Josh Haas's Web Log

Yet another review of the Trump-Clinton debate

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Let’s get a couple things out of the way:
  • I am planning to vote for Hillary
  • I thought Hillary “won”, in the primate, “displayed dominance via superior body-language” sense, in the inside-politics “got Trump to say more stupid things that could be used against him than he did her” sense, and in the intellectual “the shit she said made more sense than the shit Donald said” sense.
That said, I don’t think Hillary changed too many minds, because she did not engage with the one thing that Trump brings to the table.
The card that Trump has (insert dumb joke here) that Hillary and the mainstream establishment that she represents does not know how to engage with, is despair.  Consider the following debate quotes from him:
“In inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics, are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot”
“We are losing billions and billions of dollars.”
“When we have $20 trillion in debt, and our country’s a mess, you know, it’s one thing to have $20 trillion in debt and our roads are good and our bridges are good and everything’s in great shape, our airports. Our airports are like from a third world country.”
“Typical. Politician. All talk. No action. Sounds good. Doesn’t work. Never gonna happen.”
I really like this last quote especially.  Cf. these lyrics from Sondheim’s musical Assassins:
  • (Byck) Yeah, it’s never gonna happen, Is it? No, sir- (Czolgosz) Never. (Byck) No, we’re never gonna get the prize- (Fromme) No one listens… (Byck) -Are we? (Zangara) Never (Byck) No, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, Does it? (Assassins) Didn’t. Ever. (Byck) Fuck it! (Assassins) Spread the word… Where’s my prize?…
  • (Balladeer) I just heard On the news Where the mailman won the lottery. Goes to show: When you lose, what you do is try again. You can be What you choose, From a mailman to a president. There are prizes all around you, If you’re wise enough to see: The delivery boy’s on Wall Street, And the the usherette’s a rock star-
  • (Byck)Right, it’s never gonna happen, is it? Is it! (Hinckley and Fromme) No, man! (Byck and Czolgosz) No, we’ll never see the day arrive- (Assassins) Spread the word… Will we? No, sir-Never! No one’s ever even gonna care if we’re alive, Are they?… Never… Spread the word… We’re alive… Someone’s gonna listen… Listen!
  • (Byck) Listen… There’s another national anthem playing, Not the one you cheer At the ballpark. (Moore) Where’s my prize?… (Byck)It’s the other national anthem, saying, If you want to hear- It says, “Bullshit!”… (Czolgosz) It says, “Never!”- (Guiteau) It says, “Sorry!”- (Assassin) Loud and clear-
Full song here
Assassins, if you’ve never seen it, is a musical about the people who killed or tried to kill US Presidents, and its thesis is that the “tradition” of assassination attempts in American history is about trying and failing to achieve the American dream.  It’s about the people who don’t win the lottery, don’t work their way to the top, don’t get their nice picket fence and steady union job.  And who are especially bitter and angry because they feel that there was a promise, that they were told they lived in the greatest nation in the world, where anyone can succeed.
This demographic used to act out by assassinating the president.  Now they’re powerful enough that they can nominate their very own candidate.
I just finished playing Kentucky Route Zero.  It’s a computer game that puts you in the seat of a truck driver making deliveries in coal-country Kentucky.  It’s a magical realist journey into the dark inside of that region’s collective mind… the grief, the despair, the broken-down-ed-ness of everything, as well as the weird beauty of decaying things that no longer have a purpose and so just exist as they are.
I also recently read Hillbilly Elegy, the autobiography of someone who — in his view — escaped coal-country to become part of the nation’s intellectual elite (via first the marines, then Yale law school).  It’s the tonal opposite of Kentucky Route Zero — where KR0 is patient, poetic, willing to see how weird and strange the devastation is, Hillbilly Elegy is sober and deadpan as the author gives the rap sheet of drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, and joblessness that he saw around him growing up.
What both describe vividly is that there’s a hole there, in the middle of America, where things are not okay.  A sense of complete and utter failure that seems beyond anyone’s power to fix.  The gap between that complete hopelessness, and the neurotic will-to-success that I see all around me in New York, is a vast chasm, a Grand Canyon.  And yet Trump and Hillary are put side by side on a podium as if their feet aren’t on different planets.
There was this article — can’t find it now — about some independents watching the debates in a bar, the kind of bar that could appear in KR0, named after something that’s gone out of business or disappeared or became irrelevant.  They thought Trump won.  I dunno how you can really see what happened there as him “winning”, but looking at the pictures of them in that bar, imagining the virtual bars I visited while playing KR0, I can see why’d they still connect with him, why they would root for that.
Yeah, he’s a walking disaster, an un-disciplined, hyperbolic blowhard fueled by ignorance and rage who knows jack shit about what it takes to run the country.  He’s not logical, not reasonable, not virtuous.  But neither is life for most people in big chunks of this country.  Is it logical or reasonable that there are towns where more people are drug addicts than have steady jobs?
One of the things I really liked about Kentucky Route Zero is that it engages with entropy, without trying to stick a meaning on it.  There’s no higher meaning in the landscape of random decay, weird outgrowths, and evolutionary dead-ends that it navigates.  There’s grief, and anger, and moments of beauty, but there’s no attempt to try to say it all makes sense.
“Mourning in the graveyard of dead dreams” isn’t really a political platform, and I can’t see presidential candidate getting on stage and doing that.  Politics rewards telling people you have a solution, and relies on the fact that people will always be suckered again and again and again because they want it to be true.  So I don’t know.
I’m going to vote for Hillary, because she’s a sane, competent achiever who will keep the government on a sane, competent track.  I don’t think that will solve anything, or make the wounds in the country go away, or make next presidential election any bit less of a shit-show, but at the end of the day, the institution of the presidency can only do so much.

Written by jphaas

October 2nd, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized