Last night’s debate between centrist plutocrat Hillary Clinton and (in comedian John Mulaney’s nice phrase) amateur-night pimp Donald Trump wasn’t particularly instructive, but it certainly seems to have thrown a significant portion of the populace into a tizzy.
The ‘town hall’ format, allowing as it did for hooting orangutans and moronic questions from the vox pop, was feared to favor Trump, but it was apparent from the very first moment of the debate — which featured a question about whether the candidates were presenting a proper image to America’s children, as if the political process were a Saturday morning cartoon for which they were violating standards and practices — that this was a mere entertainment for the intellectually disabled, and that no advantage would be imparted either way because no advantage was possible. Trump went on to do what he did and Clinton went on to do what she did, and the entire proceeding did nothing but further entrench the positions of the already-decided.
This excludes me, since, while I’ve never for a second considered voting for spoiled egg-man/patent medicine huckster Trump, I’m still not sure what to do come election day given my opposition to a significant percentage of Clinton’s political beliefs and policies. There was not even a scintilla of genuine leftist content to be heard from either candidate last night, so voting for Clinton on the issues is still not a possibility; and while I’m still sufficiently brainwashed by civic religion to think that there’s something unsavory about simply not voting, all the moral posturing by liberals that a third party vote is tantamount to treason hasn’t convinced me that I’m not better off just writing in Bernie Sanders, particularly since I live in a state that has literally no chance of going for Trump.
Upholding the bogus narrative that every vote matters, and that each of those oh-so-significant votes that doesn’t go to Clinton is in fact a vote for Trump, means that Democrats must constantly maintain the illusion that the Republican candidate is something unprecedentedly new and dark under the American sun, a fearsome combination of Hitler, Stalin, and the collective voices of 4chan. That he is merely a rinky-dink egomaniac who blustered his way to the top of a party that has lacked a coherent ideology or perspective beyond ‘give us the money’ just won’t d0; that his platform, such as it is, is a formless mish-mash of the same racist pogey-bait, capitalist hegemony, and protectionist blather that we got from Goldwater, Reagan, Buchanan, and Romney — to name just a few — won’t sufficiently galvanize the electorate into overcoming their understandable qualms about Clinton’s deeply status-quo politics. He must be a monster from the depths to make her look good; if he’s not an existential threat, it might seem like, as polls have indicated since the very beginning, that he’s no threat at all.
Certainly Trump is doing his best to fill the role; the grubby-tongued casino magnate is nothing if not game. His platform, which isn’t much of a divergence of the one put forth by Richard Nixon in 1968, may not scare people that much, especially if they don’t remember history, but his personal behavior is enough to put even leftists off their lunch. Trump is a bad entertainer who salvaged his reputation through entertainment, a failed businessman who runs on his business acumen, and a blowhard who poses as a brawler despite having the skin of an onion; but he’s always willing to play the part of a monster if it gets him enough hoots from the audience. Compared to, say, Ronald Reagan, he is not a gifted liar; he lacks the subtlety to obfuscate his own untruths with flak-bursts of context, and he lacks the finesse to couch them, in Nixonian fashion, in the language of patriotism, duty, and higher calling. So he simply blats out flat denials like a schoolboy, hoping sheer volume will keep us from noticing that he claims not to have said and done things we all know he said and did.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it. Nor, repulsive as it is, are the recent revelation that he bragged about sexually assaulting women (“No I didn’t”) in terms that would embarrass most actual locker rooms; while it set off the creep detectors in every woman in America when he tried to mitigate his behavior by suggesting that as long as al-Q’aeda is beheading people overseas, there’s no reason to get on his case for groping women against their will, we need more than that. His polling numbers, never even close to threatening, are now scraping the lower parts of the toilet. Liberals need Donald Trump to be a dragon, a vampire, a man liable to launch a thermonuclear holocaust an hour after taking his oath of office; showing himself as a run-of-the-mill rich asshole who makes things up and treats women like garbage isn’t going to work when the electorate is starting to demand that the party of the left actually start proposing some leftist ideas.
As Hillary Clinton proved last night time and time again, her ideas are a lukewarm offering of uninspired choices from the neoliberal cafeteria. She had ample opportunities during this campaign and in Sunday’s debate to distinguish herself by putting forward genuinely progressive ideas, and instead — on the environment, on Syria, on health care, on foreign policy, on financial regulation, on the war on terror, on national security, on free trade, on immigration — she coughed up the same old center-right pro-corporate agenda that we’ve gotten from the Democrats since her husband was in office. Every year, the voters demand something new, and every year, the liberal party gives us something old. Clinton represents the least inspiring, most compromised candidate yet from the new Democratic Party, and the fact that she’s struggling so much against the least likable Republican nominee in American history ought to terrify anyone who’s still proud to be a liberal. The strategy of the party since the 1990s has been to rely on the increasingly tawdry nature of the opposition, but if Trump truly represents rock bottom, what will they say in 2020 if they can’t produce a candidate with more going for them than ‘not a Republican’?
Someday soon, Hillary Clinton is going to have to stop campaigning. Every indication is that the process will end with her being elected President, and then, she’ll have to stop calling attention to the obvious deficiencies of that waste of human potential, Donald Trump. She’ll have to actually start governing the country. And if the answers she gave during last night’s debate are indicative of how she plans to do that, we should all be prepared for a rough four years ahead.