Confession: Two weeks ago or so I decided that no, I wasn’t going to sit up into the early hours of the morning to watch two cranky seventy year olds shouting at each other in America. And I was absolutely intent on keeping that promise, until Virgin Media rang yesterday and asked would I review proceedings for Ireland AM this morning.
Sit up until half four, sleep for 90 minutes, and then get up to do a 15 minute segment on TV? Sure, that makes sense. So naturally I said yes.
As I was going to sleep, CNN came out with their “instant poll”. It’s a quadrennial piece of false advertising – “instant”, they say, and yet it always takes a good two hours after the debate to come out. Biden won 60-28, it said, amongst debate watchers. Bad news for Trump, so, until you remember that in the first debate in 2016, the CNN instant poll said Clinton won, 63-27.
Was Trump awful, or was he actually so good that he’s on course to do four per cent better than he did against Clinton?
When I was younger, I watched American Presidential election campaigns like your average nine year old watches Manchester United versus Liverpool – like the result might mean the end of the world. These days, though only, yet, in early middle age, it’s much harder not to be cynical.
And last night’s debate showed why. For all the shouting and the roaring between Trump, Biden, and the moderator, Chris Wallace, the differences between the two men remain relatively cosmetic. There are important differences, yes, but they are mainly cultural differences, which will have little practical impact on the lives of the average American, or, indeed, Irish person.
The person who really cares, on either side, of course, isn’t average. If you’re reading a review of the US election debate on Gript, you’re not average. And for us not-average people, it matters more.
If you’re pro-life, then a Trump win gets you tantalizingly close to overturning Roe versus Wade and dramatically limiting the number of abortions, particularly late term abortions, in the United States. If you believe Climate Change is about to burn down the planet, then getting Trump out of office must seem like the most pressing issue in the world.
In neither of those cases, though, are you the average American, or even the average Irish person.
As far as I could tell, the average viewer tuned in last night and saw two old men standing up on a stage, shouting abuse at each other across ten feet of empty space.
One average voter told a Fox News focus group that she simply wasn’t going to vote, after watching it, because it was so bad. And why should she?
If you view this election through the prism of the culture war, then it’s a titanic battle for the ages. If you view it through the prism of what is actually going to change in people’s lives over the next four years, then the debate last night did very little to change my view that it’s…. not very important at all, actually.
2016, as it turns out, may have been much more important for the long term trajectory of the United States. If Trump succeeds, before election day, in appointing Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, then he will have given Republicans and Conservatives an enduring majority in the body that is the final arbiter of many of these issues. If Clinton had won in 2016, then the US Supreme Court would probably, today, have a 6-3 liberal majority. As it happens, it will have a 6-3 conservative one. Nothing that happens this November will have anything like so long-lasting a consequence.
And the facts about the election this November remain the same, no matter how much partisans might wish to rationalise them away: Trump is behind, and behind by a good bit, in every reputable poll. Women, in particular, seem to have taken a serious aversion to him over the past four years. Did he help himself with women, last night, by doing his best incredible Hulk act? I doubt it.
Biden has something going for him that Clinton didn’t: He’s likeable. Over the years he’s been as mean and savage a politician as anyone else you can think of – remember, if you will, his disgraceful 2012 claim that Mitt Romney would put black people “back in chains – but that matters less when you have crinkly eyes and a kind smile, whether we like it or not.
Mrs. Clinton would stand up there and look every inch the calculating villain, which was very nice of her, if you’re a Trump fan. Biden doesn’t do that – he looks like the nice guy, while Trump looks like the jackass in the restaurant shouting loudly at the waiter that he needs to speak to the manager. To use a television analogy, if the last election was like watching Basil Fawlty versus Sybil, then this one is like watching an election – and a debate – between Basil Fawlty and Manuel the Spanish waiter. Manuel might be a dunce, but he comes across as a harmless one.
And then, of course, there was the end of the debate, where Trump flat out said, that he wouldn’t accept the result of the election. Invited to do so several times, he refused. He can only win, or be cheated.
Trump fans (and there’s lots I like about him myself) can say what they want – in a democracy, things only work when those who lose do so gracefully. He’s poisoning his own country, just to win an election that isn’t especially important to begin with.
The tragedy is, of course, that he could be a much better President than he is. He just can’t stop shooting himself in the foot.
He did it again, last night.