We were very taken with this quick comment by the Wall Street Journal on the Presidential debate just gone: “marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.”
Bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government. Yes, indeed. Well said, that man.
American democracy has been in trouble for quite some time. Let’s just look from, say, the turn of the 1960s onwards.
The death of two Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, three tragic events driven by visceral hatred. The mental exhaustion of LBJ. The ascension of the criminal (and traitorous) Nixon. The standstill of Gerald Ford and the essentially neutered failure of Jimmy Carter – the latter a man who was too good to be in that role. The Reagan era, so terminally tainted by Iran-Contra and adventurism in Central America that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. George H Bush who famously promised “No New Taxes” (and promptly despatched his friend and rival Bob Dole) only to turn round and increase taxes and produce a notably weak economic performance. (His evisceration of Dukakis was also the beginning of modern “hate” politics.) Then we had the economic and policy-wonk success of Bill Clinton hopelessly over-shadowed by his mangling of the truth and his appalling personal behaviour. Of George W Bush and his off-sider Dick Cheney only one thing needs to be said: 500,000 Iraqi dead, over oil, and the comprehensive attempt to confuse people into believing it was about something else. Oh, and, “The great Recession”, or “GFC”, depending on where you live in the world. And then, of course, Barrack Obama, who after raising the watchword “Hope” has delivered a stuttering economic revival but only at the expense of a massive increase in Federal debt, and who has presided uneasily over a fractious Congress and a series of foreign policy mis-steps.
It is a pretty sorry performance, overall, to be sure.
But even after that list is chewed over and considered and debated, this debate was, very possibly, the most unedifying spectacle in modern American political history.
There was no nobility. There was no soaring vision. There was no wit. Precious little wisdom. No humility. There was just the contrasting styles of two deeply unpopular candidates knowing that they are buried up to their knees in mud in their trenches and there is no longer an opportunity for either of them to climb out.
There was no courtesy. No mutual respect. There was bullying. There was disturbing body language, especially from Trump, who prowled around behind Clinton in an aggressive and frankly disturbing manner. The bulk of the debate was taken up with discussions that should properly take place in front of a psychological counsellor, not a worldwide TV audience.
It was, frankly, embarrassing. It was ugly to watch. It was cringe-worthy.
In our view, Trump avoided a complete implosion, battered a too-meek Clinton in a way that will play well with his core supporters, but probably no one else. If he made one glaring mis-step it was in publicly disagreeing with his Vice-Presidential running mate on Syria, who he said he had not discussed the conflict with. That admission is truly bizarre, given how significant that conflict currently is.
Clinton appeared poised, and steely calm, and confident. But history may judge she could and should have gone for the jugular more effectively. Certainly Trump’s jibe that “she’d be in jail” under his Presidency hit home, and she was less than convincing on the ever-running emails saga.
As a friend opined to us, in all probability, not one Democrat-leaning voter would have moved towards Trump, not one Republican-leaning voter would have moved to Clinton, and anyone genuinely undecided probably became yet more depressed an unenthusiastic.
According to CNN’s poll of debate watchers (a poll they say tends to skew towards the Democrats because their supporters are more likely to watch), Clinton did well – but almost a quarter of the audience were expecting her to do better.
Who was the winner?
Clinton 57%, Trump 34%
How did Donald Trump perform?
Better than expected 63%, worse 21%
How did Hillary Clinton perform?
Better than expected 39%, worse 26%
(If that’s the case, by about Wednesday or Thursday Clinton will have a lock on the race with about a 6-7% lead, possibly as high as 10%, higher in the battleground states, lower in the centre and the South.)
But taking everything into account, “depressing is right”. This is, unquestionably, the most significant Presidential election in a generation. A titanic struggle of ideas should be going on. Yet this election may yet turn out to have one of the worst turnouts, too. As for America’s image overseas, it is being trashed. The “Great Democratic Experiment” is doing a very poor job of recommending itself to the world, just at the moment. How, for example, can liberal democracy recommend itself to, for example, parts of South America, large swathes of Africa, the Middle East – most pressingly – and large parts of Asia including obviously China – when this is how low it can sink.
America can – MUST – do better.
America, you’re not just letting yourselves down. You’re letting us down, too.
A few oddities – Trump was still sniffing audibly and often, two weeks later. Most curious.
Trump claimed the moderators were biased against him. But by our estimation by halfway through the debate he had hogged at least 2/3rds of the available time, and we will see what the final figure looks like when someone works it out.
You may also like to read Dan Rather’s analysis of the debate on Facebook. He pretty much agrees with us.
Anyhow, the full WSJ article is below: we agree with it, and politely recommend it to you.
A Memorable, Riveting, Nasty Debate – but Will It Change the Direction of the Race?
This was one of the most memorable debates in history. It was perhaps the debate that American politics has been cultivating for a quarter of a century, marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.
It featured two of the most disliked candidates in modern history taking lumps out of each other – with accusations of sexual assault and defending rape and repeated allegations of deceit and mendacity.
And yet, will it change the contours of the race after an astonishing few days?
The initial exchange of fire in the wake of the release of Mr. Trump’s crudely offensive remarks captured on videotape on Friday, followed by a moment in which Mr. Trump apparently threatened to try to put Mrs. Clinton in jail if he is elected (a threat that, as some have commented, looks like something close to an unprecedented authoritarian turn in American politics) were as electrifying as anything in a presidential debate.
Once that dust had settled, though, Mr. Trump succeeded, much better than he did in the first debate, in hitting Mrs Clinton on key policy issues of health care, immigration and foreign policy. He was sharper on his feet and had some of the most memorable lines of the night. His lampooning of her calling Abraham Lincoln in defence of her Wall Street speeches won spontaneous applause and laughter from many sides of the hall.
The two somehow managed to end with a kind word (just one really) for each other and the handshake that they had denied each other at the start.
But this was raw and angry politics as blood sport and served perhaps only to underscore even more how unappetising political debate has become.