I haven’t teased you with a Survivor metaphor in months. Well, the last time someone got voted off the island was in June. We’ve been down to the final two ever since then and finally, the remaining time is short. In the final Tribal Council of a Survivor season, the two remaining contestants each address the group to explain why they should be the winner. I’m thinking of the debates as that final pitch.

Let’s imagine for one glorious moment that this Tribal Council works the same way that it does on Survivor—the jury that holds the contestants’ fate consists entirely of people that they voted off the island earlier. That would put “low energy” Jeb Bush, “Little Marco” Rubio, and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz in the front row as Trump delivers his vote-for-me pitch.

Presumably, the Survivor producers would take care that no throwing-size rocks are within arm’s reach. It’s a pity, because you know that a vigorous stoning is on the mind of every juror.

The reality of this election is so far from that delicious fantasy that, to borrow a favorite phrase from you-know-who, it makes my head spin. Who could have imagined that this particular election might turn on competing debate performances between a mature political figure and a blowhard who could control the nuclear triad without even knowing what it is.

No contest, right? The prediction has been, all along, that Hillary would destroy Donald in the debates. But for fifteen months, Trump has beaten every prediction from every pundit—be they professional talking heads on TV, or just amateurs like me.

Clinton’s advantage seems logical, since she has extensive government experience and, like her husband, is a policy wonk. There is no question you can ask that would stump her. Trump, on the other hand, has the Sarah Palin approach of pride in his ignorance.

If he wins the election and walks into the White House with his lack of experience and TV reality show attitude, God help us. God help the world. But that same attitude is exactly what could win the debates—and the White House. His television experience taught him what you can project in front of a camera.

That’s because TV debates are about perception, not reality. I’ve read numerous articles that say if you want to know who wins, watch with the sound off. With Roger Ailes writing zingers and slogans for Trump, his half of the debates will never even get to actual facts. So why listen?

My hope is that Trump’s lack of rehearsing will bite him. You can pontificate for 89 of the 90 minutes you’re on TV—talking over the moderator and your opponent and oozing alpha male confidence. But that one embarrassing minute when you were caught off-guard—hell, it could be just a few seconds—can destroy you. Think of Rick Perry’s “Oops” gaffe in 2012. Game over.

Trump’s star-power advantage may be fantasy. Reality TV is of course not real. It’s edited. Sometimes it’s even scripted. The debates are live, and the candidates don’t get a list of the questions first. And for all his success during the primaries, Trump has never debated one on one, for ninety minutes, with no commercial interruptions.

Clinton survived, even thrived, in an 11-hour facsimile with a hostile congressional committee.

Here’s an interesting twist: Hillary’s pneumonia-fueled stumble on 9/11 has both Democrats and Republicans worried that Trump might actually win the election. (Don’t panic! Poll analyst Nate Silver doesn’t think so …yet.) I’ve read several different stories citing that Republicans fear a Trump victory far greater than they do a Trump defeat.

The theory: if Trump loses, the GOP can shed his influence the way a divorce sheds your spouse. Order returns, more or less. But if Trump wins, then the Republican Party owns everything he does. The nation (and the world) will probablysurvive a Trump presidency, but the Republican Party? Probably not.

And to cite Ted Cruz’s disappointed supporters, so many of them #NeverTrump people: if Trump wins, the GOP as a reservoir of conservatism is dead.

After the disastrous Matt Lauer “Commander in Chief” interviews, the role of debate moderator has come under intense scrutiny. How do you deal with lies? Trump told Lauer several whoppers that were entirely predictable and easily fact-checked in real time, but Lauer said nothing.

Chris Wallace of Fox “News” echoes that approach: “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad.”

So… what to do if everything a candidate says is a lie? Or if he simply won’t stop talking? In the Republican debates, most candidates deliberately talked over their allotted time. It was a mark of pride to step on the moderator and the other debaters.

I hate to say it, but Wallace is probably right. Whenever I fantasize Hillary jabbing Trump with “Lie!” over his talking, I can then easily imagine Trump doing exactly the same thing every five seconds during Hillary’s turn. It then turns into a shouting match that no one wins.

I’ve read that she’ll wait before pouncing, and I think that’s the right move. Trump’s strategy has always been to make simple proclamations and just repeat them over and over again when pressed. That won’t work in ninety minutes of one-on-one.

With all that said, you can look at electoral history and be terrified: an unqualified candidate who has never held office can be—has been—elected because of his celebrity. Movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won the California governorship in 2003, in a recall election that toppled then-governor Gray Davis. Davis lost the recall by around 54% of the votes. On that same ballot, Schwarzenegger ran against 134 other candidates and earned more than 48% of the votes.

The Governator—a variation on his most famous movie role that he was nicknamed by many—waded into his job like any man who hasn’t heard “no” in decades. He tried to strong-arm his political opponents by calling them “girly men” but found himself outmatched by the California legislature. He eventually approved the very DMV registration tax that was his #1 issue during that recall/election.

The one big thing he did succeed at was getting reelected, but then so did human turd and gigantically unpopular Maine Governor Paul LePage. Perhaps the greatest weakness of democracy is how little getting elected has to do with the ability to govern.

SMALL ASIDE HERE: Who has succeeded at governing a state that many say is “too large to be governed”? Jerry Brown, once mocked as “Governor Moonbeam.” And how exactly has he succeeded? By getting everyone to share the pain of revenue cuts. Compromise—the key component of democracy that has disappeared in Washington, D.C.

Perception vs. Reality, so much a part of celebrity worship and running for office, always plays a strong role in the strategy of The Party Out of Power. In this case it’s the Republicans selling fantasy—even though they control both The House and The Senate. One thing they are very good at is influencing people’s perceptions.

It doesn’t matter that the Great Recession of 2008 hit during the Bush Administration, or that the TARP bailout bill was strongly bipartisan and became law before Obama ever took office. Eight years later, the whole thing is the black guy’s fault. Republicans spent those eight years saying NO! to Obama’s every effort to improve the nation’s financial health. Because returning to power was more important than governing.

Some data from the Washington Post:

  • Median household income rose 5.2% in 2015, the best in 50 years.
  • Poverty decreased 1.2% in 2015, the best year since 1968.
  • 4 million uninsured people got health insurance under Obamacare in 2015 alone.
  • Women now make 80 cents on the dollar, compared to men. <sigh> It’s too slow, but it is progress.

Wait, there’s more…

  • Unemployment is at 4.9 percent.
  • The major stock indexes are hitting record highs.
  • Oil and gasoline are cheap, private business investments are up, home foreclosures are down.

And yet, 2/3 of all Americans polled think the country is on the wrong path. WTF, people?

Of course, some things are indeed broken. Congress, for one. But you need look no farther than the Senate, where Republicans used the too-easy filibuster at historic levels for how many years in a row? I’ve lost count.

The relationship between the police and people of color is definitely broken. I cry to see more video of flashing lights and a half-dozen police screaming at a lone, unarmed black man with his hands in the air. Before shooting him dead.

This is murder, and the white officer who shot has been charged. While you’re training the police to shoot straight, can you train them to wait until it is necessary? I’ve seen video evidence shows that some police do know how to wait, and negotiate—when confronting white people.

Trump’s solution to more unjustified death keeps touching on ineffective notions such as stop-and-frisk, which destroys whatever tiny amount of trust might remain between the cops and the American citizens of color they are charged to serve and protect just like everyone else. And it seems rather pointless in an open-carry state like North Carolina, anyway.

What is just plain wrong, and always has been, is the perception of the dwindling white majority that the definition of American must include the word white. What it does include is the word immigrant. Unless you’re a Native American, the tiniest of exceptions, your ancestors came from somewhere else.

Emblematic of this faulty perception is this video from Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal TV show… the infamous “a taco truck on every corner” guy describing “a typical Mexican”—and guess who fits that exact description? Donald Trump! “Stubborn, arrogant, false pride, intolerant, selfish.”

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Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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