Thursday, September 29, 2016
US election debate: a draw with the edge to everyman Trump
The account below is from a conservative Australian journalist. I thought an outside view might be more balanced
It was a tale of two debates. And for each candidate, it was both the best and worst of debates.
For the first half-hour, Donald Trump wiped the floor with Hillary Clinton. It looked as though the New York property mogul would win not only the debate but the presidency itself there in Hofstra, New York, in one debate.
He spoke in the powerful, plain language of everyman.
Clinton began with characteristic politician waffle about building the right kind of economy.
Trump’s appeal was visceral and direct: “We have to stop our jobs being stolen from us and our companies leaving us.”
There is, of course, a lie at the heart of Trump’s appeal. Free trade has been good for the American economy. A dynamic economy destroys old jobs and creates new ones all the time. In so far as old jobs have been lost, this is much more because of technological change than trade.
Nonetheless, Trump’s message on trade is powerful and straightforward: America is being taken for a chump. In a very bad sign for Australia, Trump demonised the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and witheringly and accurately accused Clinton of flip-flopping on the issue.
Trump truthfully said Clinton had described the TPP as “the gold standard of trade agreements”, a remark she made, as it happens, on a visit to Australia when she was secretary of state.
Clinton dishonestly claimed she never said the TPP was “the gold standard” but merely hoped it would be. “I was against it when it was finally presented,” was her lame response.
Trump promised to cut taxes to stimulate investment, growth and jobs. Clinton promised to raise taxes on the rich and on corporations, because her priority was to produce a “fair economy”.
She will raise the minimum wage, provide paid parental leave and ensure women get equal pay to men. Trump promised to cut regulation. Polls show that US voters think Trump is better on the economy than Clinton.
As usual, there was something outrageous, with him accusing the Federal Reserve of acting politically in keeping interest rates low. This too echoes a concern of older Americans trying to live off the interest on their savings.
This whole section of the debate was won decisively by Trump.
But then, in a debate judo move of great artistry and astonishing effectiveness, Clinton turned the whole debate around. Though her brand is stolid, wooden reliability and stoic attachment to uttering the right cliche of the right zeitgeist, she began to provoke Trump with personal attacks. She certainly had a lot of material to work with and Trump allowed himself to be provoked.
First, she tackled him on the birther controversy, the insane argument Trump made for years that Barack Obama was not born in the US and therefore shouldn’t be president. Only in the past two weeks has Trump accepted Obama was born in the US.
Trump had no answer to this except to say Clinton’s campaign in 2008 began the birther controversy, a ditzy claim of no possible use to Trump. But he went on and on about the alleged friends of Clinton who had spread the birther myth and ended up accusing Clinton of having been too mean to Obama. Of all the things he might attack Clinton for, being mean to Obama was surely the most irrelevant and ridiculous.
Then Clinton accused him of having something to hide by not releasing his tax returns. For a moment, it looked like Trump might pivot back to the attack when he said: “I’ll release my tax returns if she’ll release the 33,000 emails”, which Clinton mysteriously deleted from the private server she wrongly used as secretary of state.
The email scandal is a huge vulnerability for Clinton. But Trump forgot all his attack lines and got bogged down in a ridiculous defence of his own company’s practices and his own tax behaviour.
The same pattern repeated itself later when Clinton, with ample justification, accused Trump of a history of insulting, demeaning sexist behaviour and remarks.
Trump showed an uncharacteristic flat footedness. He couldn’t pivot to the attack but got caught up in a ludicrous defence of an argument he had with Z grade entertainer Rosie O’Donnell.
These were Trump’s weakest moments, and there were plenty of them.
In what was a pretty weird debate, there was not much real policy substance. The most reassuring remark for Australia came from Clinton, who said: “We have mutual defence treaties and we will honour them.”
Trump dialled back his criticism of US allies. He wants to support them all, but the US spends an enormous amount of money defending allies and they must contribute more, or maybe they will have to defend themselves. Though he has often expressed this crudely, the idea allies are free riding on the US is undeniable. But this election won’t be won and lost on foreign policy, where Clinton has a strong lead.
Overall, I scored the debate about a draw, though CNN polls had voters saying Clinton had won. But I still think a draw is the right call, and it probably favours the challenger.
Trump did nothing to rule himself out of the presidency and he had no trouble on policy questions. Unexpectedly, it was the personal that tripped him up.
The underlying structure of the contest remains unchanged. Trump is the outsider promising change. Clinton is the ultimate insider, the registered adult offering a responsible alternative to Trump.
Beyond that, she lacks a narrative or any compelling rationale for her candidacy. Being the registered adult and safe alternative to Trump didn’t work for any of the heavyweight Republicans who ran against him in the primaries. Whether it is enough for Clinton is the $64 million question not at all resolved by this gruesomely compelling debate.
A Hard Rain Is Going to Fall
This summer, President Obama was often golfing. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were promising to let the world be. The end of summer seemed sleepy, the world relatively calm.
The summer of 1914 in Europe also seemed quiet. But on July 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip with help from his accomplices, fellow Serbian separatists. That isolated act sparked World War I.
In the summer of 1939, most observers thought Adolf Hitler was finally through with his serial bullying. Appeasement supposedly had satiated his once enormous territorial appetites. But on Sept. 1, Nazi Germany unexpectedly invaded Poland and touched off World War II, which consumed some 60 million lives.
Wars often seem to come out of nowhere, as unlikely events ignite long-simmering disputes into global conflagrations.
The instigators often are weaker attackers who foolishly assume that more powerful nations wish peace at any cost, and so will not react to opportunistic aggression.
Unfortunately, our late-summer calm of 2016 has masked a lot of festering tensions that are now coming to a head — largely due to disengagement by a supposedly tired United States.
In contrast, war, unlike individual states, does not sleep.
Russia has been massing troops on its border with Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently believes that Europe is in utter disarray and assumes that President Obama remains most interested in apologizing to foreigners for the past evils of the United States. Putin is wagering that no tired Western power could or would stop his reabsorption of Ukraine — or the Baltic states next. Who in hip Amsterdam cares what happens to faraway Kiev?
Iran swapped American hostages for cash. An Iranian missile narrowly missed a U.S. aircraft carrier not long ago. Iranians hijacked an American boat and buzzed our warships in the Persian Gulf. There are frequent promises from Tehran to destroy either Israel, America or both. So much for the peace dividend of the “Iran deal.”
North Korea is more than just delusional. Recent nuclear tests and missile launches toward Japan suggest that North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un actually believes that he could win a war — and thereby gain even larger concessions from the West and from his Asian neighbors.
Radical Islamists likewise seem emboldened to try more attacks on the premise that Western nations will hardly respond with overwhelming power. The past weekend brought pipe bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey as well as a mass stabbing in a Minnesota mall — and American frustration.
Europe and the United States have been bewildered by huge numbers of largely young male migrants from the war-torn Middle East. Political correctness has paralyzed Western leaders from even articulating the threat, much less replying to it.
Instead, the American government appears more concerned with shutting down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, ensuring that no administration official utters the words “Islamic terror,” and issuing warnings to Americans not to lash out due to their supposedly innate prejudices.
Aggressors are also encouraged by vast cutbacks in the U.S. defense budget. The lame-duck Obama presidency, lead-from-behind policies and a culturally and racially divided America reflect voter weariness with overseas commitments.
It would be a mistake to assume that war is impossible because it logically benefits no one, or is outdated in our sophisticated 21st century, or would be insane in a world of nuclear weapons.
Human nature is unchanging and remains irrational. Evil is eternal. Unfortunately, appeasement is often seen by thugs not as magnanimity to be reciprocated but as timidity to be exploited.
Someone soon will have to tell the North Koreans that a stable world order cannot endure its frequent missile launches and nuclear detonations.
Someone could remind Putin that the former Soviet republics have a right to self-determination.
Someone might inform the Chinese that no one can plop down artificial islands and military bases to control commercial sea lanes.
Someone might make it clear to radical Islamic terrorists that there is a limit to Western patience with their chronic bombing, murdering and destruction.
The problem is that there is no other “someone” (especially not the United Nations or the European Union) with the requisite power and authority except the United States. But for a long time America has done more than its fair share of international policing — and its people are tired of costly dragon-slaying abroad.
The result is that at this late date, the tough medicine of restoring long-term deterrence is as almost as dangerous as the disease of continual short-term appeasement.
Obama apparently assumes he can leave office as a peacemaker before his appeased chickens come home to roost in violent fashion. He has assured us that the world has never been calmer and quieter.
Others said the same thing in the last calm summer weeks of 1914 and 1939.
War clouds are gathering. A hard rain is soon going to fall.
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Posted by JR at 1:32 AM