First Debate 2016

In the green corner, we have Donald Trump. In the blue corner, Hillary Clinton. They will square off on Monday (26 September 2016) in their first televised debate. Clinton has been practicing and studying hard. Trump, opting for the non-traditional route, has instead been trying to find someone (and probably using his foundation’s money to pay them) to defeat his son’s Skittle® Riddle so he can eat the damned things.

This first debate features Lester Holt as moderator, and it takes place in Hempstead, New York, at Hofstra University (motto: Je maintiendrai, which is French). The topics will be the direction of the nation, how to achieve prosperity, and how to maintain security.

One expects Clinton to be well versed on the issues, prepared for almost anything (even for Trump quitting the race mid-debate). She knows Trump’s policy proposals better than he does, at this point. She’s had strong debate practice, both in ’08 against then-Senator Obama, and this year against Senator Sanders.

People question “which Trump” will show up. I haven’t seen any firm numbers on that, but I’m pretty sure there’s just one Trump. People have surely figured out that him acting nice on a stage and Trump-like on the trail is just the two-faced nature of this guy. That is, I don’t think Trump gains anything by acting any particular way, except maybe from the press. The press seems to think it’s an asset of Trump’s to be able to wait until after the debate to brag-tweet about not calling Clinton “Crooked Hillary” (“Lincoln, eat your heart out!”).

Trump’s only real debate experience at this level is his involvement as one of the leaders of the Birther movement, the movement to somehow disprove the fact that President Obama was born in Hawaii. The primary debates, while entertaining, were mostly about him sniping other candidates and then letting the throng beg the moderators to let them respond.

Trump will tell us how tough he’ll be on ISIL, and Clinton will ask him how he can be tough on them when all they’ll need is his tax returns in order to assure his capitulation to their wants. Trump will claim he’ll be the law-and-order president, Clinton will point out that racism is not a viable strategy for dealing with economic problems or criminal justice reform.

They’ll both say they’ll create lots of jobs. Trump will say he’ll do it by reducing trade (which ignores the loss of export jobs), Clinton by increasing government programs and fostering investment. On the direction of the country, Trump will say he’ll make America great again. Clinton will say we should all move forward together. In other words, some slogans.

Will there be any big surprise of the debate? Will one of the candidates spontaneously combust? Will Trump, by virtue of appearing on the same stage, look presidential? Will his supposed unpredictability help him or harm him? Who will win?

We’ll see Monday. Trump should probably have practiced.


How the Media Created Trump

Not by giving him a reality show. Not by covering his insane behaviors and willingness to say just about anything (hell, he even admitted that Obama is native-born, though he didn’t apologize for his prior foolishness, so maybe he can’t say sorry).

They did it by letting his supporters believe that he can actually change the direction of the country to one they find more appealing. Supporters think he can break the gridlock and create 25 mega-jobs (25 million) and keep the country safe while defeating ISIL and building a wall and repealing Obamacare and cloning Antonin Scalia and aging him up to replace himself in the Supreme Court.

The media has been long on talk of gridlock, but it has offered little in the way of solutions. Just suck it up, they said. Just have to wait for friendlier, more (little-D) democratic times to come around when all the congress will join together in a CareBear® Stare to fix our problems. There’s nothing the people can do but ride it out.

And the problem has only grown worse. So this year a plurality of the Republican constituents have stumbled on a plan: elect the worst thing they can get their hands on, and see what that does. It’s the smack-to-the-side-of-the-broken-machine method. What else are they supposed to do? Be patient? Hurry up and wait?

The weird thing is that it could just work. A Trump presidency might unite Republicans and Democrats against him, if he’s bad enough. He’ll call for the mass-execution of all foreigners, they’ll band together to ban capital punishment outright. He’ll request a war against fruits and vegetables, mandating a new fried-food pyramid, and they’ll expand subsidies to healthy foods. He’ll try to replace Obamacare with a requirement that all doctors simply tell their patients:

[Insert Patient Name], I can tell you unequivocally, you’re the healthiest individual ever.

The Republicans in Congress will probably go along with that one, though the sugar lobby will get them to make doctors give out lollipops at every visit.

Point is, what does Hillary Clinton have to offer? Can she be so divisive that even her allies will abandon her? According to her critics, she’s real bad, but they’ve given no signs that she’s so bad she could unite fierce partisans to oppose her.

After four years, Trump would have to run as an independent, but he would be overwhelmingly reelected because people would like seeing Congress rub his face in it with every single overridden veto and resolution of censure. He would get 95% of the African-American vote, as they would be glad to have a Republican party that actually enacted gun control legislation after Trump tried to require handgun manufacturers to make arms that babies could aim, fire, reload, and also use as a pacifier. That actually reformed policing after Trump aired his “shoot first, don’t ask questions” reform.

Even the statehouses would be united by Trump, as 100% of Attorneys General would have multiple lawsuits pending against his administration. Donald Trump is the alien invasion Ronald Reagan spoke of, saying, “Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. […] [H]ow quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

Now obviously this is fantasy. The Republicans would actually support the baby-gun (I’m sure, out there, somewhere, there’s an anti-abortion group that wants to arm fetuses), the war on health, the fried-food pyramid, lollipop stethoscopes and marmalade tongue depressors. The Democrats would not. A Trump-shaped jolt to the system will not overcome the reticence to restore normal governing in the legislature.

There are things that would, but the media hasn’t covered them. So the angry, disaffected people that support Trump (i.e., the non-deplorables) continue to believe that Trump is magic. Criminy.


A Woman in the White House

As we have struggled with partisanship over the past eight years, one wonders how much is due to racism. Or maybe not exactly racism in the strongest sense of the word, but just the uncertainty of making a change that most sensible people know makes no difference: having a black man do a job formerly held only by white men.

The argument goes that most white Americans probably haven’t had supervisors, teachers, preachers, or other authority figures that were black men, so they worried about it a lot. Like if they went on a blind date with a black woman. They see a certain amount of cultural differences, and they know how fraught with peril culture clashes can be. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable in a room of people who are different than you.

Hell, they probably worried about Obama sagging his pants. Worried about the national anthem being changed to a rap song. Worried about filing their taxes in Ebonics. All those insane thoughts they couldn’t tamp down.

And we face basically the same problem of cultural-ignorance now that a woman may take office. Are we all going to have to watch RomComs for the next four to eight years? If we have a smudge on our face, will the police pull us over and wipe it off with a spit-wetted Kleenex?

Hell no, we need Trump, they think. He’ll let us scratch our crotches when we itch, while Clinton will require us to wear clean underwear when we go out.

But this election isn’t about forcing us all to put our napkins in our laps and tuck in our shirts and sit up straight. It’s about an eminently qualified candidate who wants to address the problems our nation faces. She hasn’t done the best job explaining it, but in all honesty if you read the policies proposed by both sides, Hillary Clinton has more right to claim the slogan “Make America Great Again” than Donald Trump does (caveat: it should really be something like “Make America Greater Still”).

She actually wants to deal with climate change, not just use it as a minced oath for those crazy people in white coats doing that science crap. She wants to fix immigration in a way that recognizes the economic realities of labor as they stand. To improve the lot of all workers through practical solutions, like paid family leave.

While Trump wants to cut taxes for the rich, Clinton actually wants to get down under the sink and actually replumb our revenue streams to fit the way money flows in modern America. She wants to take those streams and devote them to betterment of health coverage and education access.

The main criticism against Hillary Clinton is the notion she is corrupted by power, but for all of the attacks, the woman is still standing, which says more about the attacks than it does about her. Sure, it’s tough to stay up and keep fighting, but it’s unrealistic to believe that if the Republicans had ever found a real, honest-to-God scandal to hit her with she would still be around.

We’ve seen countless political figures felled by scandal. Either Clinton is very lucky, possesses Moriarty-level cunning, or the alleged scandals are wildly overblown. Of those three, Occam’s Razor slices and dices the first two, leaving the conclusion that if there is real corruption there, it hasn’t been shown. Hillary Clinton remains viable and respectable.

So get sloppy while you can, America. Come January 2017, you’ll be forced to wear bow ties and straw hats. Your shirts will be pastels, starched and itchy. You will wear either a handkerchief in your breast pocket or a flower in your lapel. And you will be forced to hum or whistle as you walk down the street, a spring in your step, smile on your face, twinkle in your eye. You will say sir and ma’am, please and thank you, wash your hands before every meal, say grace, wash behind your ears, and pass the dutchie on the left-hand side.


Trump Built a Wall Around His Campaign

And he’s going to make the Republicans pay for it. We’ve seen enough off-the-cuff discussion of immigration from Trump to show he understands at least some of the problems with his policy, and yet, given the opportunity to attempt a real, earnest reset, he chose to stay where he is. He continues to hold up his broken immigration policy proposal as the cornerstone of his campaign.

He even bothered to bring up global warming during his speech, to mock it. An issue that will cost the generation known as Millennials $8.8 trillion by one estimate, versus an issue that, managed correctly, actually generates revenue (so could climate mitigation, of course, if action were taken).

Likewise, on the issue of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, he missed a key opportunity to appeal to minorities. All he had to do was disavow the protest itself, while being sympathetic to the issues it represents. Instead it was something like, ‘go find a new country.’

He’s bad at this, folks. He seems to believe he can win with white men alone. He largely did that during the primaries, but the last primary was three months ago. Nobody told Trump, apparently.

He keeps hiring people to fix it, but they’re all on the outside of his wall. Inside? Probably just him, realistically. His kids, he pays attention to the kids. But as I’ve said before, they probably agree with him no matter what, as it’s their inheritance on the line. They can’t really be the changemakers. As the new staff gets frustrated, they try to breach that wall, only to find themselves resigning or fired because the Trumps like their wall right where it is.

The best that they can hope for is that they can get Trump to leave the wall, since they’re not going to get in there. Leave some KFC buckets outside, and set up some big fans to blow the scent in there. Or maybe try to smoke him out. Something.

In all probability, he just doesn’t understand how it works. He thinks leaders are elected by their staff. If only he hires the right people, it’ll all work out. He doesn’t understand that it’s up to him to do the work, and the Republican leaders haven’t impressed upon him that the damage he is doing will leave scars. But they can’t, because he’s not a politician anyway. He has no real skin in the game. He can always go back to being a two-bit billionaire, which he’s already said he’ll gladly do.

That’s good for the country, at least. The Republicans are left with another bout of obstructionism ahead as their only real strategy beyond actually changing some of their policies. It will take more electoral defeat to convince them to change, something that will only occur over the next few decades, unfortunately.


The Automation Issue and the Presidential Race

While Donald Trump softens (or curdles, depending on the perspective) on immigration, while folks question whether Hillary Clinton is a particularly articulate zombie, automation looms like a tidal wave. Neither candidate has touched on the issue very much, which is a shame because it will likely begin striking during the next administration.

Automation is the process of making stuff happen without humans doing it. Self-driving cars (and trucks) will be one example of automation, but so will robotic cooks at fast food joints. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were an early victory for the robots, way back in the 1960s. But technology has come a long way since then, and I understand they will have ATMs for Bitcoin any day now.

There are some big concerns with automation (which isn’t AI, although AI is an important subject in its own right). One of the biggest issues is how you deal with job losses to machines. Some say this won’t be an issue, claiming that new jobs will be created to take up the slack. These people are both correct and wrong.

They’re right that humanity will figure out how to deal with the startling reality of no longer being needed to sweep floors, drive cars, weld, do taxes, cut hair. They may be right in the idea that we’ll find new employment doing creative tasks, but that remains to be seen. We may invent alternative modes of employment, instead. We may implement a universal income system, or pay people for activities, or shorten the workweek. Where they are wrong is the idea that we shouldn’t worry about it. Looking back at previous transitions, we should definitely have plans in place to protect people from the worst of automation.

The problem is, we’ve never done very well with transitions. We suck at integrating military service members back into society. We suck at integrating ex-convicts back into society. We fail to make adequate plans to rapidly retrain workers losing coal mining jobs or oil jobs when the price drops. And so on.

We fail with the people we like best, veterans. We fail to help women have children, despite the fact that everybody loves babies. There’s no reason to think goodwill has anything to do with it. We’re just bad at helping people transition.

Instead of facing automation, we’re trying to tackle issues that will be mooted by it. The outrageous cost of health care, a real and pressing problem, will likely evaporate as automation makes everything from basic tests to elaborate surgeries cheaper and safer. The main issue there will be regulatory: how to get a body like the FDA in shape to tackle changes to equipment coming at breakneck speeds.

A similar story will play out in education. While college is currently way too expensive, automation will probably lead to the elimination of all but the most historied campuses.

Now, many of these changes will take decades to fully develop, but the first wave of automation is likely to begin in the next four years. While it’s not an issue that will likely sway voters, it would be nice to see some discussion of it. Oh, global warming, too. Automation—figurative tidal waves; global warming—literal hurricanes.