Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

In Microcosm

Hillary Clinton showed me something at last night’s second presidential-candidate debate.

Those who see me on Facebook will know that last night, I couldn’t bear to watch it, because I knew what it was going to be like and frankly I needed to see the debate a little bit at a time because two hours of the likely circus atmosphere was going to be just a bit much. So my FB friends chimed in on my news feed, and I got the sense of it, and it was probably better.

And today, as I suspected would need to happen, I did listen to bits and pieces of it.

My God.

The transcript wasn’t a lot better, in terms of stomach-clenching. If anything, Donald Trump’s attempts at putting paragraphs together came off worse in print. It gave a reader an opportunity to actually see how incoherent a lot of it was – not incoherent as in “that policy doesn’t hold up under scrutiny”, but incoherent as in “that sentence started out being about one thing and literally seven words later it was about a totally different topic”, such that if you were listening rather than reading you might not be able to remember what in the hell the original question was.

That’s not what really struck me though. Because if you listen to any segments of Trump rallies or even his prepared remarks read (mostly) off teleprompters, this is not new territory.

 

There was a small moment, curiously separate from the standard stream-of-consciousness barrage that Trump is famous for.

DONALD TRUMP: And I’ll tell you what, I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it. And we’re going to have a special prosecutor.

When I speak, I go out and speak, the people of this country are furious. In my opinion, the people that have been long-term workers at the FBI are furious. There has never been anything like this where e-mails and you get a subpoena – you get a subpoena and after getting the subpoena, you delete 33,000 e-mails. And then you acid wash them or bleach them, as you would say – a very expensive process. So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it. Because you know what? People have been – their lives have been destroyed for doing one fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

MARTHA RADDATZ, MODERATOR: Secretary Clinton, I want to follow up on that. I’m going to let you talk about it –

CLINTON: Everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised. In the first debate –

RADDATZ: The audience is to [calm] down here.

CLINTON: I told people that will be impossible to be fact checking Donald all the time. I’d never get talk about anything I want to do and how we’re going to really make lives better for people. So once again, go to HillaryClinton.com. We have ‘Literally Trump’. You can fact check him in real-time. Last time, this debate, we had millions of people fact checking. So I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking because, you know, it is — it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

He uttered that last with such an air of “seventh-grader muttering under his breath at a teacher who wasn’t letting him get away with something” and simultaneously with such breathtakingly casual malice that it caught me up short. One news outlet later described this moment by saying “Trump implied that as president, he would investigate and possibly imprison Hillary Clinton.” To coin a phrase, wrong. Or rather, that’s not all it was. That was no implication. That was a threat. I will take away your freedom if I get the chance. Because I can.

 

Not long afterward, Mrs. Clinton strolled toward the edge of the stage, the better to get closer to an audience member who had asked a question of her, and to engage with him directly … and the camera angle switched from a single shot of Clinton to a two-shot of the two candidates, each facing to the viewers’ left, each seen in profile, and again I caught my breath.

Trump moved slowly but purposefully to stand not four feet directly behind her. His scowl was stony. He seemed to be staring directly at the back of her head. He was too close, too towering, too physically focused (as compared to his attention-deficit pacing and fidgeting in most of the rest of the two debate nights), and the word sprang to my mind, unbidden: malevolence.

The camera switched to a two-shot that showed their faces, and nothing about my initial impression of the scene changed a bit. Clinton was focused on offering an answer to a question; and she’d managed to turn her back on a seething, angry predator. I’ve seen movies in which the unsuspecting victim never saw the attack coming. In this case, I’m sure she knew exactly where Trump was, and she’s had at least 25 years of practice in national politics knowing exactly where everyone is, and exactly where the next attack is coming from. I wasn’t worried that she’d stumbled into a remake of “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But it was a genuinely unnerving moment.

 

Finally, even though it was my understanding that debates are not just shouting matches, but are meant to be back-and-forth discussions that have a certain courtly rhythm and structure to them, which usually includes one debater making a point and then the other debater challenging that assertion with a logical counter-argument

ANDERSON COOPER, MODERATOR: Secretary Clinton. I want you to be able to respond, Secretary Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years. Starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?

COOPER: Allow her to respond.

CLINTON: Because I was senator with a Republican president. I’ll will be the president who will get it done.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.

COOPER: Please allow her to respond. She didn’t interrupt you.

CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, thirty years this and thirty years that. So let me talk about my thirty years in public service …

Every so often, two impassioned speakers crosstalk over each other to try and emphasis or refute a point, or because they just want to sneak that one extra sentence in if they can. It has happened in presidential debates before.

But not constantly, over the course of entire debates, to the point that a pair of moderators have to become middle-school teachers in their dogged determination to teach and re-teach the rules.

It occurred to me that what Mrs. Clinton was facing – aside from obviously not a traditional debate opponent – is describable as not so much a tsunami, or a fire-hose, or a sustained gale-force wind, but as a tennis-ball machine. Turn it on and it spews one top-speed tennis ball after another after another after another at you, without regard for your welfare, without concern for a quick breather, without particular interest in you at all.

As I was watching all of this, I realized that, in her shoes, I would have been hard-pressed to avoid lashing out at him … hard-pressed to not to lose my temper … hard-pressed to avoid explaining, in a quiet tone of voice that nonetheless contained sharpened steel, that *in no way* is that acceptable behavior, and that you need to *stop* what you are doing and *sit* down and if it happens again you will earn a *brisk* frog-march down the hall to the assistant principal’s office where his years of military service will continue to adjust your outlook.

In short, the middle-school teacher in me rose up mightily.

 

There are pressure situations all the time when you’re President.

There are people – foreign leaders, domestic political opponents, White House correspondents, even hecklers (“you lie!”) – who will feel it’s their business, their duty, their God-given right to try to get under your skin.

And yes, there are people with whom a President must deal who are very much like Trump, or at least a portion of him, if not the whole spectacular dumpster-fire of a package.

Through four hours of one-on-one debate, I have not seen Mrs. Clinton come across as anything but unflappable … doggedly determined not to be steamrolled while still remaining civil … mostly calm and collected in the face of (it’s safe to say) unprecedented oratorical obstacles.

There are other reasons why I would prefer to see Mrs. Clinton in the White House than Mr. Trump. (And, you’ll please recall, I was a Bernie Sanders guy when this whole thing began.)

One big Other Reason is that … please, spare me the hair-on-fire, uninformed, frankly ludicrous arguments that “she’s just as corrupt, just as flawed, just as evil as he is!” … because objectively, quantitatively, in a “compare the number of American subsets he’s insulted to the number that she’s insulted” way … Donald Trump is at least a spectacularly undisciplined person, and Hillary Clinton has demonstrated that she is not.

When the time comes to sit down and work out an agreement that gets everyone at least something that they wanted to begin with (which is the working definition of negotiation and compromise), do you want somebody running the meeting who’s only obsessed with whether he’s being treated in a nasty way?

When the time comes to talk some twitchy foreign leader out of doing something everyone will regret later, do you want someone who can’t even calm himself down?

When the big emergency happens, do you want a first responder who flails and panics and blames?

Those two debates have included moments of microcosm, in a way.

I think it is not hyperbole to suggest: if you can not only survive but thrive in verbal combat with someone like Donald Trump … never stoop to his level … and finish the evening having successfully resisted the urge to punch him in the nose with everything you’ve got

You might have what it takes to be President.

 

Twenty-nine days.

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October 10, 2016 - Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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