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i don't know what i was expecting from the candidates' debate monday night, but i'm pretty certain i wasn't expecting that. i spent a lot of time during the debate reminding myself that i was deeply biased and that i was probably just getting an exaggerated idea of how uneven things truly were. and yes, there was a lot of noise on twitter, but that's like an echo chamber, since i mostly follow people who land somewhere along the same political continuum as i do. even afterward, watching msnbc, i repeated to myself that the hosts were both liberal and pro-clinton, but, gradually, and after careful consideration, i had to admit what i had already known to be the fact: donald trump was so awful it defied belief.

howard fineman, global editorial director of the huffington post, proclaimed trump's performance to be the worst he'd ever seen, and while many will point out that hp isn't exactly an unbiased source, fineman has seen some things in the political sphere. but there's no need to take his word for it, because there has been no shortage in the last few days of republicans heading to america's national news stations to publicly headdesk.

there are lots of reasons why trump's performance could be said to be objectively terrible: he was unable to string together answers on fairly basic questions about cyber-security and nuclear armaments; many of his answers were so grammatically tortured that they bordered on word salad [something that journalists and comedians alike have skewered by reading his quotes verbatim]; he seemed to take perverse pride in the idea that he might not have paid taxes; he repeatedly made assertions about his past behaviour that were so easy to debunk one wonders if he was even conscious of what he was saying [or, as dom put it, "does he know how recording works?"]; and in one glorious trainwreck-within-trainwreck moment, he seemed to be claiming that he had done barack obama and black people in america a favour by being the public face of the birther movement.

what's truly shocking is that, if anything, trump's reaction to the debate fallout has been even worse. from doubling down on some pretty vile insults about a former miss universe [the sort of comments that will alienate college-educated, white-collar women, the group that he absolutely must win over in key states like pennsylvania] to complaining that his mic wasn't working, despite the fact that more than 80 million people heard him loud and clear to painting himself as noble for not using bill clinton's infidelities to bait hillary.

in a way, trump may have done himself a favour by calling in to fox news to defend his questionable honour in the case of the former miss universe, because talk of his always-hovering sexism has  been diverted to her and away from another fact that was floating around quite a bit in the immediate aftermath of the debate: trump interrupted secretary clinton more than fifty times during the debate. this is a man with no political experience [aside from the birther movement], who faces a serious deficit with women voters, and yet he still couldn't stop from shouting over her [often just to deny he'd said or done something, so that the rest of us could check on how many nanoseconds elapsed before someone had their hands on the proof he was lying], or from implying that he was a gentleman because he didn't bring up her husband's infidelities. so great was his confidence and so profound his disrespect for the person he was debating that he didn't even bother preparing to debate her.

she, on the other hand, spent days preparing to debate him. she ran through scenarios, did mock debates, crammed her head so full of facts that she could probably have talked for the entire 90 minutes herself without slowing down, even brought in a psychological profiler to help come up with tactics. [oh, how everyone laughed when they heard that. and oh, how little they are laughing now. the reason why clinton was so particularly devastating against trump was that she simply knew how to push his proverbial buttons. that's one of the uses of psychology people don't talk about very often.]

during the debate, during his rambling, lying responses, during the half-century of interruptions, the former secretary of state retained a kind of calm that would draw applause from a devout yogi. i got convinced that she was able to induce a sort of self-hypnosis by focusing entirely on her own blinking, because there is no way that a woman that smart and that experienced would have been able to stomach the thought of this orange buffoon being her equal. she smiled fairly often [for which she was criticized by bush speechwriter david frum, the guy who invented the phrase "axis of evil" to goad people into supporting a war in iraq, as opposed to in an earlier town hall event where she was criticized by republican national chairman reince priebus for not smiling enough]. she didn't roll her eyes like al gore, or get impatient with his ignorance like barack obama did with mitt romney, or make faces and interject the way that trump was doing to her.

and some of those who have commented on the debate have noted that she handled herself that way not just because it was classy or calm, but because, if she'd handled herself any other way, she'd have been eaten alive. even telling trump that he lived in his own world was slipping dangerously close to "offensive" territory. as this piece notes, it's a situation that's all too familiar to a lot of women in the workplace. the standards are different for the ladies. no matter how much of a bully, how much of an ignoramus, or how much of a liar you're up against, you can't really fight back. you have to demure and nod and go about things politely, in ways that men just don't. and then, a lot of the time, you get to have people like donald trump equate that sort of behaviour with weakness, with being "a loser". what is trump's bizarre fixation with hillary clinton's health and stamina if not a desperate attempt to paint her as frail and ineffective in comparison with his boisterousness? and yet she's criticized for shouting if she raises her voice at a rally.

the fact that trump felt that hillary clinton was unkind to him, that he'd done her a favour by not using her husband's philandering to build his case against her, is indicative, more than anything, of the fact that he is incapable seeing the double standard that is applied. she hit him repeatedly with actual statements that he'd made. she engaged in some speculation about his reasons for not releasing his tax returns. and we're supposed to believe that the proper response to this is to do whatever it takes to humiliate and hurt this woman. that's fair game.

trump hasn't exactly shied away from taking personal shots at his male rivals, but not one of them was ever expected to stand there and just take the abuse. when he has gone after the wives of his opponents [most notably heidi cruz], the media has made no secret of its disgust. but i don't hear any of that disgust now. because hillary is a candidate, not a political wife, everything is fair game. sure, there are voices that say bringing bill clinton's affairs into the debates could backfire as a strategy [and remember, trump literally tried to bring one of the women with whom bill clinton had an affair as a guest to the debate on monday]. but there aren't any media voices that are digging in and looking at what these threats say about the mindset of the candidate and, one presumes, the people running his campaign.

well, there is one voice.

i realise that not everyone enjoys msnbc's monday- thursday "irish block" of evening programming. i do. i know that their focus is narrow, i know that they are part of the mainstream media and i know that they are beholden to corporate owners. but in an age where news is about splashy visuals and breaking news, i like the fact that the hosts are generally allowed to go at their own pace, have their own personalities and to speak without getting hung up on moving to the next segment.

last night, laurence o'donnell, who hosts their 10-11 show "the last word" opened his show with what was expected to be a 6-7 minute monologue. it ended up running nearly 20 minutes, but i'm guessing that not a lot of people noticed until it was over. he's an engaging speaker, to be sure [and a good writer- he worked on the first few seasons of the west wing] and his charming, lightly humorous interpretation of hillary vs donald as the class president vs the class clown is easy to listen to. and then the monologue took a turn, one that left me feeling like i'd been punched in the chest. that's all i'm going to say about it, because i hope that you'll take the time to watch it. view video. [i apologise, but i could not get the embed function to work and it's two in the morning.]

and there, my friends, is the rotten core behind the orange hide and behind many of the faces who support him. the debates and the campaign will continue to unfold and, if trump gets desperate, there's no telling what he'll become willing to do. but rest assured that, whatever he does, whatever he's allowed to get away with, it will be predicated on that one idea.

p.s. :: i shied away from posting both the o'donnell video and the linked article above earlier on my personal facebook page, because every time i post something with a feminist lean on either facebook or twitter, it amounts to chumming the waters. i don't get that sort of reaction for other political posts, but pretty much every post about women unleashes an epic shit-storm. it's not that there are a lot of people who respond with vitriol, but they tend to respond passionately and become enraged if i question them. instead, i posted something to the effect that i had intended to post something that was a little feminist, but didn't feel up to the torrent of rage it was likely to unleash, even if my only reaction was to delete the posts. a lot of people encouraged me to do so anyway, all of them people who've never made my life difficult in any way... so if you're reading this and you're one of the people who encouraged me, thank you very much.


L.P. said…
Thanks for this excellent post, well said. This entire election feels like a slow-motion nightmare, and I thought American politics reached a low point at the re-election of George W. Bush. You hit the nail on the head when you said that Hillary is not allowed to fight back, no matter how insane the level of vitriol gets. I've never been a big admirer of politicians--the job is an ugly one--but I'm astonished at her courage to get up there and take it, year after year. And the misogyny isn't going to stop once she's elected, either.
Subway Dreaming said…
Thanks for posting that excellent video!

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