The Presidential Debate that did not really Happen

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Regular readers will know that in my view the 2016 presidential election did not happen.

Likewise, the first debate between the two candidates did not take place. There was no debate as the word is usually understood, where the two take turns setting out policy positions. A debate on policy would have involved staking out positions on what to do about Syria, or about ISIL in Iraq. Sec. Clinton did occasionally attempt to mention a policy (apparently the Kurds are somehow central to her plans) but was promptly interrupted by a hectoring Trump attempting to bring back the viewers to the character he was scripting.

He interrupted her 26 times in 25 minutes. For the first 20 minutes moderator Lester Holt, a Republican, was AWOL. He let Trump repeatedly cut Clinton off, badger her, and even take over Holt’s putative role, of asking her questions. If there is one rule of debates, it is that one debater is not allowed to ask the other the questions.

Trump also wove his alternative reality. In that world, he ceased his racist birtherism as soon as President Obama produced his long form birth certificate, and did the president a favor in making him publish it (something never required of any white president [i.e. from any of them]).

This is not true.

In Trump’s alternate reality, he never said that climate change is a Chinese-promoted hoax. But of course he had said it.


In a double piece of illusionism, of course, Trump continues to deny that climate change is an issue, even though he denied having denied it in public to a hundred million people. That is why the debate did not really take place.

Trump also maintained that cutting taxes in half on the rich would produce economic growth, jobs and shrink the deficit. It would of course cause the deficit to balloon by trillions and reduce employment by increasing the gini coefficient.

But of course Ronald Reagan made the same pledges, and Republicans during the Great Depression had said the same thing, demonstrating how an alternative reality of falsehoods had dominated our political illusions for decades before Trump took control of this machine.

Trump said he was just endorsed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is a Federal agency and does not endorse candidates. The press was reduced to scrounging around trying to figure out if there was actually any endorsement in any way connected to ICE, as a way of “explaining what he really meant.” But this activity assumes that there is a reality to the Trump candidacy. There is not. It doesn’t matter whether ICE endorsed him. He said it did and that is all that counts. Trump’s reality is like the bad pirated copies of movies (sometimes shot sideways or missing half the screen) that are purveyed in New York’s China Town. They aren’t really even copies of the original but something pretending to be a copy, so as to cheat greedy tourists out of a few dollars.

Trump again asserted that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, which he did not. Pressing him on this issue and on his racist birtherism were Lester Holt’s two finest moments.

Trump again said that the US should have taken Iraq’s oil and that that would have forestalled the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). But Daesh did not originally arise because of oil money support, and it is mainly in Syria that it captured some refineries. Daesh arose to rid Iraq of US occupation. It didn’t need a lot of funding. It had ex-Baath ex-officers in its ranks who knew where Saddam Hussein’s old weapons stockpiles were.

Daesh or ISIL did not arise because the US failed to steal Iraqi petroleum.

Then Trump repeated his claim that if Obama had left 10,000 troops in Iraq in 2011 and after, Daesh would never have arisen. But the US military occupation of Iraq was what provoked al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which became the ‘Islamic State of Iraq.” Some 10,000 US troops couldn’t prevent that development if 160,000 could not, during the Bush occupation.

The things Trump said bore no relation to reality.

So the debate did not take place.

It was not a debate so much as an opportunity to display his ability to weave an alternate reality for his acolytes.


Related video:

The Young Turks:
Presidential Debate | Who Won?”

Posted in Featured,Iraq | 23 Responses | Print |

23 Responses

  1. I despise both candidates. Neither has presented a reasonable plan for the US. The debate from what I can tell was a joke.

  2. These political debates are like gladiators performing in a Roman arena. They seem to me to be a form of mass spectator sport. Unfortunately this ghastly trend seems to have found its way over here in the UK. Up until quite recently in the UK we never had any kind of TV debates, but the candidates for the main political parties each had a short time slot on all TV channels where they were able to put their case to the electorate in their own way without any audience or questions. The time they had was short (about 5 minutes) so they had to get on with explaining their policy and there was little time for them to hector the other political parties. this system was probably not perfect but at least the voter could have an idea of what the candidate had to offer.

  3. ” But this activity assumes that there is a reality to the Trump candidacy”: True; But not as true as the fact that there is no reality in the USA politics. It’s all Alice in the Wonderlands, no elephant in the room.

  4. JetUpYid

    Public notice on a related subject: That tweet is still there. The tweet claiming Drumpf cmpn deleting tweets during debate untrue

  5. Having made the conscious decision not to watch or listen, I wonder if the net effect on the undecided was acquiescence to The Bully.

    I gather T was able to dominate through the lameness of Holt’s “moderation.” Had he actually been able to bray longer and louder and talk over H, he’d be perceived as a winner. The substance of the matter simply does not matter.

    This is the way the lizard brain works, and I suspect those able to transcend this impulse have long, long ago thrown in their lot with HRC.

  6. The most intelligent remark all evening was made by after the debate by a woman for whom party (Republican) is more important than anything else. She admitted not liking Trump and then said words to the effect that “Trump may be a jackass but he’s the jackass leading our mule team.”

    That is the problem–millions are discounting how dangerous Trump is for the country and the world but they support the party come what may or they are entertained by Trump and are as ill-informed as Trump. They do not even know that they are being sold the largest bottle of snake oil ever put on the American political market.

    Trump is the closest thing to the anti-Christ that we have and yet, surprisingly, many self-identified Christians are planning to vote for him.

    He is a malignant narcissist, and many Americans have been sucked into his brain-dead cult.

    • I saw some polling data which showed that more of Trump’s support is actually anti-Hillary than Hillary’s support is anti-Trump. That means they find her very scary, indeed.

      I think our side underestimates just how effective 25 years of Fox News and talk radio have been in creating an alternative reality that the majority of the GOP now lives in. I listen to these people occasionally on the principle of “know thy enemy,” and many of the things on which we base our negative opinions of Trump are simply not presented. and if they should happen to hear them from other sources, they’ve been told not to believe them because the “liberal media” is in fact part and parcel of the “Democrat” party.

      Don’t be surprised if the post-debate polls don’t move as much as we think they should in light of Trump’s (almost) universally panned performance. In fact, Republicans may be surprised if they don’t move in his direction. They think he won. Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, and Charles Krauthammer said so on Fox.

  7. This election is not about fact, logic or reason. It’s a ‘gut’ election. Pathos…whether we like or don’t like the candidate. I don’t like either, but Angela Davis isn’t on the ballot, so…..

  8. I would just like to tell all of you out there that I have heard real political debates – in Canada! I have lost all hope that there will ever be real debates in the US because everything is images, momentum, impressions, nothing is substance…..

  9. Someone may win this election, but it does not appear that a majority of Americans could be found to vote for either candidate. As a last resort protection for democracy, “None of the above” should be on the ballot to provide a reasonable alternative. Starting over would be a better option than the sad four year slog ahead.

  10. I don’t like many of Hillaryś policies and I often find her personal speaking style false and irritating. But last night she was great. The attratctve, human side of her personality came through. There was one adult on the stage, the other was a spoiled, whining, selfish child, who if he wins will be I am now convinced an absolute disaster for the nation and the planet. No contest. I wish it were Bernie instead, but we should have the courage to vote for Hillary and fight for what we believe in (no to TPP and fracking , yes to single-payer, no to more wars). The level o0f lies and corruption of Trump is hundreds of times more than Hillary, there is no equivalence.

  11. Impossible to have a debate when only one candidate is prepared, is familiar with the subjects under discussion…….and who must avoid sinking to the level ignorance; while recognizing the instability and illusions governing the person with whom she trying to debate. On the other hand, these debates seem to be the only time the public gets to see both candidates in action and compare them…..the best chance so far to make clear that having as president an individual like Trump is impossible to even contemplate.

  12. It’s a given that Trumps ideas and plans will never happen, but neither will Hillary’s.
    Everything Hillary proposes will cost money or cost rich people money and will have to pass Congress.
    It’s just silly to think any of that is going to pass the Republican controlled House.
    Trump and Clinton are both selling us a bill of goods that can and will never happen.
    And concerning our unending stupid oil wars: Both Candidates are preaching a variation on “More of the Same” which has been a 10+ year disaster.
    So Hillary and Trump are both lying to the American people and the only thing this election proves is the utter bankruptcy of our political system.

  13. Trump is like an evil Homer Simpson tripping on acid.
    He’s riveting and repulsive, a horror movie in real life, Watching him is like watching a bloody car crash.

  14. Candidate Trump lives in his own ego-bloated world, sees reality as it “ought-to -be” not as it actually exists. He is a potentially dangerous psychopath as he flagrantly engenders deviant behavior and attitudes across the woefully undereducated and willfully ignorant, gullible percentage of our population, the epicenter of his support. Exploiting FAUXNews driven anger and extremist right-wing conspiracy beliefs for his own gain.

    The cited Tweet clearly demonstrates this candidate spends far too much time on Twitter and not enough time in serious study regarding actual issues that will directly affect this nation in reality – not as tremendous business deals for himself and candidate holdings.

  15. This was an obvious continuation of Les Moonves advertising based criminal use of broadcast largess to publish Trump so the fallout would bring in more advertising income from candidates clearing their name of Trump’s trash. Who can doubt that this highly promoted Trash Talk Reality Show premier episode isn’t fully regarded as an income producer that in no way, shape or form is intended to Educate (hahaha! LOL!!) the American Voter? It’s just another publicity stunt for media to make income!~ There was 1 scientific study of viewers in the largest viewing audience to view the “debates”. Does that convey the utter distain for educating the voter and concentrating the power of the American media on profitable showmanship? This event never happened because it was pre-empted by a Lucha Libre session between the candidates for the largest ticket-viewing profit.

  16. It is a sound Keynesian principle that businesses must steer as much as possible of their profits to the millions who purchase their goods and services. Donald Trump obviously does not understand this which is why his presidency will not fail to become a huge economic disaster.

  17. You do realize that the “Presidential Election Did Not Happen” article applies 100% to the elections of Reagan in 1980 and 1984, who was a complete phony trying to create an alternate reality. We’ve been here before.

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