US Elections: Sex Lies and Presidential Debate
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage. -- HL.Mencken
Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi
Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics and journalism become subject to the demands of entertainment. Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. No other book could have better predicted the rise of Donald Trump. Then again Donald Trump does not read books. Neither does he prepare for Presidential debates.
The second Presidential debate wasn’t a game changer in any sense of the word. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton went into the debate with the Access Hollywood tape looming large. The first twenty minutes of the debate focussed on the 2005 tape which had Trump boasting about how he could just grab women by the genitals. Not surprisingly, Trump came out all guns blazing defending his comments as locker room talk. In the strangest defence of inappropriate behaviour heard this Presidential election, he said that the people at ISIS are doing much worse. He then proceeded to stalk Hillary across the debate stage, sometimes glowering and at other times being plain creepy. The ghastliest moment of the debate was yet to come. When Hillary quipped that it was best that Trump was not running the country, Trump shot back by saying that if he was, she would be in jail. To threaten an opponent on national stage is an unprecedented new low for presidential politics. Maybe Trump was taking a leaf out of the Putin playbook. Opponents of Putin routinely end up disappearing or being murdered. However this was America where a belligerent Trump was licking his wounds after almost 63 senior Republican party officials had abandoned him wholesale. Most of them were women. Republican women have been far more likely to rally against Trump than the party’s men: 42 percent of all Republican women serving in Congress or as governor have now stated that they do not support Trump, versus just 17 percent of the men.
Throwing Trump under the bus after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced was a well-timed move. The New York Times on Wednesday published explosive allegations of three more women who claimed that Trump had sexually assaulted them. Jessica Leeds, a businesswoman at a paper company, was sitting next to Donald J. Trump in a first class cabin on a flight to New York in the early 1980s. She told The Times that he lifted the armrest and began to grope her. The allegations by Leeds are the latest in a long line of sexual harassment allegations made against Trump. Trump characteristically rubbished the allegations. One thing is for sure: tapes and sexual harassment allegations are not going to deter a man who has no shame. This unwillingness to quit the race makes one wonder, What would happen if this man miraculously won?
Would a Donald Trump presidency be all that bad? Would it signal the beginning of the apocalypse? Would he as commander-in-chief initiate a third world war and a permanent nuclear winter? These are as Donald Rumsfeld referred to as ‘unknown unknowns’. Unless Trump came into power, a scenario which looks increasingly unlikely, we would never know whether he would be the harbinger of destruction and chaos as everyone is painting him out to be. One thing is for sure. Presidential races will never be the same again. Historians will ask for ages how the party of Lincoln and Reagan let a demagogue like Trump take over the reigns of the grand old party. When the Democrats were fighting against Mitt Romney in 2012, their primary concern was getting Obama re-elected. No one was worried that the nation would fall into an abyss if Romney became President. That is not the case here.
To understand how Trump ever considered running for presidency one has to take a closer look at his fragile psyche. He is not as rich or as successful as he claims to be. This was a man who once incurred a 900 million dollar loss and endured four humiliating bankruptcies. The list of his business failures is also surprisingly long. Trump can’t handle criticism and yet he courts controversy at every step. He desperately wants to be respected and that is how his campaign began in the first place. The 2011 birther moment which forced Obama to release his long-form birth certificate also ensured that Trump was in the political limelight for a long time. Trump cashed in on this. He started headlining GOP events, appearing on Fox and Friends weekly, talking to reporters, travelling the country. The conservative movement should have purged him then. He's never been a conservative. He's a carnival barker who was a Democrat for a long-long time. With the help of Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, Trump began ramping up political activity and courting reporters. He was outrageously given a prime-time slot at the conservative political action conference (CPAC). Trump had the ability to mostly self-fund, which he did to the tune of $55M in the primary. Lack of funds ends campaigns, but not his. Meanwhile Trump had forged some important partnerships, with conservative pundits ranging from Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Breitbart, Phyllis Schlafly -- all over immigration. Trump dominated earned media in the primary, gaining an 8:1 advantage on Cruz, his strongest challenger. No one could overcome that. There were several moments where the party and the field could have united against Trump. They did not. Everyone wanted the alligator to eat them last.
Fast forward a few months and we have a man who at age 70 has had to defend comments he made as a 59 year old about grabbing women by the pussy. The voting public has known for a long time that the Republican candidate is a short fingered vulgarian. That such a man now stands on the cusp of being the most powerful man in the world says something about the levels of anger that exist amongst middle-class Americans. This election has been about railing against the establishment. How else could one explain the phenomenal rise of Trump, a man who has never held political office? The simple plain vanilla truth which explains the rise of ‘the Donald’ is that the lack of trust in elected officials has never been higher. The frustration is so high that voters are willing to go rogue. They would rather risk it all and take chances on the unknowns of a Trump presidency rather than go with the establishment. However, those voters are now fast dwindling. Its as if, all of a sudden, voters have woken up to the lunacy that Trump fosters. A series of national polls released on Tuesday showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by margins ranging from 5 to 11 percentage points.
The more toxic effect that Donald Trump has had is on the Republican party. It's unclear how badly Trump can hurt his chances or those of his party downballot. But, the disaster scenario — an electoral college wipeout, losing the Senate and the House — now has to be on the table. The truth is a majority of GOP voters like Trump; a majority of all voters don’t. The Republican party has only itself to blame.