Thoughts On The First 2016 Presidential Debate

Leading up to the debate yesterday, the expectations game seemed to go like this: All the pressure was on Hillary Clinton. Just like a baseball pitcher walking onto the mound after losing four starts in a row, the question was whether she could turn it around. Given the slippage in her overall poll numbers and the Trump surge in key battleground states such as Florida and Ohio, many presumed that she needed to punch hard to show—particularly in light of the rumors swirling around her health—that she had the mojo necessary to bring home victory on the homestretch. To do this she would have to find a way to connect with voters that had so far eluded her during her grim march toward the Oval Office. We needed to see less joyless policy wonk and more inspirational leader. If she started talking about tax credits and policy platforms, you knew it was over.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, had a more peculiar challenge: Stop acting like Donald Trump—and start behaving like someone whom we could imagine as President. However entertaining and borderline lunatic his campaign has been, it has not struck a great many as “Presidential” in the manner we have come to expect. Perhaps Trump might convince voters that he could be a new and improved brand of President (“Trump! Now with 50% More Bombast!”), but it seemed to me that his main debate challenge was to stop campaigning on 11 and dial back to something approximating a statesman-like approach to the many problems facing our nation. If he fell into berating and bullying Clinton or the moderator, he would perhaps win that battle but lose the war.

When the history of this campaign is written, September 26th, 2016 is certainly not a date that will live in infamy, but it will most assuredly be remembered as the day that this year’s Presidential campaign took a turn toward a more definitive conclusion.

Each candidate did, more or less, what they needed to do. Hillary Clinton seemed a shade less tightly wound (although it would have helped to discard that rictus of a smile that intermittently shoots across her face) and Donald Trump did not come across as a steaming hot bowl of crazy soup (although it would have helped to discard that disdainful frown that more than intermittently shoots across his face). Hillary clearly had more command of the facts and numbers, but Donald still had the gut punch outsider appeal that has defined his candidacy.

Some moments stood out for each—depending on which candidate you support—but I’m not certain any minds were changed by what happened last night. The viewpoints of each candidate seemed to be informed by assessments of the state of our nation that were so divergent that it was hard to believe they were speaking about the same country. Hillary Clinton, the “status quo” candidate, obviously was required to paint a rosier picture; Donald Trump, the candidate of the discontented, saw more shadows than light. Each dodged when they needed to dodge; each repeated the talking points that they felt needed to be repeated.

I was curious to see the instant polls afterwards as to who “won” the debate, but I saw it as a draw. Each landed some punches, but there was no definitive knock-out blow.

I wish, as probably did many other viewers, that the debate moderators would disappear entirely. I would love to hear the candidates speak directly to each other without the awkward filter of some news personality who is basking in the professional glow of sitting in front of the candidates. Too many times the candidates are interrupted and the discussion derailed. Let them debate and be done with it.

However, somewhere in the second half of the debate my best efforts to keep paying attention to every twist and turn started to flag—and I started to think about Star Trek.

Why, you may ask, was I suddenly flashing back to those classic 1960’s television episodes? The reason was simple: I realized I was watching a modern version of the never-ending conundrum of Starship command that was heart and soul of that show.

On the one side we had First Officer Spock, a being with superior intellect but lacking people skills. His counterpoint was Captain James Kirk, space Casanova extraordinaire.

Spock may have been the one who understood more than anyone around, but his expertise was always circumscribed by his inability to connect with the crew. He was respected, but he was incapable of inspiring. He might win a chest full of medals and the heartfelt thanks of those around him, but his excessively constrained and measured personality meant that he was never, ever going to be in command—and those brief occasions when he was in charge were not all that great.

Captain Kirk, however, sometimes seemed positively bored by the minutiae of command. He was clearly happiest when the ship was surrounded by Klingons or there was an intergalactic babe in the vicinity that needed his heavy-handed brand of seduction.

Spock was always fiddling with his tricorder and explaining precisely how many milliseconds it would be before the ship blew up. Kirk was always firing his phaser or unleashing a volley of photon torpedoes with his peculiar blend of grunting intensity of bug-eyed panache. Spock tolerated the shenanigans of the Captain with an almost weary resignation. Kirk kicked ass while leaving a trail of broken hearts across the galaxy. Spock intrigued us; Kirk captured our hearts.

Allow me, if I may, an analogy: Clinton is Spock, and Trump is Kirk. Unless Hillary can somehow change the script between now and Election Day, I suspect President Trump will be sitting in the command chair on the bridge—and demanding maximum warp speed as he races along.

Footnote: The Presidential election is interesting and very important, but pay very close attention to what happens over the next several weeks with Deutsche Bank, still the world’s 11th largest bank—and very possibly on the verge of collapse. If they go down, expect the world financial system to have a heart attack that is going to change a great deal—very, very quickly.

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