Monday, October 10, 2016

Thoughts on last night's debate

So I watched the debate. I never watch the debate. I can't believe I watched the debate. But when Republicans started bailing on their candidate over the weekend I became curious about how Trump would respond. It seemed like a historic moment in American political history. And perhaps it almost was, if the party leaders ever seriously thought about dropping Trump from the ticket (and if that's even possible). I thought Hillary would bring the matter up ("Even your own party is turning its back on you!"), but she didn't.

This morning everyone is saying he staunched the bleeding but probably didn't make any gains among the remaining undecided voters. I think that's true. The undecideds are probably unhappy about their choice, not liking either of them much, so to win them over you'd have to overcome their distaste. In Trump's case, their distaste often has to do with his character as a human being, and nothing that he said or did last night will cause anyone to put aside their misgivings. But I do think that some of their misgivings about Clinton might have been allayed, simply by reason of the fact that she remained calm and reasonable as against his calling her the devil and talking about throwing her in jail. For that reason, I think the debate may turn out to be a marginal win for Clinton.

Sometimes, often, Trump seems like a man who spends too much time filling his mind with info gleaned from the alt-right online echo chamber. The frequent mentions of Sidney Blumenthal's name, for example, as if America should react with horror ("he's a very bad person"), or the brief mention of Michelle Obama's anti-Hillary commercials from 2008. Who cares? Some of his screeds were a mash-up of talking points gleaned from the anti-Hillary Twitterverse. The denizens of that realm may have cheered, but the rest of us were still trying to remember the question, which he hardly ever actually answered.

Real content, real depth, was lacking. But of course. That's how these things are designed. I don't care for Hillary, but she conducted herself like an adult. She wasn't "shrill," as she is so often accused of being. Knowing Trump would go low, she staked out the high ground. Against Trump that's easy enough to do. Anyone can look like an adult next to him.

If Trump was trying to intimidate Clinton by stalking around the stage while she spoke, it didn't work. I thought the question about discipline that Anderson Cooper asked was a good one. Of course Donald failed to actually answer it, but went on about how Twitter and Facebook are a form of communication. But questions about personal discipline lead our attention to the fundamental problem with Trump as a candidate and a prospective president.

Finally, in what may have been the lowest of many low points, Trump told the audience that Clinton "has tremendous hate in her heart." Again, the anti-Hillary crowd, who should know something about hate in the heart, probably cheered, but he's going to need more votes than that. To the rest of us, it just seemed like more of the usual arrogance.

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