Great Expectations

debate2016-1This post’s well-known title could apply to my Minnesota Twins (who lost their 100th game yesterday), but even someone who’s been a close observer only six years knows better than to have great expectations of the team these days.

It might also apply to the pending NASA news conference about Europa. Many of us are hoping for something along the lines of a mysterious monolith and staying away, but rumor has it that the Hubble telescope spotted the long-absent water geysers. (They were observed years ago, but never since.) ((Update: The rumors were correct!))

But, while those are expectations, considering what’s taking over about a dozen TV networks tonight — what’s been long awaited by so many — the post’s title absolutely refers to the first Presidential debate.

In this chaotic and toxic environment of this election cycle, the word “great” almost isn’t great enough to describe the expectations tonight. Both sides desperately seek a clear and sweeping victory! Both sides, no doubt, fear a catastrophic election-costing misstep.

I continue to be astonished and depressed by how normalized the crassness and ugliness has become. It sickens me how unable or unwilling seemingly good people are to speak out, let alone to walk any talk. Jimmy Fallon is dead to me.

People like to blame “the system,” but this is our fault; we’ve allowed it.


David Welgel’s article, Washington Post, September 5, Why you should stop blaming the candidates if you don’t know ‘what they stand for’, responds to the complaint that ‘candidates are mud-slinging not discussing issues’ as an excuse:

No, I’m sorry, but this one falls on the voters. It is generally as easy to learn where the candidates stand on all but the most obscure issues as it is to find, say, a recipe for low-calorie overnight oats. It’s also easy to ignore the negative, “mudslinging” aspects of a campaign, for the same reason so many people find it easy to cut their TV plans and watch streaming services.

Welgel points to our studied ignorance when it comes to politics, our tendency to dismiss it as rigged, so what’s the point. (The point is we have the power to fix it.) He concludes:

Don’t be like that robot. Instead, use the tiny and easily water-damaged robot you keep around at all times to decide whether candidates are “telling you their plan.” They probably are!

And as Hillary Clinton has pointed out, The Donald has told us who he is. We should believe him.


Part of the problem is that this is an exceptionally emotional election. Certainly the economy plays a role, but this is much more about how people feel. There are Trump supports who understand quite well how toxic their candidate is (I heard one refer to holding his nose when he voted), but they desperately don’t want politics as usual.

What they want, as Richard Cohen writes, Washington Post, September 5, is to get in on Trump’s ‘get even’ program.

Trump has an economic message, of course, but it’s beside the point. He doesn’t really have a jobs program, he has a get-even program. His appeal is visceral, emotional, nationalistic. He instinctively knows something about resentment and pride and the place they play when someone enters the voting booth. I don’t think he’s given these matters a moment’s thought. On the contrary, they come naturally to him. He makes his people feel good. He makes them feel proud. He makes them feel as Americans should.

Something that it will be crucial for Hillary Clinton to remember tonight. All the fact debunking in the world doesn’t matter. All the logic, all the facts, all the reason, none of it matters as much as emotional appeal.

Someone I knew told me it didn’t matter what anyone said about Trump, nothing could change her mind. The attachment is emotional. (And a good example of how emotions can steer us wrong.)


What I don’t really understand is why people are so fooled by Trump. He’s such an obvious fraud — he always was! He’s so transparent and childish.

Frank Bruni, New York Times, September 10, wrote about Donald Trump’s Ideology of Applause. He points out:

Trump hears only what he wants to hear. He bases his regard for people on their regard for him. He judges their actions in terms of the benefit to him. When he demeans the very Republican senators whose re-election campaigns he should be helping, it’s typically on the grounds that they haven’t showered him with praise or genuflected when he draws near. No sin is graver than the diminution of Donald Trump.

And no cause is nobler than his elevation.

How do people not see that? It’s been clear throughout his life and career. It isn’t just that people can’t evaluate this rationally, they can’t even seem to evaluate it on the basis of character.

This entire campaign may be little else than a publicity stunt for his empire. If he really does have a shred of business sense, he has to know his odds of winning, even now, aren’t good. (And if he doesn’t know, he has no business in Lincoln’s chair!)


We forget that he was once a promotion figure in pro-wrestling, that realm of fantasy and manufactured bitter conflict (an eerie connection to the movie Idiocracy).

Jeet Heer, New Republic, September 16, reviews that past in Divide and Conquer. He points to Trump’s racial attitudes as well as his entertainment practices.

In 2005, while serving as host of The Apprentice, Trump offered NBC a novel idea for re-energizing a program he felt was losing its zip: a season in which the competing teams would be divided along racial lines, black against white. “It would be nine blacks against nine whites, all highly educated, very smart, strong, beautiful,” he later explained to Howard Stern. The white team would be all-blond, but the black team would be an “assortment” of light- and dark-skinned African Americans. Even Stern was taken aback. “Wouldn’t that set off a racial war?” he asked.

Heer point out that sports and entertainment contests along racial lines have led to social violence before:

It appears that Trump’s market really is a niche—that what drives some voters to him drives more of them away. It’s tempting to take comfort in such political math. But when it comes to Trump’s brand of racial showmanship, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. As the riots that followed Jack Johnson’s win back in 1910 remind us, what starts out as a racist spectacle in the ring too often ends up spilling blood in reality.

We need to be very concerned about where Trump’s brand of populism, nationalism, and racism, can lead. We have seen this movie.


What many of us hope for is a meltdown or off-the-chain reaction on Trump’s part that shows him for the ignorant bigoted fraud he is. We hope for a clear sign that his tactics are wrong. And by extension, the GOP’s general turn as an anti-Democrats force rather than pro-Republican one.

That logic extends to the election in a big way. As Cody Cain, Time, August 29, writes, Donald Trump Losing by a Landslide Would Heal the Nation.

If the election turns out to be close—even if Trump were defeated—these vile political strategies would still flourish. The Republican Party would likely conclude that their tactics brought them near to victory, so these tactics are effective and should be pursued more vigorously.

If, on the other hand, Trump suffered an enormous defeat in an overwhelming landslide, well, then, this would send a very different message. And imagine if this landslide also led to the Democratic Party gaining control of the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and various state and local governments as well.

One can only hope!


The bottom line is that there seems much riding on the debate tonight. At the very least, it should be very interesting. Let’s just hope it isn’t terrifying.

Good Luck tonight, Hillary Clinton!


To leave this on a more positive note, yet another reminder of the class shown throughout the eight Obama years. Mark Landler has a nice article, New York Times, September 25, Michelle and George: The Embrace Seen Around the World.


Go read it.

It will, perhaps just a little, restore your faith in people.

Even political people.

Post-Debate Update: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

3 responses to “Great Expectations

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FTR: I think George Bush is a man who desperately wants to be forgiven. I think his Presidency scarred him as much, maybe even more so, than it did us or the country (which seems to be recovering).

    I’ve wondered if his mind has gone, but I’m not sure I get an Alzheimer’s read off what little of him I’ve seen in public recently. (His ‘art career’ made me wonder.)

    Now I wonder if he suffers from a unique form of PTSD, badly damaged by what happened on his watch. I can well imagine it. And, at the very least, he must have a very special sense of just how heavy the burden of POTUS can be, how things can turn on a dime.

    Hate the sin, love the sinner.

    I forgive you, George!

  • dianasschwenk

    Good luck tonight Smitty. I’m not going to watch the debate. It would make me bat shit crazy! ❤
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It was pretty awesome. Hillary cleaned his clock. To the extent it’s about comportment, Trump was hysterically awful. To the extent it’s about substance, Trump was hysterically awful. The debate showed the real man, a childish, fidgeting, boorish, ignoramus.

      The real question is whether, and how much, this will change anything. This much seems true: any change in the needle will be in Clinton’s favor.

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