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Alhamdulillah the debates are done with and I don’t have to ever again subject myself to watching Donald Trump bloviate—save for his concession speech on November 8th in the event he gives one. Numerous pundits have said that last night’s debate was his strongest of the three, that he was even incisive at points early on, and only started to melt down after the first half hour or so—as opposed to ten minutes earlier in the previous two. If stringing together grammatically correct sentences is the criteria here, then yes, this was perhaps a better debate for him, but that is really setting the bar low. In fact, he did not utter a single coherent, informed thought at any moment. He was Donald Trump from the get go: an ignorant, mendacious, immature, bullying asshole of an idiot who doesn’t know anything about anything, who has no idea WTF he’s talking about on any question that is put to him, and quite simply has no business running for president of the United States. E.g. his response to Chris Wallace’s question on Syria and Iraq, which was that of a 9th grader talking off the top of his head during a class presentation he hadn’t prepared for. That a major party presidential candidate could blather uninformed bullshit to that degree was an embarrassing moment for the American nation. As I’ve said more than once, the fact that Trump has gotten this far, that he is the presidential nominee of one of the two major parties and is viewed favorably, on this October 20th 2016, by some 35% of the electorate, reflects some serious, systemic flaws in the American political system—indeed in the US constitution (a flawed document as it is)—and is a damning indictment of a part of American society. Anyone who cheered on Trump last night—who found his behavior worthy of a president of the United States—is as much of an ignorant idiot as he is, point barre.
It is now banal to call Trump a fascist or dictator-in-waiting, to observe that he is running not only against Hillary Clinton but against democracy itself, that he has no understanding of or respect for the institutions of American government, and that his rise represents, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz wrote last week, a veritable “national emergency.” This is uncontroversial even among Republicans. But fewer Trump detractors—in the punditocracy at least—have come out and said en noir et blanc what is now patently obvious, which is that Trump is mentally ill. He is, as Slate’s William Saletan came out and asserted in a post-debate commentary, a clinical paranoiac. The man is psychotic. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Michael Gerson—who’s been on an anti-Trump tear—wrote the other day about Trump’s “ideological psychosis” but stopped short of labeling that psychosis psychiatric. In view of Trump’s indisputable mental condition, if he were to, by some calamitous scenario, win on November 8th—and with the imminent prospect of getting his little fingers on the nuclear codes—he would clearly have to be stopped, if not by a sufficient defection of faithless electors when the Electoral College meets on December 19th, then by a version à l’américaine of the Wolf’s Lair operation in East Prussia on July 20th 1944, except with this one succeeding, suivez mon regard. Fortunately it won’t come to that, as Trump is not going to win the election. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.
As for Trump’s intimation that he may not accept the result of the election—if he loses, of course—everyone is saying that this was the key moment of the debate, when Trump definitively lost it. Even Fox News talking heads found Trump’s words unacceptable. But while what Trump said was shocking and unprecedented in American history, I tend to agree with the otherwise unspeakable William Kristol—whom I would normally not link to positively—who, in a tweet storm after the debate, asserted that Trump may say whatever he pleases about the election but that if the latter is recognized as legitimate by the American people in its great majority—as it will be—and certified by election officials, then Trump can’t do a thing about it. His stomping and screaming will have no effect, and all the more so as, continuing in Kristol’s vein, establishment Republican Party politicians will accept the election outcome to a man and woman. Trump will look even more the unhinged crackpot that he is. He will be utterly isolated. And the republic will survive.
As for his hardcore supporters, who are numerous, lots of people are alarmed and worried about their eventual reaction to the inevitable defeat. Civil disorder, even violence, is feared. Trump’s legions are indeed crazy—and with a cult-like adoration of their guru—and driven by a virulent hatred of a large part of their society. This is a serious problem for America and will not be resolved anytime soon. The hatred of the Trumpistas of people not like themselves is of a degree that, in other contexts, can lead to civil war and massacres. And Trump’s supporters, unlike Hillary’s, are armed, even heavily. This is nothing to be dismissive of. But if Trump dead-enders try to do anything illegal after November 8th, e.g. engage in violent action, they will bring the fury of the American state down on them. The FBI will arrest them en masse. And if they resist by the force of arms, the federal government will repress them violently, i.e. the Trumpistas will be liquidated. Terminated with extreme prejudice. So let them try.
I’ve written over nine hundred words here already and hardly said a thing about Hillary Clinton. While Trump was the Grand Guignol of last night’s debate, Hillary was the vedette. She was a star: absolutely excellent, poised, articulate, in command of everything, with precisely the right positions on 95% of the issue questions that were posed to her, who played Trump like a violin, et j’en passe. No one gets the better of Hillary Clinton in a debate. And there is no one out there in American political life who is more qualified than she to be POTUS. If the Dems win a majority in both the Senate and House—which is not an outlandish scenario at this date—then she will have the potential to be a great president. Lingering Hillary-hating Bernie supporters need to rethink their attitude.
Now Hillary’s debate performance, while earning overwhelming praise from pundits, was critiqued on a couple of points, notably her dodging the questions on open borders and the Clinton Foundation. But her dodges were adroit, IMO, as she would have needed more than her allotted two minutes to adequately answer them, to give the questions the necessarily complex responses they would have entailed, and that would have likely been over the heads of intellectually-challenged voters and, moreover, provided out-of-context sound bites and other ammunition for Trump propaganda. So better to avoid and move on.
On Hillary’s brilliance in playing Trump, see TNR senior editor Jeet Heer’s post-debate commentary, “Hillary Clinton destroyed Trump in the debates just by being a grown-up.” Money quote:
There’s been a powerful gender subtext running through all the debates. As a pathbreaking woman proving herself in a man’s world, Clinton used the familiar strategy of women in this situation of studying hard and being as professional as possible. Trump, by contrast, was constantly reverting to his natural state of toxic masculinity. It’s not uncommon in the corporate world for a well-prepared woman to compete against a man who thinks he can wing it. That was the fundamental dynamic of the presidential debates.
Yet thanks to her hard work and Trump’s fecklessness, Clinton ended up displaying all the traits that men are traditionally supposed to have for the presidency—the steadiness, the unflappability, the steeliness under pressure and assault. He came across with traits of a stereotypical “female,” all the reasons they were once thought to be “unfit” for jobs like this. He couldn’t control his emotions, he personalized everything, he whined. You almost came out of these debates thinking, “Are men fit to be president?” She “proved” a woman is fit, and how she reduced him to acting like a little boy (or, more in popular stereotype, like a girl).
Trump acting “like a girl.” A sure-fire guarantee to get under his thin skin, c’est sûr. Heer continues
Earlier in the week, Melania Trump had defended her husband’s behavior in the infamous “Access Hollywood” video where he boasted of sexual assaults by saying that the Republican nominee was basically a big child. As she told Anderson Cooper, “I have two boys at home, I have my young son and my husband.”
Hillary Clinton’s genius in the debates has been to constantly troll Trump into reverting to that intrinsic state of childishness—most memorably when he muttered “such a nasty woman” toward the end of Wednesday’s debate, while Clinton was answering a question about entitlements. His peevishness left her by default as the adult in the room. By constantly being above it all, smiling as he engaged in insults, keeping calm while he hovered behind her in the second debate like a would-be stalker, she proved she had presidential mettle. Her steel nerves and unflappability, which had earlier been displayed in the marathon grilling of the Benghazi hearings, were deeply impressive.
Yes, she’s impressive. If anyone wishes to disagree, please explain your reasoning.
On Trump’s base, the pseudonymous David Wong, who is executive editor of Cracked.com, has a personalistic post dated October 12th on “How half of America lost its f**king mind,” which focuses on the small town-urban divide and with economic precariousness an undercurrent. Effectively countering this view is Dylan Matthews spot-on post in Vox, dated October 15th, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying.” And what they’re saying is less about the economy than good old-fashioned racialist white rage.
As for Hillary’s voters, who, pour mémoire, do exist in sizable numbers, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias weighed in yesterday with a post, “There’s a new silent majority’, and it’s voting for Hillary Clinton.”
And while we’re on Vox writers—it’s really a great website—see Ezra Klein’s post-debate reax, “Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins: Donald Trump didn’t just destroy himself. Hillary Clinton destroyed him.”
A couple of more pieces. Slate’s Jeremy Stahl has a most interesting one asking “Why is Donald Trump whining about a rigged election? Mark Cuban has an interesting theory.” In short, it’s about Breitbart playing Trump for its own post-election ends. Trump is Stephen Bannon’s useful idiot, which makes sense, as the latter is definitely smarter than the former.
The other is Matt Taibi’s October 14th reportage in Rolling Stone, “The fury and failure of Donald Trump.” The lede: “Win, lose or drop out, the Republican nominee has laid waste to the American political system. On the trail for the last gasp of the ugliest campaign in our nation’s history.” There’s a tenacious idea out there that Hillary is a structurally weak candidate who would certainly be defeated by any other Republican candidate but Trump. Taibi—who’s a great writer—pretty effectively rubbishes that notion in the way he describes the 17-candidate clown bus in the 2016 GOP primary campaign. Hillary would have been able to handle any of these jokers. A must-read.
UPDATE: The Huffington Post has compiled some of the #TrumpBookReport tweets, that were spawned on Twitter in response to Trump’s clueless debate answers. Hilarious.
2nd UPDATE: Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher has a sobering analysis (October 22nd) in which he asks “What is the long-term effect of Donald Trump?” In short, Trumpism is not going anywhere after the election nor is Trump, even if he is buried in a landslide on November 8th. Trumpism will remain a large, festering boil on the American body politic.
If Trumpism cannot be vanquished in the coming years, Trump himself certainly can be. His brand needs to be destroyed and he financially ruined. And if he can be indicted and convicted for any of his countless legal transgressions, so much the better. This can all happen and, inshallah, it will.
3rd UPDATE: On the zeitgeist of the present-day GOP, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll published on October 18th shows that “Most Republicans don’t think sexual assault would disqualify Trump from the presidency.”
4th UPDATE: For more on the GOP zeitgeist, see the breathtaking report in Politico (October 20th) by Julia Ioffe, who watched the debate with Trump supporters, “Debate night with the unswayables.” The lede: “In North Carolina, local Republicans have their own way of seeing what just happened—and arguing back.”
À propos—and telling us what we have kind of suspected—WaPo’s Philip Bump, in a commentary dated October 15th, observes that “Americans now live in two worlds, each with its own reality.”
5th UPDATE: Stanford University professor of communications Jeff Hancock explains, on the CNN Money website (October 17th), “Trump’s bullsh*t: Why his supporters don’t care that he’s lying.”
6th UPDATE: Conservative attorney and National Review staff writer has a stunning piece—or perhaps not so stunning—dated October 21st, “The price I’ve paid for opposing Donald Trump.” The lede: “Trump’s alt-right trolls have subjected me and my family to an unending torrent of abuse that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
It is perhaps not surprising that Trump’s fanatics would target other conservatives. Such happened on the left during the early decades of the Soviet Union—notably during the Comintern’s “Third Period” following its 6th congress in 1928—when Soviet-aligned communists aimed their fire at social democrats, Trotskyists, and others on the left who didn’t tow the Soviet line.
As it happens, the onetime-leftist-turned-conservative historian Ronald Radosh had a piece in TDB, dated August 22nd, entitled “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘a Leninist’ who wants to ‘destroy the state’.” The lede: “The Breitbart executive director turned GOP leader boasted at a party about his goal of destroying the conservative establishment.”
7th UPDATE: George Washington University law professor Neil H. Buchanan has spot on essay, reposted in Newsweek Europe (October 15th), rhetorically asking “Why is the press ganging up on Hillary Clinton? Why does the press not challenge the conventional wisdom that Clinton is untrustworthy?”
In this vein, see Paul Waldman’s Washington Post column, dated September 5th, “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?”
8th UPDATE: The NYT’s Max Fisher, who co-authors the paper’s The Interpreter column, informs readers (October 23rd) that “Donald Trump’s threat to reject election results alarms scholars,” the scholars in question being political scientists who study authoritarian regimes. I should perhaps not be so dismissive of Trump’s threat not to concede defeat if/when he loses, as the longer term effects of such an action could well be deleterious.
9th UPDATE: Vox’s Ezra Klein says (October 21st) that it’s “The best conversation I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball.” It goes for 1 hour 13 minutes and is definitely worth listening to (here). I learned things from it. Molly Ball, who writes for The Atlantic, is one of America’s best political reporters.
10th UPDATE: Freelance writer at FiveThirtyEight and self-described millennial Milo Beckman has a nice essay—addressed to fellow millennials—at Medium (October 19th), “The leftist case for Hillary Clinton.”
11th UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports (October 25th) from the Florida retirement archipelago on “Trump’s graying army,” which is the Republican candidate’s strongest demographic. One wonders how these good senior citizens who wax nostalgic for the 1950s would react to the report in TDB (October 25th) by journalist and author Michael Gross, who’s been covering Trump for the past thirty years, “Inside Donald Trump’s one-stop parties [in the 1990s]: Attendees recall cocaine and very young models.” A fashion photographer quoted in the lede thus reminisced, “I was there to party myself. It was guys with younger girls [as young as 14], sex, a lot of sex, a lot of cocaine, top-shelf liquor…” Question: is there a statute of limitation for prosecuting people who organize sex parties with minors? How nice it would be if some those then-teenagers were to come forth with their stories.