I was afraid this would happen. Donald Trump actually out-performed Hillary last night. Admittedly, given the sex-tape disaster that had broken two days earlier, the man had nowhere to go but up. But in our media-driven horse-race approach to politics, where issues are ignored, memories and shockingly short and facts don't matter, he probably did much last night to pick himself up off the floor.
Meanwhile, Hillary was left simply flailing. She seemed nonplussed throughout the whole affair having foolishly chosen (as she put it) to "go high" rather than deliver a knockout blow to an opponent who entered the debate reeling, bloody and battered. She couldn't put him away.
Trump's performance truly surprised me. Although he's clearly an ethical moron, he has proven to be a brilliant debater. As in his spheres of business and taxes, he apparently knows how to manipulate broken systems and their rules. And these debate clown-shows play to that strength. They present him with (1) parameters entirely controlled by the parties of the debate's participants, (2) an opponent who largely agrees with him on the most important issues, (3) opposing (third party) viewpoints systematically excluded, (4) weak-kneed "celebrity" newscasters who concerned about their own images are easily bullied, and (5) just two minutes to answer each question.
In other words, the whole thing is rigged. And again, if nothing else, Donald Trump is a master at gaming rigged systems. By comparison, and despite all her vaunted experience, Hillary Clinton comes off as a rank amateur.
Trump has actually figured out that given the debate format, all he has to do is bob and weave, jab and jive, rope and dope. That means physically dwarfing his female opponent by strutting around the stage in barely-concealed threatening postures, complaining about the bias of is incompetent interrogators, and simply trotting out the old CIA spook strategy: (1) admit nothing, (2) deny everything, (3) make counter accusations.
Last night it all worked like a charm.
As a result, the whole affair ended up completely mystifying. Candidates were allowed to ignore the actual questions, to answer other ones instead, and to ramble on, talk over each other, and ignore commands to stop their ranting. Most of the time, I was left scratching my head wondering, "Now what was the original question?" And then if I remembered, my follow-up was "What does this 'answer' have to do with that?"
Meanwhile our country's and world's most important issues were all but ignored. There was nothing about climate change until the last minute and a half (literally). And as usual the phrase itself and "global warming" remained unuttered. There was nothing about student loans, police murders of black people, Black Lives Matter, or voter suppression. And Clinton and Trump basically appeared to agree on "clean coal," fracking, the need for Muslims to report on each other, privatized health care, military spending, the renewed nuclear arms race, and on how much they like each other.
As for the war in Syria, Trump made much more sense there than Hillary. He did! She's actually willing to risk nuclear war with Russia to institute an impossible "no fly zone" there. (She practically spit out the phrase "THE RUSSIANS" while discussing the issue.) Trump, on the other hand recognizes that ISIS, not THE RUSSIANS is the real enemy in the Middle East. He advocates dialog with the Kremlin. It made me wonder, is he the peace candidate?
I was also left wondering about Hillary's ethics compared with Trump's. Both of these characters are unsavory to say the least. I wonder who's worse? Is rape worse than nuclear war?
Yes, Trump's actions border on rape. That's serious. His offense was not "just words" -- locker room banter -- compared with Bill Clinton's actions. The sex tape showed Trump bragging about unwanted kissing and groping. Anyone else but a rich white billionaire would at the very least lose his job over an expose like that. Even Roger Ailes had to step down. (But, of course, Ailes had less money than Trump.)
But Hillary's problem is lying and warmongering. Except for the justified furor over Trump's sex tapes, last weekend's publication of her long-hidden Wall Street speeches by Wikileaks might have mortally wounded her campaign. The leaks have her defending a practice of publicly advocating populist positions and then in private pushing more business-friendly policies. That's what the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party had warned of all along. Her strategy in dealing with the revelations is to blame THE RUSSIANS -- to ramp up the paranoia that melds seamlessly with her willingness to risk nuclear war.
But then, of course, Trump appears totally clueless about nuclear war himself. Isn't he the one who asked repeatedly, "If we have nuclear weapons, why can't we use them?"
It's depressing. Candidates bickering over who's more corrupt, ignoring the real issues, and despite the public's yearning for change, both promising business as usual -- or worse.
In the face of all this, I'd vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party, were it not for the issue of Supreme Court justices. Instead, I find faint hope in Bernie Sanders' strategy of voting for Hillary this time around and then working hard for Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Stein or whoever steps up over the next four years to help a now depressed and angry populist movement coalesce against the nonsense these two establishment candidates represent.