The Pot Boils Over
Like many Americans (and a few international observers… you know who you are), I watched the Presidential debates last week. Afterwards I had the same reaction many people did…I breathed an audible sigh thanking the heavens that it was over.
The truth of the matter is that I rushed home to see the debate expecting a train wreck. I, like most people, should not have been surprised that a train wreck actually happened.
The combatants were sent to the corners… the Orange Man stage left and the Beige Man stage right.
One major takeaway, that was essentially an unforced error on the part of the President, came when Chris Wallace asked Vice President Biden if he would be willing to “pack” the Supreme Court if he were elected. Vice President Biden issued forth a bizarre answer (one he has repeatedly articulated since Justice Ginsberg’s death)… that he would not say one way or the other. With the arguably just as bizarre explanation that to do so would make his views a centerpiece in the media.
Now, the appropriate response from President Trump would have been something like this: “So let me get this straight, Joe… you will not give your position on an issue of national import because you don’t want to be criticized for it until after you have been elected. Then you will be willing to go public with your views. Essentially… vote for me… I have a secret, and you will only learn my secret if I get elected… this is the same reasoning that Speaker Pelosi gave when she said you need to vote for Obamacare then you can see what is in it.”
He did not exactly do that. Instead, the entire evolution fell apart into a series of name calling and petty schoolyard jabs on both sides.
Yet… and this is important… that may have been the actual intent.
One of my criticisms of President Trump is his manner of speaking very ummm… “un-presidential”. But, then again, President Trump is not speaking to me now is he? He is speaking to those who have always wanted to tear off the veneer and say it like it is. Bypass the formalistic hum drum and show the audience the old man behind the curtain who claims to be the wizard.
Republicans have always had a jilted love affair with the media, as well as the establishment infrastructure. Essentially, they were happy to be Jiminy Cricket of the Political Industrial Complex, a voice of concern, but essentially powerless to stop the ship of State. Their major goal was being respected and liked by those in the seats of power. Their Holy Grail: Adulation by the Press.
Senator McCain yearned for this. Senator Romney still does.
The problem… most people find this behavior utterly unsatisfactory. The China Shop does not need an auditor… it needs a bull. (This, incidentally, has been one of the chief motivating factors in many of the supporters of Senator Sanders.)
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In 1972, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets produced a chess champion named Boris Spassky. He was to meet Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik for the first of a multi-city chess match. Spassky had studied Fischer and knew his methods and his foibles. Fischer entered the match acting irrationally, intentionally making mistakes. His behavior was odd and abusive. This behavior continued into the next match, then switched completely by the third. By the fourth match Fischer was playing an entirely different game than Spassky had ever seen.
Devastated by the unpredictable nature of Fischer, Spassky eventually forfeited and left Fischer the ultimate winner. Spassky had been playing a single game of chess… Fischer saw the entire tournament as the match… and played Spassky perfectly.
I do not believe President Trump was simply looking to attack Vice President Biden. (Though, truth be told, I think he does in fact have a very low opinion of him.) Rather, I believe that President Trump did something that, to my knowledge, no other politician has ever done in a debate… he became a proxy.
President Donald Trump essentially bypassed the media. He knew the media would not hold the Vice President’s feet to the fire. They would ask the question and politely accept the answer, regardless of how disingenuous the answer was. President Trump had decided that he was essentially going to play the role of the angry constituent at the Town Hall, calling out the politician for… well… being a politician.
To those of us who look for high-brow political discourse, the slugfest was an embarrassment. The President interrupting his challenger, and the challenger calling the President a “clown”.
Yet… to the masses who have grown disgusted and annoyed with the scripted predictability, the genial “niceties” and the slovenly begging by Republicans for media approval, this was EXACTLY what they wanted.
President Trump essentially became the town’s boy exclaiming, “The emperor has no clothes!”
President Lincoln once gave an admonition to a younger politician, “Speak to the common man. They will understand you, and those above them will have the intelligence to understand what you are doing.” 150 years later I would offer this addendum: Those who fail to understand your actions or your words may have a vested interest in your failure.