There's a meme going around, a diptych comprised of two gifs; Donald Trump allegedly mocking a disabled reporter on the right, Hillary Clinton allegedly suffering a seizure on the left. It's pretty damned creepy, and to me, perfectly sums up the hideous circus sideshow that is the current presidential election cycle. Stare at it too long and your head will explode.
I use “allegedly” because the truth is, the reporter Trump was allegedly mocking doesn't suffer from the sort of erratic limb movements Trump was aping. No one knows if the several instances where Clinton's erratic head and eye movements were caught on video point to some underlying neurological disorder. Yet like the meme, we're caught in an endlessly repeating loop, defined and confined by our own partisan narratives.
Tonight we're offered an opportunity to break out of those narratives—or reinforce them—when Trump and Clinton showdown in the first of three scheduled presidential debates. A record-setting 100 million people are expected to tune in to the 6 p.m. to 7:30 pm PST event, which will be moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, broadcast on all the major news networks and live-streamed on social media including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Despite the fact that I'm on the record supporting Trump's unorthodox populist campaign tactics, especially his attacks on political correctness, he hasn't earned my vote yet. I”m not affiliated with any party, but if I had to state my allegiance, I'd say I was a butt-hurt Bernie Sanders supporter firmly entrenched in the “Never Hillary” camp. My vote is still up for grabs.
While Lester Holt is best known for having replaced disgraced fabulist Brian Williams behind the anchor desk of NBC's flagship news program, I'm more familiar with his work on the true crime program Dateline on ID. If true to form, he should bring some much-needed objectivity to the three topics that will be debated during the 90-minute, commercial-free broadcast: “America's Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.”
As much as the mainstream media despises Trump, he himself couldn't have written a more favorable script for the first debate. All three topics play to his overarching theme that America is in decline and that only a drastic remedy, namely, voting for a bombastic billionaire blowhard such as himself, can make America great again.
Is America headed in the right direction? For the past year-and-a-half, Trump has made a strong case it isn't, from failing to protect its own borders, to selling out its manufacturing base via unfavorable international trade deals, to its senseless military interventions in the Middle East. If current polls indicating Trump has pulled even with Clinton in national polls are correct, he's convinced half the electorate America has run astray.
Can Clinton -- who has promised amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, who supported NAFTA and only recently came out against the TPP, who is arguably the primary architect of NATO's disastrous intervention in Libya -- counter Trump's argument? Or will she, as usual, resort to calling Trump a nationalistic racist xenophobe who would be literally Hitler if she hadn't already bestowed that title upon Russian President Vladimir Putin?
“Achieving Prosperity” could prove to be an even more problematic section for Clinton, since as the incumbent party candidate she has to run on outgoing President Barack Obama's economic record, which is mixed at best. It's true that some sectors of the economy have recovered nicely since the Great Recession Obama inherited, including finance and technology. It's also true that the labor force participation rate is at its lowest point since the 1970s. African Americans have fared poorly, as have working class rural whites, and everywhere the rent's still too damned high. Clinton will need all of her highly vaunted public policy expertise to convince Americans she has the answers.
For Trump, the standard is lower. As a non-incumbent reality show TV star, he made bank pitching the illusion anyone can achieve prosperity by simply following his magic formula. The fact that he's also a successful billionaire real estate developer adds credence to the illusion. He'll stick to his latest magic formula and hammer on reducing our $500 billion annual trade deficit by bringing our factories back home and putting Americans back to work.
Don't be surprised when he blatantly panders to blacks and Latinos—at least Latinos in the country legally. Polls indicate Trump's outreach to minorities is working. It's natural to want to prosper. Never underestimate the power of Celebrity Apprentice.
Again, advantage Trump.
The final topic of the debate, “Securing America,” makes me think the somebody who doesn't care that much for Hillary Clinton came up with this debate format.
It's bad enough that the last time Clinton was within spitting distance of Trump, at the 15th memorial service for 9/11 in Manhattan, she fainted, fell off a curb and was whisked away in a black van. Since then, it seems like we've been averaging an Islamic terrorist attack or a police shooting or a Black Lives Matter riot practically every other day.
Meanwhile, Clinton has incredibly continued to promote bringing in yet more refugees from the terrorist hotbeds we've created by bombing the Middle East into oblivion for decades. She, along with President Obama and half the players in the NFL, continues to refer to BLM riots as peaceful protests, when they're obviously anything but that. It's hard not to feel like they're taking Americans for fools.
Then there's the whole un-secure private email server thingy she used as Secretary of State. That would be the opposite of securing America. The FBI dumped a whole new batch of documents last Friday, including evidence Obama communicated with Clinton through the un-secure server using a pseudonym. How can Holt not go there?
Game, set, match, Trump.
That at least is how I see the debate playing out within the narrow confines of my own narrative. I've been stuck in the same loop since Sanders lost the nomination. I'm willing to break out of the loop, and the truth is anything can happen. That's Trump's primary draw. Millions of people will be tuning in for the chance to see Trump finally trip himself up.
But Hillary Clinton can't depend on the new, improved Donald slipping back into Jerry Lewis-mode. Trump has all of the momentum going into the debate, current events and the debate format are in his favor and she's going to need the performance of her life to beat him. She can do it, but it's going to take everything she's got.
No matter what happens, standby for heads to explode.