For the 2016 debates, I personally watched them live with a chocolate milkshake (my comfort food) while Skyping a long-distance friend who was watching on his end. I wrote quick generalized reactions after each one had concluded. Then I went back several months later and rewatched these debates, laying out my thoughts more exhaustively as I did so. My initial impressions mostly did not change–even at first glance, I thought Hillary had failed to definitively put Trump down, and I was wondering WTF the media as well as my friends were talking about as they treated these like a Hillary blowout. I would like to share my controversial opinion on why I believe Trump was actually more effective than most gave him credit for. Of course, this doesn’t mean I support Trump or his policies, just that we should acknowledge facts don’t always sway voters and Democrats need to be honest about the opponent we face going forward to 2020.
This particular cycle of debate reactions are not written in the same style as the others which came from previous cycles; rather than a paragraph by paragraph analysis these are mostly bullet points of my thoughts in real time as I watched. I also made a point in the other debates to whitewash my personal feelings to an extent and be at least somewhat objective. I certainly didn’t hesitate to say when a candidate made a bad rhetorical/oratory misstep or looked foolish, but I did not let myself get nastier than warranted. (At least, that’s what I was striving for anyway.) I make no such promises for the 2016 series; my revulsion with both candidates after that long, shameful, acrimonious election was too great to hold back. In short, these posts about the 2016 debates are going to be a lot more raw, unfiltered and visceral than what came before.
Quick disclaimer: I personally loathe both 2016 candidates here with a burning passion, but for different reasons.
I thought Hillary was both a neocon (aggressive military adventurism in her Senate and Secretary of State record, No Fly Zone in Syria, etc) and a neoliberal (supply side economics, free trade, corporate welfare, expand fracking, etc) both of which are ideologies I cannot stand. I did not like her underhanded attacks against Bernie in the primaries–saying he “has to work on his tone” (after he admirably refused to weaponize her emails) and saying Bernie cared more about guns than the Sandy Hook families because he didn’t support their lawsuit against gun manufacturers (should we sue car manufacturers over drunk driving next?). The latter is seriously one of the most underhanded political attacks I’ve ever heard, right up there with the slander against McCain’s adopted daughter in 2000. Her answer to any nuanced, multi-faceted societal problem, anything that requires a human touch or persuasive, forceful personality, was to have the government outlaw it. (This included guns, video games, plus after the election she wanted government to censor “fake news” which would have had terrible ramifications.)
What’s more, I did not trust Hillary to follow through on the few good things she promised, since she was late to every other progressive issue in her entire career. Not to mention her campaign logo was a refined throwback to Goldwater’s red arrow pointing right from ’64, her slogan (“I’m with her”) was pure egoism, and she openly said in a speech “you have to have a private and public policy.” Finally, I found Hillary personally unlikable and untrustworthy. While the diehard Democrats tried to dismiss the email scandal as a “nothingburger” I looked into it for myself and found the circumstances pretty damning.
Speaking of Hillary’s more hardcore apologists, I was an active observer and commentator on the entire election as it was happening in 2016, and I have to say her supporters tended to be the most obnoxious to me personally. If I even dared to criticize a strategic move of her campaign, they’d call me stupid, sexist, or ask condescendingly “is this your first election?” If I dared concede Trump made a strategically sound move, they’d call me a bigot/nazi/racist/etc. If I acknowledged the third parties even existed, they’d bully me to not even think of voting for them, say they’d blame me if I did so and Trump won, etc. I saw this attitude across platforms, from Facebook to Reddit to IMDb (yes, the election penetrated those forums too.) It was insufferable and turned off any residual support for the party I may have otherwise had that year.
I think the Democratic party bigwigs ought to have barred Hillary from running with so many scandals looming over her head; if running a candidate under active FBI investigation isn’t certifiable political malpractice, I don’t know what is. I really don’t know what the Democrats were thinking, and the only conclusion I could come to was that they were corrupted/bought by the Clinton machine–the later revelations with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazaile seemed to confirm this. Ultimately, Hillary Clinton doomed the progressive cause, which finally had such a great champion with Bernie (now the most popular politician in America) because she egotistically wanted to be President for the sake of her own ego. She put her ambition and pride ahead of any higher ideals, ran a risky campaign against a dangerous opponent and blew it. She played Russian roulette with our country’s future and lost–and if you think that’s too harsh, read about her campaign’s pied piper strategy. She had a big hand in creating the Trump phenomenon. Losing to him was poetic justice, like a real life tragedy of Frankenstein, and would have been absolutely hilarious if the rest of us did not have to suffer as a result. What removes the possibility of me feeling sorry for her considering the loss is the fact that, after the election, she and Bill went out of their way to shut out Bernie and his supporters from positions of power within the party. (According to Shattered, anyway.)
[Hillary’s pathetic blame-deflecting book and later criticisms of Bernie out of nowhere in the 2020 cycle are further proof of what a selfish person she is. She lost, can’t accept why and lashes out against a poor old man just trying to carry on a cause he believes in. She’s such a bitter, spiteful old woman who just can’t let it go that no one wants her to be President. Her actions since 2016 are just plain mean-spirited, to the point of being indefensible at this point.]
You might not believe this, some of you, but I actually gave Trump a lot of leeway and benefit of the doubt in the Republican primaries. Partly this was because I just plain enjoyed watching someone, anyone, publicly tear a Bush and Ted Cruz (who was making LGBTs his public enemy #1) a new asshole. It felt cathartic after all the damage the Bush family and the obstructionist TEA Party wing (which Ted embodies) has wrought on our country. He actually briefly came out in support of transgender rights, and defended Planned Parenthood at one of the debates as well, which made me believe for a brief moment that he might at least be reasonable on social issues. Trumo had supported universal healthcare as well as the scaling back of our foreign involvement consistently since the ’80s. Of course, these all turned out to be among his many flip flops and now that Trump’s in power he has greatly harmed the well-being of us all to an inexcusable degree.
It was when Trump cancelled his appearance at the Iowa debate and flipped the entire news cycle onto himself that first got me interested in his campaign strategically, and from there he seemed to be five steps ahead of the others. At the time, I read Scott Adams’ blog and watched several videos analyzing Trump’s debate and campaign strategy. I was briefly convinced Trump was playing a more advanced game than we were giving him credit for. (The “3D chess while everyone else is playing checkers” meme.) This interest subsided after the general began, and Trump started to make several unforced errors. (Promising to debate Bernie and then chickening out for one.) I was even seriously convinced for a minute that Trump was trying to throw the race for Hillary–they were friends at one point after all, and Bill convinced Trump to run according to some sources I’d seen at the time. In any case, from the beginning I disliked Trump because of the nasty things he’s said and done about women and certain minority groups which include many of my friends. I only appreciated the strategy of his campaign back when he seemed to be masterminding the process and beating the media at their own game. Once he stopped doing even that, or proved that he’d just gotten lucky the whole time, I had nothing good to say about Trump anymore.
Besides my misgivings for his hateful rhetoric, unapologetic sexual assaults and horrible governance, I hate Trump because he blew a golden opportunity. He’s the only outsider in history to ever launch a successful insurgency of a major party and hijack it to win the election. The GOP establishment hated Trump from the start and threw every tactic they had at stopping him and he still won. He had every disadvantage imaginable in the general and won (though it turns out now this might have been because of Russian interference, at least to an extent.) Trump stumbled into a once-in-a-lifetime position that Ross Perot, (one of my top-10 favorite candidates,) and Wendell Willkie (my all-time favorite Republican candidate) among many others all tried to accomplish and did nothing with it. He could have been a non-partisan voice of reason who came in with a unique public mandate, ended the gridlock and ushered in a new wave of Jacksonian popular democracy. He achieved a silent coup which many political idealists like myself have been dying to see our entire lives and ruined it. Now, just as it was after Perot’s ’92 run, you can bet the duopoly will alter the election systems so that this never happens again. An outsider like Trump will almost certainly never get this chance to achieve power and reform our government from within again. What has Trump done with this one chance at an independent Presidency? Scapegoat transgender people as much as possible, play golf more days than not, and rant on Fox and Friends like a maniac. That alone is reason enough to dislike the man.
[Now he’s also bungled the coronavirus response to a degree which suggests malice not just stupidity. So, yeah, getting millions in danger is also another good reason to hate him. And, y’know, separating children from their parents indefinitely to keep in cages.]
I just wanted to make it clear from the get go that I had no dog in this fight. I started the 2016 election cynical and embittered due to the disappointment of the Obama presidency and the seeming inevitability of a Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton election. Once I discovered Bernie I briefly allowed myself to become excited for him, and once Trump started making interesting strategic moves in the primaries I was fascinated. I actually began the process of watching and digesting all these old debates and speeches because I wanted to better understand how we had come to this point where Trump was a viable candidate at all. It became a year long self-taught class on American political history, and provided context for my now-ongoing dissection of political philosophy. And though this noble endeavor ended up taking place against the backdrop of our sleaziest, most depressing, corrupted election of all time, I’m glad I did it anyway.
Now, on to the debates…