“‘Ominious’ is not quite the right word for a situation where one of the most consistently unpopular politicians in American history suddenly skyrockets to Folk Hero status while his closest advisers are being caught almost daily in nazi-style gigs that would have embarrassed Martin Bormann.”- Hunter S. Thompson.
Holed up deep in Central Florida, gun in my lap and a beer in my hand, I’m struggling with flashes of wizardly precognition as I debate whether to board up my windows. The front door has already been anointed with Run Devil Run oil and prayers to the Saints to surrounded my home with favor still waft in the air like smoke at an Ancestral shrine, all attempts to keep foul winds from the future at bay. This most recent debate, billed as a rematch between an iguanadon from the mid-Jurassic and a property-pimp from New York has revealed itself to be anything but.
Instead I bore witness to just how far we’d fallen as a people, just how disastrous our future would be, and above all how truly damned we were to do anything to stop it.
Oh, everything started fine. A bit of Saint work for a client battling the cops, a few beers, and jokes between me and my wife on how bad Trump would fuck it up. Even without knowing what would happen, and refusing to pull cards on it like I had done for the recent hurricane, we knew Trump would make a fool of himself. If only it had been that simple, some tan meat-head blubbering on about how afraid he was of brown people. How easy the night might have been, how much more…sane.
Hillary entered the stage with the voracious grin of a snake accustomed to be fed at a certain time. Donald, visibly afraid, seems devoid of any bravado. He hesitatingly slides over to her, never shaking hands. The beginning is awkward and disjointed and leaves a taste of rust on the tip of one’s tongue.
The show begins with a question about modeling behavior for America’s youth. Hillary in usual fashion says words that literally mean nothing, the kind of crap sunday school teachers feed kids when they lack any answers: “Our country really is great because we are good.” I literally pause for 5 minutes to see if I can think of anything as insipid but end up drawing a blank. Bland, milquetoast statements about working together and being the “president of all Americans” quickly follow adding to the marshmallow goo devoid of any meaning.
Trump’s tone, in contrast to other appearances, is very muted, the wild cowboy shooting from the hip shelved in favor of restraint. He speaks in a low, quiet tone that appears to cause him pain. He answers no questions, choosing instead to rattle off a checklist of usual talking notes like obamacare, the iran deal, how bad we do at trade, the deficit, law and order. It is a misstep that will hint at even further blunders.
The topic quickly changes to the highly damaging hot mic incident splashed across the news. Trump side swipes it, dismisses it as “locker room talk.” He blathers on about ISIS instead for no clear reason.
Hillary easily swoops in for the kill with the calmness of a Komodo dragon that’s already poisoned its prey. Hungrily she tears at his long list of idiotic statements. At a loss, Trump begins arguing with the moderators. I almost changed the channel right then but something stayed my hand, some compulsion to maintain focus.
“That’s it. The game is over.” I opened another beer. “His goose is cooked.”
To my surprise something suddenly snapped the old cowboy into action. Trump brings up Hillary’s history of defending her husband’s rapey actions. Even better Trump reveals the girl who was raped by one of Clinton’s clients when she was a lawyer was in the audience.
Hillary seems unnerved, but ever the consummate politician, she dodges it with the grace of a cop deflecting a murder charge: “When they go low, we go high.” She easily dribbles on about how Trump never apologizes for his horrible statements while the girl in the audience is never referenced again.
Trump, visibly frustrated, lashes out. He mentions Wikileaks, Bernie Sanders, and even says if elected he will activate a special prosecutor to “look into” her arrest.
Hillary laughs, says none of his allegations are true. The audience doesn’t buy it. She tries to cover her ass with a joke.
“It’s a good thing Donald Trump isn’t in charge of the law in this country.”
He returns fire with surgical precision to massive applause: “Because you’d be in jail.”
However promising the debate quickly returns to a heavily one sided lead. When Anderson Cooper presses on what Trump’s ideas to replace Obamacare exactly are all he can muster is some capitalist religious belief that “competition will solve everything.” Literally.
Even worse when asked about the rising tide of Islamophobia Trump leads in with “if we aren’t going to be politically correct…” and proceeds to enter into some weird tirade about the necessity of saying the words “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” You can almost feel his point value dropping in the air and ten thousand republican strategists screaming at the night.
But here is where it gets weird.
Hillary says Trump’s statements will play into the hands of ISIS, opening a flank for Trump to nail her to the wall about how the Obama administration actually created and funds ISIS. My wife and I lean in, anticipating a mauling at any moment….only to watch America’s bully let it go. Rather than capitalize on the huge gaping hole in the dragon’s armor, Trump takes the bait and again rushes like a bull at a dangling flag. He snorts, stammers, repeats himself, does anything but effectively argue against her.
Hillary then blames Russia, the same Russia that took out 472 ISIS targets in one weekend, for the violence in Syria and claims any “terrorists” that might arise are due to Russian aggression.
Again, solid fucking gold. Trump could have torn Hillary to pieces, absolutely destroyed her campaign by even casually mentioning the time American forces fired on Syrian Army units to assist ISIS militants.
Hillary, when confronted with the horrible noxious truths in her emails, makes some wide sweeping patriotic plea that it’s our duty to IGNORE the truth because…well, Russians are bad and they might be behind the leaks. The moderators nod in approval, and kick the question over to an increasingly unzipped orange ape.
Trump again seems to lean in, takes a few jabs and gets applause from the audience but seemingly forgets what he was saying. Instead of hammering home the shocking details of the recent leaks he talks about how he has no money in Russia and how he’s paid all his taxes. A drunk boxer, he swings wildly at targets that aren’t even there and argues points nobody really gives a shit about. Hillary very clearly has him dancing maddeningly to her own tune.
He mentions Libya yet provides no details, Syria yet speaks in generalities. You can almost tell he’s only working with what he’s been told and knows nothing of these subjects on his own. Every time he has a clear shot at some damning details he fails miserably. We’re watching a plane with one engine crash to the ground every time it aims to make takeoff. The debate has plenty of time left but the winner is disturbingly clear.
I began to get physically uncomfortable. “This…this is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s a prime political predator with years of training going up against a high-school debate captain. This isn’t even fair. He’s a fucking deaf kid playing Marco Polo.”
The whole debate began to take on a weird, almost unreal quality as topics of importance were highlighted by their facebook views. Russia was repeatedly called a war criminal against all evidence, flying in the face of consensual reality; statements like “Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS” elicit no response from the moderators supposedly holding the candidates to the truth. At this point I began to notice a small tick take hold on the corner of my mouth as an eerie feeling slowly crept in my mind. My heart began to race and my palms grew cold. Something inside me began to scream.
Trump mentions how the US is backing rebels of unknown loyalty, something so wildly acknowledged as fact that the Joint Chiefs of Staff acted against our own government in an attempt to stop it. The moderators won’t have it.
“What is your strategy to fight Russia?” they demand instead.
“Well,” Trump says baffled, “Russia is killing ISIS.” The moderators interrupt, refuse to allow this answer. In an instant they deny years of journalism and first hand reports. They refuse to allow this non-sanctioned version of reality to reach the American people.
Everything seemed to be falling exactly into place, Hillary’s forked tongue sliding out of her fangs with the unnatural zest of shoplifter making a get away. One look at the clock showed the debate was half over. Why these topics now? For whatever reason an old writer’s trick popped in my head: get a loud start and end with a fiery finish to ensure the gist whatever information you want to convey singes the reader’s emotions. The details, so the theory went, get shoved in the middle because you want people to remember not so much the minutia but that you had made your case successfully; the goal is to leave a lasting impression in lieu of actual data.
A writer’s trick in a debate, a sleight of hand done in full view of the Herd with no commotion.
This couldn’t be real. Couldn’t be. Not this debate, not this election, none of it. Everything up till now, minus a few wobbles here and there, had gone so precisely as it would need to give the illusion of choice in an Imperium where there was none. These questions, the odious fiction being read aloud to the public, may have looked random enough, but a quick calculation of all the counterfeit moves behind the Clinton campaign suddenly snapped into focus and took my fucking breath away.