, blame the voters. They had two and a half centuries to nominate a woman who wasn't a former First Lady and they failed.)

But Trump is nearly as unusual. He's never held public office, which is not entirely unprecedented; the 1940 GOP candidate, Wendell Willkie, was also a businessman. But Willkie was a WWI vet, a lawyer, and and was active in party politics. Trump has had no political experience whatsoever, nor legal nor any relevant government- or politics-adjacent experience. 

Their bios go a long way to describing the dynamics of the parties and the country. One is a multicultural party engaged with governance, and one is a a mostly-white party at war with government and multiculturalism. The debate is as stark a contrast in competing visions as we've ever seen.

Post-Debate Thoughts
Hillary didn't do great--it's so hard to stay on message when Trump is taking the conversation down a rabbit hole of random personal aggrandizement and conspiracy theories. Trump regards debates as performative exercises; what you say is basically beside the point. So it's about bullying and posturing and interrupting. I've been in arguments with guys like Trump, and they're basically trying to get your goat, not advance an argument. It's enormously difficult to deal with that. 

All of the talking heads I'm seeing are judging the debate from Trump's performative perspective, and so it looks like a 55-45 prospect (with partisans claiming the win). I'll go on the record as guessing that this will have basically no effect on the race.

If you consider it from the perspective of what Trump actually said, it was a giant catastrophe for Trump (and the nation). He was incoherent, ranting, flamboyantly ignorant, offensive, and beyond everything, narcissistic. He has the mind of a 15-year-old boy, to whom the whole world exists to praise him. No slight can go unanswered, no credit given to anyone else. He's pitched a tent of lies to protect his fragile ego, and he preens inside it. Even when the thing he's taking credit for, like Obama's birth certificate, is petty or offensive, he demands everyone give him credit.

If you listened to what he said or read the transcript, you'd be staggered by his ignorance and incoherence. You'd question his sanity. If you judged that debate, you'd wonder why five Americans would vote for him. They won't consider his words, and so it will end up being a push.

One caveat: that screechy I-HAVE-THE-BEST-TEMPERAMENT moment from Trump could--maybe--harm him. That was the one moment when the performative mask slipped.

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