1. The Debate
No, in case you were wondering.
I am not watching tonight’s Presidential debate.
There are several related reasons for this.
#1. It is not a debate.
#2 The subjects are both trivial and inappropriate
#3 the media will not scrutinize either candidate properly
You see, when I went to high school in the UK, i actually attended and participated in debates. We had a debating society that met in the library room once a month. This was a proper debate. One side had to create and present a proposition. The other side had to prepare an opposing view and present it. Then the two debaters, with a moderator sitting between them, would debate their positions, providing arguments and rebuttals. Then they would have to answer questions from the floor.
The moderator had the gavel and the last word. He could (and did) bang his gavel if the participants went off track, changed the subject, or engaged in anything approaching a personal attack.
I learned a lot about some subjects from being at those debates.
What we have tonight is not a debate in any useful sense of the term. It is two political candidates engaging in a soundbite battle over subjects that are so broad as to be almost meaningless. The moderator has no real power, he is handcuffed in advance by terms of operation set by the candidates.
Let that last statement sink in for a minute.
Have you heard the old joke about the fox that offered to look after the henhouse for the weekend, assuring the owner of the chickens that he had gone vegetarian?
Allowing the political parties to set the format, content and moderation rules for a debate is just like leaving that fox in charge. They have no interest in any pointy-head from a TV network forcing Their Guy to tell the truth or provide insight. No sirree. This is about point-scoring using soundbites. Of course, this is the reason why the major parties long ago took control of the debates away from the League Of Women Voters and put the debates out to bid to the networks. That ensures that the networks, supine as ever, will do the candidates’ bidding, and the candidates don’t want a proper debate. They do not want scrutiny. Scrutiny gets in the way of their next zinger.
If many of today’s politicians showed up in my high school and tried to debate like they speak in these debates, our moderators would have gavelled them to silence and told them to damn well stick on topic and make an argument. seriously.
So, don’t watch tonight if you want insight into policy, governance and the world. By all means watch if your only objective is either to validate your prior choices, or to see which of the candidates looks more presidential. (One of the interesting features of US electorates is how many of them seem to only care about appearances when voting for leaders). Whatever you do, don’t complain to me that you didn’t learn much. You had no right to expect that.
2. The role of Fear in modern US politics
The whole of the “Make America Great Again” idea espoused by Donald Trump and his supporters is based on the belief that the USA is not as great as it used to be.
The evidence contradicts that belief. However, given that a substantial percentage of GOP partisans appear to live in a parallel universe fuelled by in-group reinforcement and echo chambers, evidence is not something that they are likely to be paying attention to any time soon. Their views is a visceral and emotional one, largely immune to discussion and debate.
Another underlying pathology implicit in the slogan is binary thinking. America is either Great or it’s not, and right now, it’s not. This is so simplistic as to be beyond laughable. In the same way that you can be married to somebody but be all too aware of their faults, you can like a country and still know that it is not perfect. (I stay away from binary thinkers except when doing computer math, for all sorts of obvious reasons).
However, leaving aside the people signed up for “Make America Great Again”, that leaves the rest of us. This tweet is appropriate:
You're being sold a scary world because fear makes people do stupid things. DO NOT DO STUPID THINGS. https://t.co/FOPmPcWJ0U
— John Rogers (@jonrog1) September 26, 2016
3. The wordview of J.D. Vance
The author of “Hillbilly Elegy” explains the existential crisis that impacts many poor working-class areas of the USA. Those areas are stuck in a pervasive mindset that the American Dream is not working for them. Many of those people are supporters of Donald Trump, who they see as being the only current candidate that talks their language and appears to understand their problems.