Special Edition in honor of Howard Beale
It looks like Trump did well enough (or Hillary did poorly enough) in Sunday’s debate that the RNC is unlikely to pursue replacing The Donald, whose wrath I’m guessing they’re struggling to neutralize at this juncture with both Senate and House majorities now at stake. So, it’s time for us looky-loos to sit back and wait for the next political IED to explode. Conventional wisdom and insider speculation hold that there will be October surprises from both camps, but I’m wondering if it even matters at this point.
Trump has become so adept at lowering the bar for himself AND WHAT TENS OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS ARE NOW AND WILL HENCEFORTH BE WILLING TO ACCEPT IN A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE that I think, on Sunday, he could have dropped his pants, mooned the cameras, and dropped a load on Martha Raddatz’s notes with the end result being, after a 24-hour news cycle of shock and awe, a 5% spike in his poll numbers.
I know, I know. Nate Silver and every other pollster says Hillary’s gonna win big, but to me that’s not even the issue anymore. Her campaign, the press, the GOP, and, for that matter, every nationally-elected official with an ounce of self-respect, should have gone for the kill after last Friday’s revelations — but they didn’t. Sure, a few panicky Republicans like McCain finally did what their consciences told them they should have done months earlier, but even these celebrated reactions were largely motivated by the saving of political skin, not by true moral outrage, and certainly not by true moral courage.
And then there’s Hillary. Not only did she fail to go for the throat in the opening minutes during her wide-open window of opportunity, she let Trump, abetted by his four plants in the peanut gallery, run the very conversation the nation had tuned in to watch, a conversation he swiftly and summarily shut down with a highlight reel of his Friday night “apology,” featuring the lame throwaway about “locker room talk” and an allusion to Bill’s “much worse” sexual abuses. (Sorry, Donald, there’s no moral equivalency here; Bill’s not running for office, you are.)
At the outset of the debate, Hillary broke with protocol and made a quiet but courageous statement by tactfully refusing to shake Trump’s hand. But by grabbing it in a perfunctory act of mock civility at the end — after he had threatened, Gestapo-style, in front of sixty-five-million Americans, to set the wheels in motion to lock her up the minute he set foot in the Oval Office — she effectively trivialized the preceding ninety minutes, turning them into business as usual, no big whoop. Worse, her acquiescence granted her opponent license to strut off with a self-satisfied smile, no doubt having convinced himself and countless viewers that it had been his political acumen, moral righteousness, and personal charm that had brought her around.
According to the pundits, Hillary may have “won” Debate Number Two, despite the subterranean expectations of her rival. But with an opponent like Trump, whose very presence on the national stage debases the office of the presidency and subjects our democracy to global ridicule, decisions or even TKOs are of no consequence. I’m holding back, perhaps like Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot,” for the knockout punch I fear may never be delivered — even with a resounding Clinton victory in four weeks — that would at once expose his truest of colors, bring a shudder even to his faithful, and make America great again, the way it was before June 16, 2015, the date on which Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy.
© 2016 Ron Dulaney