On Tuesday morning I was surprised, to put it mildly, when I woke up to find messages that TRUMP WON all over the Internet, from YouTube to Facebook.
The winner of a debate is determined by primarily objective measures and by some subjective measures. Among those measures are:
- Factual accuracy; e.g., reason
- Solid argumentation vs. unfounded assertions; e.g., logic
- Answering questions
- Answering opponent's arguments
- Doing all of this within allotted time
By objective measures, Donald Trump lost the debate by a wide margin.
While Hillary Clinton has been effectively branded as a serial liar and nothing will ever change that, it's baffling that no one has been able to effectively use this brand on Trump. Even to his followers who may not believe anything reported through the media, issued by the government, or written in any textbook, they should not be able to deny or overlook the reality that Donald Trump's words consistently undermine and overwrite Donald Trump's own words. This makes Trump an unreliable reporter and, to not mince words, a compulsive liar.
Trump's falsehoods are thoroughly documented elsewhere, and so I will skip that. The point here is that even if Trump is going to construct his own reality with his own fictional, self-authored "facts," to be believable, he would need to repeat the same facts consistently. It's a rule of fiction: You set rules for a story, and then you abide by those rules or else your readers will lose faith in the world you've created. Even Adolf Hitler famously said that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes truth. Donald Trump tells countless conflicting lies constantly and whatever he is saying at any given time somehow enraptures and bewitches his fans into believing him. Despite his apparent magical abilities of influence, Trump failed the first measure of debating: factual accuracy.
The second measure is argumentation--rhetorical logic--versus unfounded assertion. Donald Trump is a chaos candidate, and his chaotic scrambling of the English language reveals his chaotic thought. To those of us who believe he poses a serious danger to the United States and potentially the world, it is precisely because of this chaos that rules him. His words are revealing:
As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we're not. I don't think anybody knows that it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia--I don't, maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?
"The cyber" is unclear, and Trump's use of this word (typically a prefix), if I may be so bold as to make my own assertion, it suggests that he really doesn't know what he is talking about. "We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we're not" is an assertion unsubstantiated by any kind of fact, and the addition of "perhaps" is a safeguard that reveals even Trump is not confident in his assertion. Are we or are we not? He doesn't tell us, and he gives no evidence to support what he suggests here. "
The question asked by Lester Holt that elicited this response was, "Who's behind [the Democratic National Committee email hack]? And how do we fight it?"
Trump answered the first question, frankly, as well as anyone probably could at this point: "...it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people." He could do this, I'd argue, because here his opinion just happens to coincidentally dovetail with actual reality. Trump, we know, wants to redirect attention from accusations that he is in cahoots with the Russian government, and that makes sense because such accusations thus far have not been proven, and they should, if ever proven, be damning to his political career--because of the very real national security threat that situation would pose.
Trump did not answer Holt's question, "And how do we fight it?" It took Trump several paragraphs' worth of rambling to even steer his rhetoric in the direction of the question. His immediate response was to state that he has been endorsed by about 200 military officials (not mentioning, as one in his position would not in a debate and as Hillary Clinton should have, that past Republican candidates typically had 600 to 800 such endorsements), as well as the union of immigration officers, and then he said this:
So when Secretary Clinton talks about this, I mean, I'll take the admirals and I'll take the generals any day over the political hacks that I see that have led our country so brilliantly over the last 10 years with their knowledge. OK? Because look at the mess that we're in. Look at the mess that we're in.
...which is typical of his rhetoric: babbling, bumbling, unclear, barely tangentially relating to the question, and difficult to follow. Who is behind the email hacks, and what are we going to do about the situation, the moderator asked. Look at that answer.
Donald Trump is an expert at making assertions and accusations, but that's not a skill. It's a personality trait and it displays boldness and a certain kind of courage--but not moral courage, and not the kind of courage that should come with the territory. For example, I can imagine that when Vladimir Putin makes characteristically bold accusations, he might be prepared for challenging consequences. Donald Trump is not: when he makes unfounded, freeform accusations and he is challenged, he in equal measure amps up the attack and plays the victim--attacking people and seeking sympathy for what he feels are attacks on him in the same breath:
You know, Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials.
Here, Trump wants our sympathy. Clinton, he laments, is picking on him! And seconds later:
Rosie O'Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.
For no reason aside from his bizarre personal fixation on her (likely rooted in narcissistic personality disorder, but that's a tangent), at the very moment Donald Trump was claiming to be a victim, he chose to once again bully Rosie O'Donnell during a debate that would decide the President of the United States of America.
And this totally irrelevant, time-wasting nonsense was in answer to moderator Lester Holt's questioning of Trump's having said that Hillary Clinton "doesn't have the look" to be president. Holt touched a nerve, called Trump on his misogyny, and it triggered both his feelings of victimization, and his urgent, irrepressible need to attack various women for having the nerve to be overweight, older, or just women. (Who can forget his comment about Megyn Kelly "bleeding from her wherever"?)
Many people wonder why Hillary Clinton doesn't answer Trump's viciousness in part by doing what Trump would do. He is admired by so many, it is said often, because he gives voice to what other people are thinking but wouldn't dare say. Why doesn't Hillary Clinton point out on the stage that Donald Trump is as old as she is, and...far from conventionally attractive? Why doesn't she point out when he calls average-sized women "fat" that records show he may be morbidly obese and at the very least is visibly and undeniably overweight himself? Maybe Clinton regards her position as a presidential candidate and public office holder to be a professional position that requires a professional demeanor. Maybe she just won't say these things because she is participating in a debate, and the moderator did not ask her what she thinks of Donald Trump's appearance, and even if he did, she may feel the question is irrelevant to the presidential position. Who knows? She doesn't go there, and by not doing so, she sticks closer to the questions and upholds her upper hand in the debate.
In other words, Hillary Clinton answers the questions asked by the moderator, while Donald Trump babbles and follows any shiny object that comes across his path. He has no self-control, and his performance should leave viewers and listeners wondering whether he has any of the knowledge necessary to answer the questions--because he answers few.
It's difficult to say how well Hillary Clinton performed at the objective debating measure of answering her opponent's arguments--because Donald Trump makes so few coherent or fact-based arguments. He specializes in assertions and accusations, and by barking them in super-simplistic language over and over, he verbally hammers these assertions into the debate conversation like nails, and the moderator and the opponent are tasked with digging those nails out with the claw of his hammer, one at a time. This can be an effective smokescreen for someone in the audience, but this is the reason debates are formal activities with moderators and which can usually be said to have a clear winner and a clear loser.
By all objective measures, Donald Trump lost the first debate.
Michael Moore caused something of a stir by announcing that Trump won in what I believe to have been an ill-conceived attempt at mass reverse psychology. We need to play it straight here and call reality reality, because reality is getting far too muddled.
Reality is muddled in part because of old-fashioned propaganda. The Trump campaign was primed at the immediate conclusion of the debate to saturate the Internet with proclamations that "TRUMP WON," when Trump clearly did not win. It doesn't matter to those who want him to have won: They regarded those advertisements and the on-air propaganda campaign that Trump's handlers waged on Tuesday proclaiming him to be the winner--against all real-world measures--to be reality.
By Wednesday night, CNN reported that Trump's advisers briefed Trump that Monday's debate "didn't go well." Trump's campaign certainly will deny this, even as reasonable people who listened to and tried to follow Trump's words understand that, no, it did not go well for him.
A commenter on Michael Moore's Facebook page wrote that "Trump won the debate in the rust belt" and that urban dwellers aren't there and so we wouldn't know that. The winner of a debate is not so subjective that the name of the winner varies geographically: Trump lost the debate, universally, because Trump made few coherent arguments, undermined his own assertions with his own contradictory assertions, and by just about every other objective measure.
Even by subjective measures by which I would normally concede it could be argued he "won" in the opinions of some--his bombast, his overconfidence, his bold bullying personality--he came up short in this debate.
He sipped water constantly, which under normal circumstances wouldn't matter at all, but it wasn't long ago that Trump argued that Marco Rubio was a laughing stock and physically weak because he once...drank lots of water during a public appearance. Here was Trump drinking lots of water during his most high-profile public appearance ever.
He sniffled like an eight-year-old undone by ragweed. It wasn't long ago--actually, just a couple of weeks ago--that he and his campaign and his followers were claiming that Hillary Clinton's coughing, ultimately revealed to be due to pneumonia, suggests she has congestive heart failure or some other terminal illness because of a cough. Unlike the Rubio incident, which was long ago enough to have been largely forgotten, the Clinton accusations were recent and highlight Donald Trump's undeniable hypocrisy. And Trump, stupidly, went for the same jugular during this very debate during which he revealed his own human vulnerabilities, by questioning Clinton's stamina. Clinton's retort was perhaps her best ever, citing her world travels and her resiliency during an 11-hour interrogation, and that's to her debating credit.
It must be said, too, aside from the debate, that Trump's history of mocking other politicians for sipping water and suffering from infections, by his own weird logic, makes it reasonable to question Trump's fitness for the office of the presidency: He is overweight and bordering on morbid obesity--a major health risk at any age, but especially for a man of 70 years of age. Why was he drinking so much water? Why was he sniffling? Perhaps he has lung cancer from years of living in New York city and breathing smog. I'm not saying that he does, but he might. He might have lung cancer, and the sniffles and the water and the fatness might be symptoms. I haven't seen his medical records, but it could be. I am just saying that it's possible.
That's giving Trump a taste of his own medicine, which on a human level he deserves, but which is irrelevant to any reasonable debate, and so it's a relief that Hillary Clinton doesn't take that bait. If she did, the people who follow her would lose faith in her because she would be behaving unlike any president of the United States of America ever should act. And yet Trump gets away with it.
Hillary Clinton won the debate by objective measures. No convincing argument can be made to the contrary.
Donald Trump may be viewed as the winner by some people, but those people are not considering the debate itself, the words that were spoken. This happens, but public opinion is not the same as fact.
In the end, though, this isn't the end. The first debate is the first battle; the presidential election is the proverbial war. And for someone who not so much supports Hillary Clinton as opposes Donald Trump on the grounds that I oppose the ever-more-real concept of an authoritarian America, I'm disconcerted by Clinton's and her campaign's cockiness on Tuesday.
Anyone with eyes and ears can understand Clinton's self-satisfaction following the debate. Not only did she exploit all of Donald Trump's characteristic weaknesses, and particularly his Palinesque detachment from current events, facts, and reality, but she also performed arguably better than ever in her entire career. Yet she's battling an irrational, chaotic, and extremist enemy here, and his followers are not looking for sound judgment; they're looking for a win at any cost, and they're looking for any vulnerability to exploit in Clinton. Acting as if she has already won the war can only work against her, and the stakes frankly are too high at this time to get lost in a debate of whether that is because she is a woman or not. (That debate can happen later.) Many of Clinton's supporters support her for the reasons I do: She is not Donald Trump, and despite some evidence of duplicity and a great deal more unfounded assumption that she is entirely untrustworthy and corrupt, she at the very least lives in the same plane of reality that I do, not sketching and coloring her own fantastical world as she bulldozes her way through the real world as Donald Trump does.
I did double take on Tuesday morning, and then I did them again every time I saw the TRUMP WON message, until I noticed the tiny print that read ADVERTISEMENT and SPONSORED and PAID FOR BY DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC. The message was like looking into a terrifying crystal ball: These words could be on the cover of the New York Times if this country acts against itself and buys into messages that are, literally, being sold to us. Not only that, but at this point it doesn't seem inconceivable that the New York Times itself may one day proudly bear the words "PAID FOR DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT, INC." I live in Washington, D.C., and seeing the TRUMP bold name branded on the beautiful, historic Old Post Office Pavilion is like looking up at the Moon and seeing the golden arches of McDonald's beaming back. How close is Donald J. Trump to buying the White House?
I don't want to see her fall prey to the temptation of asserting her dominance and superiority before she has won the presidency. If she does, her pride will have dragged her into the same snare that she lured Trump into during this week's debate. That pride is Trump's mode of operation, and it's the reason many of us can't bear the idea of him as our national leader.
If Clinton gives into temptation now and continues to strut around like a proud gamecock, she may be undone in future debates. She needs to perform as well, and as reasonably, as she did this week to stay ahead as the clear winner. If she wavers, the irrational Trump train could crash right through collective reason, and those terrifying TRUMP WON announcements that we saw this Tuesday, come November, may be branded with the New York Times masthead instead of the words "advertisement."