Neither side won.
The United States lost.
We all lost – all those of us who tuned in and sat through it and cringed and spat and fumed and wondered why we were bothering, and above all what it said about us.
And I don’t even have to explain what the subject is.
There were no surprises last night.
True to form, Trump did all the thrusting – le mot juste, I think – while Clinton did all the parrying. That will lead many viewers to conclude that, because his opponent was forever on the defensive, Trump won. She could hardly be other than on the defensive in the face of repeated accusations that she is a liar, a cheat, a bully and a lifelong incompetent. Oh, and also, if a President Trump (I can barely bring myself to link the words) has his way, a convicted criminal. How do you effectively counter the kind of sneering assaults and snide asides that Trump delivers in a debate, as he does in all of his public appearances. Clinton can’t, for one. But who could? The only response can be to stick with an agenda, try to answer the questions from the audience or moderators, and let Trump’s puerile nonsense hang in the air like a cloud of toxic ectoplasm, in the hope that viewers will recognise it for what it is.
It isn’t much of a strategy, I admit, and may not qualify as a tactic, but reticence is better than trying to match insults with a fool. Clinton made a reasonable pass at it, but as a debater she is hardly Lincolnesque, even if she did cleverly evoke Steven Spielberg’s film of Abe’s wily campaign to steer the 13th amendment through Congress.
In support of the above thesis, the less Clinton said last night the more Trump looked like a chump, and on that basis she probably said too much. If the debate is to be judged on substance she won hands down, as she did the first time round. Unfortunately for her, as for the rest of use, nothing about this so-called campaign has much to do with issues.
I’m not sure what it is about. For Trump, ‘personal hate’ is the only phrase that springs to mind. Trump loathes the Clintons, and has made no bones about it. No man would say what he has said without some deep-seated animus. He hates them personally far more than he hates what they stand for politically, and if he can’t say as much right now, some day he’ll be writing a memoir or two.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, it’s also remotely possible that he actually believes the gibberish that pours from his mouth. Well, he has to pretend to believe in something in a presidential election campaign, if only for the sake of appearances. And who knows, he may honestly have come or been led to believe that he can occupy the White House. Perhaps even work with Congress to fashion some form of legislation from his puerile wish list. And he has no doubt, not a scintilla of doubt, that he is a statesman in the wings, waiting to take centre stage to master Putin and all other looming threats to world stability, starting with ISIL. In all this, he is of course seriously delusional. But in this man reality and delusion are closely aligned, and sometimes inseparable. As Clinton has said more than once, Trump occupies his own private universe.
My lingering suspicion, which is from someone who usually dismisses conspiracy theories as the work of publicity-chasers and madmen, is that he has an alternative agenda, one that has nothing to do with conviction or politics and everything to do with the business of show business. Trump has spent the last year generating that most precious of show-biz assets, publicity. He is now, as he would put it, an A-list celebrity. I would say so, in the same way that Kim Kardashian is an A-list celebrity.
He can lose the election next month – and perhaps even hopes to lose the election – and then launch a new career as a television pundit, or as a talk-show host, or as an impresario. He can go into business with his friend, the obnoxious Sean Hannity, who spits bile into the airwaves from the ‘anchor’ seat on his own show every night (or perhaps it is only once a week, and just feels like every night). And Hannity would be the man to ghost Trump’s memoirs.
Mrs Trump – who I’m sure her husband won’t mind me calling ‘Pussy’ – insists that he wants to win. But then what does she know? Not much, I’m guessing, unless Trump’s view of women – let’s not bother to pause for an adjective – stops short of his own front door. Then again, it doesn’t seem to stop at his daughter’s front door.
If I sound as if I’m engaging in a little hate myself, I apologise. I’m no champion of Hillary Clinton, but Trump has invested so much inarticulate ignorance into this affair that I’m beyond reasoned discourse, and baffled that the polls are still predicting a close-run race.
Two debates down, one to go. But since the chances are that the next one will be no different from its predecessors in its essential mindless brutishness, why bother to watch?
The reason is obvious. We, the American voters, are like the mob at the Coliseum. We want to watch the spectacle of a fight to the death. We want to see lots of gore. We want, above all, to see a kill. It doesn’t matter who is fighting whom. The contestants were always expendable, and these two are hardly gladiators.
Come to think of it, I’m hard put to say which of the two contests is the more demeaning, Roman or American.