The first debate
Hillary Clinton could barely wipe the well-rehearsed rictus smile off her face Monday night during her first public showdown with Donald Trump. The woman with more skeletons in her closet than Dr. Frankenstein could only marvel at how easily she was skating while Trump thrashed in a verbal melt of his own making.
To paraphrase the late NFL coach Dennis Green, “He was who we thought he was.” Sure, Clinton and her cabinet of advisers (including psychologists) knew that Trump was going to be easy to rile. But It didn’t get much easier than Monday’s laugher on Long Island. After absorbing a few well-placed shots in the debate’s early moments, Hillary only needed to salt the clouds with passing references to Trump’s taxes, ties and Daddy money and the Republican nominee was soon gibbering about Rosie O’Donnell.
Trump’s lather about birtherism and whether he’d told Sean Hannity he was against the Iraq war was all Clinton needed. The Marquess of Queens completely forgot to gut Clinton on the myriad ripe topics at his disposal. When he started on about Iraq & Rosie, Trump was like Bogart in the Caine Mutiny, rolling ball bearings and raving about stolen strawberries.
Even if Trump could’ve roused himself to action he’d have to get around the genial NBC host Lester Holt who forgot— can you believe it!— to pursue any of the avenues that lead to Clinton’s epic corruption and deception. (“They’re around here somewhere… I must have mislaid them.”) While Holt seemed fixated on Trump’s past pronouncements on women, blacks and Miss America, his curiosity about the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi and “deploreables” was as close to zero as could be measured by modern instrumentation.
Clinton’s unimpressive legislative record was in service of her country (and her towering ambition). But Holt thought Donald’s throwaway lines on the Stern shows 20 years ago were of greater public interest than Clinton putting state secrets on her home-brew server in the family biffy. Holt’s handicapping was, no shock. To use coach Green again, “If you want to crown her, then crown her ass.” Fine.
If Holt was unwilling, Trump needed to introduce these Clinton foibles; but he only introduced his brilliant tax strategies and back-patted himself for ignoring Clinton’s predatory record on her husband’s sexual victims. If his performance after the first 20 minutes had been a football game it would have been three-and-out.
Finally, to Clinton’s immense relief, she knew that an army of smug policy pukes was sitting at home (urged on by her during the debate) dissecting every one of Trump’s whoppers. Fact checkers they’re now called. Clinton’s Swiss Guard of second guessers. The tidal pool of tweets heralding Trump’s ignorance was impressive in the way that a tsunami of garbage flowing down a hillside takes your breath away and also turns your stomach.
The debate illustrated one truth: In today’s America (and Canada) that facts no longer matter in the partisan crossfire. Empathy tops evidence. Gender ambiguity in the defence of liberty is no vice. If you believe it makes a better world, no proof is required. We have already documented the subordination of facts in the Black Lives Matter campaign flogged by Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick. This is, of course, perilous for America. When facts cease to matter you get Robespierre. “Sentence first, evidence later.”
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Clinton provided a perfect example on Monday: a woman wanting to be president prettied up a convicted gun felon in Charlotte to smear opponents with “systemic racism”. Clinton’s portrayal of convicted vicious felon Keith Lamont Scott and reality are as remote from each other as Mother Teresa and, well, Beyoncé. It was race pandering of an ugly type only a liberal can employ when they want to perpetuate a riot.
But neither Trump nor Holt challenged her on the blood libel. One small blessing: we were spared the verbal assault weapon Clinton makes of language when she’s caught is a certain lie. She’s the Picasso of mendaciousness. If Trump stops listening to Hannity and finally consults a sane person, these issues might emerge in future debates. No doubt Clinton will have parsed the death out of them by that time. If she hasn’t already restored her double-digit lead in the polls.
For Trump on Monday, there was only the usual flailing in a broth of half-remembered policy notions dating back to his boyhood. His imperfect recall might work on a golf course (“Give me a four”) but with Hillary’s scrutineers at the ready it’s a dubious debate tactic. In a quaint moment, he protested that he’d never admitted any fault in his race-discrimination housing days. Silly Donald. That no-fault dodge only works for your opponent’s husband when it comes to his sexual proclivities.
As many have already observed, Monday’s debate probably didn’t do participatory democracy any favours. If a pathological liar and serial murderer of the truth are the best the Republicans and Democrats can manage maybe it’s time to try another manner of getting a president. You might miss the Rosie O’Donnell anecdotes and the mirthless smirks from a felon about to skate. But hey, life is full of disappointments.