Your Choice: Wings or a Raincoat?

I’m wondering how I will suit up for the coming debates. No need to choose. I’ll don wings and a raincoat. And carry a snow shovel. What about you? I’ll set it up for you with two of my favorite quotes:

“The bullshit piled up so fast, you needed wings to stay above it.” —Martin Sheen (as Captain Willard) in Apocalypse Now.

“Sometimes the work [here] is like putting your mouth over a firehose.” —An interviewer who hired me as the sole technical writer for a software startup.

I advise keeping your mouth shut. It’s my own saving grace during debates: I type notes instead of yelling at the TV, and my wife can stay in the same room without earplugs.

More importantly, what’s gushing out of that firehose is nastier than the water in Flint, Michigan. Matt Lauer looked like a Martian without a raincoat as he interviewed Trump in last week’s debate warm-up, billed as “The Commander-in-Chief Forum.” Why? You had to be from another planet to not plan on handling the bullshit Trump spews all the time, everywhere.

Ron Charles tweeted: “Mr. Lauer’s questioning of Mr. Trump was like watching one student quiz another to prep for a test neither had done the reading for.” And the New York Times added: “The host asked soft open-ended questions that invited the candidate to answer with word clouds.”

This after Lauer spent one half of Clinton’s thirty minutes on the emails and the other half instructing her to keep her answers short. I wanted Clinton to simplify it for him: “Matt, save us both time and tell me what is the new thing that you expect to get, by asking about email for the millionth time.”

Too many of the news cycles in this campaign season look and sound like the classic definition of insanity: asking the same questions over and over and expecting something different from the same non-answer. But the insanity continues.

I’m thinking in particular of the answers that everyone KNOWS you’ll hear in response to a gotcha question, and I’m ready to declare it an art form. Consider a new classic from the Trump campaign’s spokesperson Katrina Pierson: “…he hasn’t changed his position on immigration. He’s changed the words that he is saying.” (This about the softening on that subject that Trump tried out briefly.) Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway may be adept, but Pierson is brilliantly insane!

Repetition (not truth) is the soul of self-promotion, and Trump has mastered it through years of sparring with the New York tabloids. You’ve watched him dodge fact-checking during interviews with, “Excuse me,” and then repeating the lie that the interviewer was fact-checking.

The result is such a ratings-killer stalemate that the reporter must eventually abandon the confrontation. Chris Matthews’ recent verbal sword fight with New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is a perfect example: it was interesting for a little while before it got old and infuriating. And then it went on and on …and on and on.

The subject of that duel is still not settled: Obama’s birthplace. Trump has still not acquiesced to conventional wisdom and Obama’s official birth certificate. So Rudy did turn out to be full of shit (as Matthews suspected) but he never had to admit it on TV. Now imagine that kind of a stalemate during a debate. The physical contours of the stalemate, rather than the actual lie being fact-checked, would dominate the next day’s headlines.

So the reporter and the television network lose those battles. Remember how Candy Crowley pointed out Mitt Romney’s lie in real time at the town hall debate in 2012? Admirable, but now she is banned from ever moderating another debate. Why? Because she pointed out a candidate’s lie, i.e., because she told the truth.

Chris Wallace of FOX News stated up-front that fact-checking debate statements is not his job. Will he apply that to Clinton as well as Trump?

Can Hillary, or moderator Lester Holt, confront Trump with the truth, the way that Crowley did Romney? They can try. But Trump lies with as much ease as Dick Cheney. The Daily Beast argues that it’s time for the media to call him on that behavior. But I think it’s way too late. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman argues that Trump will continue to get away with the constant lies because it’s understood that he can’t be successfully checked.

Bullshitting is not an uncommon business strategy. And because it has worked so well for Trump, it became his life strategy as well. The scale of Trump’s projects, and his public persona, transforms the bullshitting into a daily psychosis of telling lies. Little lies. Big lies. Lies as conversation, lies as weapons. Lies about anything and everything. The Daily Beast notes that Trump’s habit “…is hard for most people to wrap their heads around because most people aren’t like this and indeed have never even met anyone like this.”

He tells bold lies, too. Consider his obvious B.S. about 9/11: “Six months after Donald Trump claimed to have lost ‘hundreds of friends’ in the 9/11 attacks, his campaign continues to ignore a request from The Daily Beast that he name even one.

Lies will of course dominate the debates, but they won’t be the only weapon at Trump’s disposal. We also know he’ll be delivering sharp insults that Roger Ailes has been writing for him. Is Hillary ready for that? I’m hoping that her team has some snappy responses and insults worked up as well. The strategy of throwing Trump into non-scripted territory seems like a no-brainer to me.

As I write this, it’s twelve days away and Hillary Clinton may need a big victory at the debates to pull herself back from the abyss. At this moment, she’s in a tumble; Trump is trending upward. The debate could tip momentum back in her direction, if she can clear the high bar being set for her. And if Trump can miss the low bar being set for him.

Or she could spiral toward defeat. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Clinton began a long weekend of unforced errors when she promised, at the Commander in Chief forum, that we would send no ground troops back to Iraq during her presidency. B-b-but we have several thousand soldiers there right now, and don’t try and tell me they are “advisors.” And promises for the future? Hillary, please remember when George H.W. Bush pledged “No new taxes”—and then had to sign new taxes into law during his term. Your husband beat him in 1992 because of that broken promise, in part.

She waded further into the mire by going half-Trump: first dropping half of Trump’s followers into “a basket of deplorables” and second, by later apologizing for the remark. Ouch! As The Donald himself has told us all many times: never apologize.

And besides: these are the people who hit protestors at rallies with sucker punches. They gleefully chant “bitch” when The Donald mentions Hillary. They cheer Trump’s vision of trade wars with Mexico and China, and applaud the war crimes he proposes—most recently regarding “gestures” that Iranian sailors might make at U.S. destroyers from their “small boats.” Really? OK, I’ll agree: that stuff isn’t mere “deplorable” behavior. It’s the modus operandi of people proud to live in a cartoon fantasy.

Their behavior is classic: lots of phony outrage at being called deplorable. The ignominy of it! Those poor people! I must ask: have you even read the dictionary?

She waded even further into Trump territory, fantasizing on Israeli TV that “the terrorists” were praying, “Please, Allah, make Trump president of America.” I read months ago that she would take The Donald seriously. What happened to that?

And finally, she got sick and kept it secret. Until it betrayed her. People, it is ALWAYS the cover-up that gets you into trouble. She acquired a persistent cough that turned out to be pneumonia. Her doctor said slow down, stay at home, but instead she stumbled into the worst weekend of her campaign…

From the Washington Post: “Had Clinton heeded her doctor’s advice, she would not have gone to a glitzy fundraiser Friday night where she let her guard down and inartfully talked about Trump’s supporters, nor would she have been spotted collapsing Sunday morning as she was rushed out of a 9/11 memorial ceremony.”

The video of her stumbling into a vehicle is disturbing and feeds directly into the conspiracy theory of an unnamed serious illness…

It’s scary to watch. But surprisingly, the video above does not have an oh-my-gawd-she’s-dying soundtrack. (Although the second half of it is a dungeons-and-dragons commercial for Alex Jones’ brand.) Jones must be slipping.

I’m hoping that this is the nadir of Clinton’s campaign. That she’ll recover from pneumonia and from bad choices. Soon.

I can’t leave you on such a downer, so please take a look at Lewis Black on the Daily Show in 2011, talking about Trump. You’ll think he said all this yesterday!

Political Survivor #54 – for more abuse, subscribe today!

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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, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created, 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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