Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Debate #3 Reax

Some reactions to the third Presidential debate:

Andrew Sullivan:

In my view, this was easily the most decisive debate. She devastated him. He melted down. His refusal to accept the results of this election disqualifies him automatically from any office in the United States. There were several areas where he was utterly incoherent, grasping at “facts”, without any understanding of policy. His personal foulness emerged.
It seems to me he also has internalized that he has lost this election. May God save this democracy from him.
I’m going to end with a Republican president who was worthy of the office, a man who understood our democracy and whose decency now compels him to vote for Hillary Clinton. Here is George H. W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, who denied him a second term. This is America:
I'm going to guess that the instant polls will show this one close to a draw. Maybe Clinton will come out a bit ahead. Basically, they both repeated the same attacks as they did in the first two debates, and they've lost some of their zest at this point. At about the 20-minute mark, Clinton started trying to bait Trump into melting down, but he generally resisted the temptation. Every time he started to get a little animated, it was like something blinked in his brain and he dialed himself back. He would have been more dangerous if he could have (a) dialed himself back even more, and (b) done this from the start.
Bottom line: by 2016 standards, this debate was a bit of a bore. It will have no effect on the election at all. However, Trump basically threatened to do—what? Well, something, anyway, if the election doesn't go his way. This is not a normal threat for a presidential candidate to make, but luckily I doubt the election will be close enough for him to gin anything up. I also doubt that the Republican Party will back him up.
This substance of the debate came down to two things. Clinton was able to deliver a handful of stinging blows against Trump, going as far as to call a "puppet" of Vladimir Putin. This was preceded by a brutal recitation of evidence that Trump is willingly going along with a foreign power trying to interfere in a US election. Later in the debate she went after him on his very long history of saying he was cheated or contests were "rigged" when he's simply losing. These runs focused attention on Trump's most dangerous qualities. He could do little to rebut them and he was quaking with angry jabs here and there, "Such a nasty woman."
More important however were the statements Clinton and Chris Wallace provoked. The biggest one of course was his repeated refusal to accept the result of a democratic election. When Wallace first asked he said: "I will look at it at the time." When Wallace pressed him again he said: "I'll keep you in suspense, okay."
That kind of 'suspense" is precisely what makes democratic polities collapse. Vicious cycles of civic violence and violation of democratic norms have the pernicious effect of distorting and transforming the behavior of those who believe in democratic institutions. They create a setting in which it becomes rational to take steps that undermine them further. If you really don't know if your opponent will accept the result of the election, you start taking steps to guard against what happens if he doesn't. You take steps to protect yourself, your political future, maybe your safety and property. This is the death spiral of democracies.
It is hard to weigh in the balance Trump's violations of our democratic order but this was a considerably greater violation than the pledge to jail Clinton if he becomes president, though that was as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey accurately put it, "a watershed." Yet they are both parts of the same civic cancer: politics through raw power and violence, as opposed to a combat of political forces, often unruly, mediated by the rule of law and respect for democratic institutions. The universal acceptance of those core rules allows everything that is vital in politics take to place. It's really that bad.
What I find notable is that Trump not only has little respect for our democratic institutions, his mindset and worldview makes it impossible for him to answer that question in a truly democratic, American way. For Trump, life is deal making and power plays. It's dominance. Who negotiates with himself? Sure, I'll probably accept the results but let me keep you guessing. Like anyone who deals in zero-sum adversary negotiations and operates in a mental world of dominance, the answer makes perfect sense. Why should I show you my cards when I don't have to? But of course, in a democracy, under the rule of law, there are lines we never try to resist. We all genuflect at the altar of elections. Because of his primitive mentality and his indifference to democratic government this was impossible for him to see.
I suspect many among his core supporters will thrill to his defiance. But again, those people don't amount to nearly enough votes to win the election. From the very start of the general election campaign the biggest liability Trump has carried is the perception that he lacks the temperament, emotional stability and judgment to be president. He confirmed that a thousand times over tonight.

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