Less than Zero

Ooo, I wish I could spend hours talking about that darn debate. However, there is course work to do, and real work to do, and I doubt anyone cares about my opinion anyway.

It’s funny, but as I was having breakfast this morning I was reading about how Clinton was preparing for the debate by using one of her long-time aides as a rehearsal opponent. Ostensibly she was doing this because she wanted to use someone who knew her well and who would be able to get under her skin. As I drove to work, this vexed me. Because Clinton being defensive and coming into the debate on the back foot seemed like a poor plan. Instead, I figured she should be focusing on the offensive and how to push Trump’s buttons (and I’ve written before about how people like him have such big, red, obvious buttons which can easily be pushed both intentionally and by accident). It’s easy to make narcissists look like pompous jerks, because they just don’t see themselves that way and so fall into those traps time and time again. Realistic self-image is definitely not Trump’s stock in trade.

I’m pleased to see that Clinton took my entirely psychic advice that she knew nothing about. But I still think there’s cause for concern.

The debate fell in the late afternoon, New Zealand time. So when I got home from work, the first thing I wanted to do was get online and see how it went. I read a couple of reviews from the NY Times. I also read the comments. They largely seemed to be of the opinion that Clinton had wiped the floor with her opponent.

Then I sat down and watched the debate itself. I made soup so that my dinner wouldn’t be an undue distraction. And I was initially surprised at how well Trump was doing.

Free trade and domestic policy are obviously his favorite turf. He quoted numbers. His numbers may be unrealistic, but by comparison Clinton seemed vague about the technicalities of what she’d do. He offered a big tax cut (to business owners). She offered… something about communities and small businesses and renewable energy. Nothing solid that anyone could point to, but I guess that’s part of the problem with explaining complex solutions to complex problems. I thought he easily won that first half hour. He looked like he had a clear vision, even if his vision is “less tax for me and my buddies”. Really, how does he pay less than the zero tax he’s been paying?

Then they moved on to race relations. Trump was always going to struggle with this, as he seems to be of the opinion that all black people in America are living in Crack-Head-Hell and that the solution to this is to punish them more seriously for being criminals. Interestingly, Clinton also didn’t come up with a clear vision either. More vagueries about community and church. She needs to start throwing some numbers into her speeches. She needs to take a leaf out of her husband’s book and punctuate her sentences with the pointy thumb.

It was becoming obvious why people are struggling to rally behind her. She’s not good at articulating a clear-eyed vision. She parses. She won’t lean into rhetoric. And while it might make some things sound truer than they are, it’s rhetoric that makes great oratory. I was really struggling to see what Clinton stood for other than just being the anti-Trump.

However, Clinton needled Trump about the whole Birther ridiculousness, and then (sensibly) she just let him rant. She could point out that he’d been prosecuted for not renting apartments to African Americans – something he didn’t deny, but a subject which he seemed to have been proud to have “won” by paying a settlement and not admitting guilt. He made as similar comment about his taxes. She could have made more of a meal of these moments, because they really go to the heart of who Trump is. He sees the real estate prosecution as if it’s a contest to be won or lost – he doesn’t (for an nth of a second) see the injustice of discriminating against people because of their race. This is a man whose interest in the wellbeing of the human race extends only as far as the tip of his own nose.

The final sections were on foreign policy, and this is where Clinton finally came to the fore. Trump was hopelessly outmatched in his understanding of how diplomacy, or war, or treaties are negotiated. He kept banging on about how Clinton’s experience was a disadvantage because she had “failed”, but he looked like he was floundering in a subject which she knew inside out and upside down. Again, she was very smart to let him rant. The deeper he went, the worse he sounded. By the time he got to preaching about how he had the better temperament to be president, there was an understandable titter in the crowd. He didn’t have the facts at his fingertips, and he was starting to look like somebody who’d fly into a rage if he so much as got tangled up taking off his own sweater.

Overall, I’m pleased that Clinton hit him on a few weak areas, but I also think she could have done more. It was great that she pointed out that not paying his taxes doesn’t make him “smart”, it just means that he’d not paying for the soldiers or the schools or the roads. She needed to go deeper into that. Because tax avoidance doesn’t just hurt infrastructure. It literally takes lunch away from the kids of hard-working blue collar parents. And how do you vote for someone who doesn’t think it’s his problem if your kids eat today? He actually said that he did unethical stuff because the law allowed him to. How do you vote for someone who would let your kids starve if the law allowed him to? Why on earth do you think he would change that law?

I’m pleased that she mentioned his numerous bankruptcies and his tendency not to pay people for their work. But again, she needed to go deeper. Because who are the people who suffer when a big company goes bankrupt or just generally doesn’t pay their bills? Who loses their job? Apparently it’s not the CEO. It’s the people are the bottom – again, it’s the blue collar workers. She mentioned his support for the Global Financial Crisis (something that he didn’t deny, and again boasted was “good business”) but she needed to lean into the rhetoric and draw a direct line between him and the consequences of that crisis. 30 million Americans lost their jobs. That’s one in five workers in America! And who personally profited from all that suffering? That guy. Standing over there. The one you’re thinking of voting for. Do you remember when you couldn’t afford to pay your mortgage, and couldn’t buy groceries, and had to raid money from your kids’ savings, and had your car repossessed? That guy thinks this was a good thing, just because it was good for him. Fuck that guy!

And then once she’d drawn those (very friggen obvious) lines between tax-free, creditor-avoiding Trump and 47 million Americans in poverty, she needed to follow up with exactly what she intends to do about 47 million Americans in poverty! Because, being the anti-Trump isn’t enough. Being the sensible, calm, rehearsed human being in the room doesn’t automatically qualify you to be president. She needs vision and passion, and she needs to communicate that better.

Because, in this day and age, most people really don’t care if their political leaders are lying criminals – they kind of expect it. All they care about is whether those leaders can make their lives better. Show how you can do that, and everything else goes away.

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