On The First Debate

I don’t even know what to say about that debate. In the first five or ten minutes, I thought for sure that Trump was going to be the next president. Clinton started awkwardly, and Trump killed.

Then the rest happened.

I’ll be honest. Monday night was the first time I watched either candidate in action. Previously, I had only read reports about them, or seen the occasional clip on a news or comedy show.

I was not prepared for the full force of The Donald. Once he went off-script, he mutated into somebody’s crotchety old grandfather, yelling at the television news, not caring in the slightest who hears him. And it’s not like it was a one-off occurrence. He kept doubling-down on it.

Still, there’s a little part of me that thinks, “Wow, it’s refreshing to see somebody running for office who doesn’t care about political correctness.”

I can see why he’s been successful. As, ahem, let’s say “unorthodox” as he is, he makes valid points. I don’t know a thing about trade deals, but I’d be inclined to agree that America’s aren’t great. And it is good business to buy property when the housing market crashes, if you’ve got money laying around. It is smart to avoid paying taxes, if you’re a billionaire. The problem is you can’t say those things in a nationally-televised debate when you’re trying to become president! He’s not trying to win the vote of billionaire CEOs, he’s trying to win the votes of undecided millennials, who mainly just want to hear that the rest of their lives won’t be one constant, meaningless struggle to pay bills.

Clinton had her share of cringe-worthy moments, too, by the way. Every time she tried to be funny, for instance. You could tell when she switched back and forth between rehearsed material and off-the-cuff remarks. I think she may have lost some male votes with that “he’s a bully to women” bit at the end, and it wasn’t even necessary by that point.

I still stand by my previous observation. Clinton is the devil we know, and Trump is the devil we don’t know. And there’s several others running if you don’t want either devil.

I came away with two other lasting impressions. The first is that I completely underestimated Mike Pence. I saw him sit down on CBS for a few minutes and deliver some world-class spin about how well Trump did. That guy seems pretty smart and, more importantly, personable. I don’t get why he isn’t the Republican nominee. I need to read more about him. I wrote before that he’s no Dick Cheney, but I’ll be damed if he doesn’t act exactly like Dick Cheney. (In the sense that he acted like an all-powerful puppet master, staying away from the spotlight, the kind of person who could do some serious damage as a vice president.)

The other surprise came from Clinton: I felt like she really threw down a gauntlet against Russia with some harsh words about cyber attacks. “And we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare. But we will defend the citizens of this country.” (From transcript.) Those sound like pretty strong words, and they didn’t come from Trump.

P.S. I thought it was pretty smart that Jill Stein went and got herself escorted away by police. Good publicity stunt. Where was Gary Johnson, eh? (Probably off trying to learn some geography.) And the other Independent guy whose name I don’t even know? More missed opportunities there.

On The 2016 Election

I’m going to publish hopefully this one post on the 2016 election, because, to be perfectly honest, I’m terrified to express an opinion about this on the Internet.

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I still consider myself mostly a centrist on the left-right spectrum of politics. Some issues I lean left on, some issues I lean right on, but usually not very far either way. I typically take things on a case-by-case basis, and hardly ever form a “this is the way it should always be” kind of opinion, because circumstances always change. (This is probably a side effect of my experience as a software developer.)

That should be enough right there to tell you why I’m scared to talk about politics on the Internet anymore. The Internet no longer understands Gray. There is only Black and White on the Internet now. Politically, the Internet consensus either leans extremely far to the left, or extremely far to the right. (Mostly left, if one were to be truthful, but the right is catching up in some sectors.)

With regard to this election in particular, if you’re not 100% anti-Trump or 100% anti-Clinton, you’re probably going to be a target for a horde of zealots who think they know everything they need to know from Stephen Colbert, Fox News, and/or some animated GIFs.

Unfortunately I have this weird habit of throwing out all the memes and headlines and rhetoric about candidates. I look at memes and say, “That’s a funny meme, but I wonder if it’s actually true?” Usually a little digging will reveal it’s not.

For example, like everyone else, I saw that photo of a crowd turning their backs on Clinton to take selfies with her, with a caption something like, “This is what’s wrong with America.” Or, “This is 2016 in a nutshell.” Or, “Kids today.” Or something along those lines. I chuckled. But what’s the first thing I thought? “I bet that was intended to be an opportunity for selfies and everyone is taking that photo out of context.” I didn’t even bother to look it up because I knew that’s what it had to be.

It’s best to assume that every media report (in this I include social media) about any candidate is a 100% bald-faced lie, and proceed from there. The days of journalists reporting facts so that we humble citizens can make informed political decisions are long dead. (Well, let’s say ten or fifteen years dead.) And social media? Citizen journalism? Don’t make me laugh. Citizens are the worst. Political bloggers? It’s all filthy, stinking lies.

But that’s beside the point. The real point of this post is: For me, it doesn’t matter who wins this election. For America, I don’t believe it matters either. Both candidates have merits and flaws. (Gasp!)

A Clinton Presidency?

There’s not much to say about Clinton. She represents the status quo in this election. I don’t have a problem with the status quo at the moment, so it won’t hurt me if she were elected. I am actually better off than I was 8 years ago, but I’m not so naive as to think it has anything to do with who was president. It was all me. Me, I tell you!

I said above that I’m fairly centrist. Clinton is a centrist Democrat, so her ideology fits reasonably well with mine, so there’s nothing to complain about there. She’s (probably) not going to start any wars, she’s not going to try to overturn the second amendment, she’s not going to change any marriage laws.

Personally, I’ve suspected that Clinton would be the next president ever since she dropped out of the 2008 race. I assumed that Obama made a deal with her so she would step aside and endorse him.

I don’t particularly want another Clinton in the White House, though, because of the knee-jerk partisanship she brings with her. Republicans will continue to obstruct everything at every turn, because that’s what they do now, and boy will they ramp it up against a Clinton. I could easily imagine Republicans spending her entire term trying to impeach her for whatever made-up reasons they can make stick. It will be another four years of epic gridlock.

Oh, she used a private email server? I’ve seen how government secures their computers, so her email was probably safer on a private server (even if it was hacked). The very idea that she should be sent to prison for using a private server sounds silly and hyper-partisan to me. Like trying to sink a politician’s career over jay-walking or speeding. If anything, it should make everyone feel better about her as president, because you know she’s never going to make that mistake again. (And yes, I believe it was a mistake, because to believe otherwise is to believe she was deliberately leaking emails to our adversaries, and that level of planning and sophistication is rarely present in government circles.)

What about Benghazi? A catastrophe, but nobody’s fault. Except, you know, the terrorists.

But nobody really cares about Clinton and her baggage, do they? The 2016 election is all about one man.

A Trump Presidency?

Here is where I’m going to start to get into trouble. I said above that if you’re not 100% anti-Trump or 100% anti-Clinton, you’re going to be a target, but the dirty truth of the matter is that it’s only if you’re not 100% anti-Trump that you’ll be a target. If you breathe even a word suggesting that you might in fact only be, say, 60% against Trump, I’m a little scared of the consequences. I’m afraid that only being 60% against Trump is basically the same as being a full-blown, racist, misogynist, pro-Trump supporter, in the eyes of the Internet. Followers and readers could be lost, which is the currency of the Internet.

So here goes.

Stripping things down to the basics, Trump is an outsider, which makes him a big question mark. With Clinton, we know exactly what we’re going to get: A career politician. With Trump, we’re not so sure, but we know it’s not a career politician. He’s more of a career used-car salesman.

But there’s a solid case to be made for the fact that “career politicians” are not doing the country any favors. They are not “public servants”–they are more in the business of avoiding trouble. Their goals are to stay in office by maintaining a solid level of mediocrity that attracts no negative attention.

Trump, on the other hand, has and would definitely shake things up, or at least try to, and I don’t necessarily think that would be bad for America. Right now, the country feels stagnant, even falling behind. At least in my industry, which is technology. (Unfortunately I haven’t seen Trump say anything about that.)

This might sound surprising, but Trump is fairly moderate on the Republican scale. Just saying “Trump is fairly moderate” is likely to get me in trouble. Some people will say, “OMG are you crazy he wants to build a frickin’ wall!” Some other people will say, “OMG are you crazy he’s the hero of the alt-right!”

But I don’t see him as ideologically-motivated at all. I think he’s more interested in generating controversy to capitalize on the publicity it gets, and what generates more controversy in this country than immigration reform? (Answer: Healthcare reform.)

But we’ve seen Trump moderate his positions since the primaries. His veep choice is a bone for conservatives that won’t matter much in the long run. Mike Pence is no Dick Cheney, in other words. Trump will not allow anyone to upstage him.

The bottom line is that Trump is a pretty smart candidate–he manipulates the media and public opinion like a pro. There’s a reason his name is in the headlines every single day, and Clinton–potentially the first woman president!–is an afterthought.

Still, I don’t particularly like the guy and I think he’s terrible at politics. He’s got the stage presence of an awkward circus clown, and I feel like I’m in a monster truck audience when I listen to him. (Caveat: I have never listened to a complete Trump speech.)

I have no idea what will happen if Trump wins, but if I had to guess I’d say: Nothing. He’s created so much ill-will among the political establishment that I don’t think he’ll be able to get anything done. Clinton would have all Republicans against her, but Trump would have all Democrats and all Republicans against him.

The infamous wall will be a giant boondoggle, if it ever sees light. (I’m not sure it’s within the realm of a president’s duties to build walls.) If it does, maybe it will create jobs for a while. Will it ever get actually built? Surely not within four years or even eight. After that it will probably be cancelled.

Many people I see on the Internet, particularly those outside the U.S., are literally afraid of a Trump presidency. The comparisons to Hitler are flung far and wide. (Those comparisons, by the way, break down immediately if you spend five minutes reading a Wikipedia article on Hitler’s rise to power.) I don’t like Trump, but he’s not going to hurt the country. Or the world. He’s not going to declare war on Canada or Iran or anything, or start mass deportations. He’s just going to give terrible speeches and provide a lot of fodder for comedians for four years. (I wouldn’t expect him to be re-elected.)

What about the others?

Poor Gary Johnson: He’s only able to get into the news when he makes a colossal, campaign-ending bungle. Jill Stein can’t even get that much publicity. This election year has been a mind-bogglingly huge missed opportunity for third parties.

Predictions

One thing is certain: This will be the lowest turnout for an election in a long time. Democrats and Republicans both hate their respective candidates. This election is probably going to be decided by the extremists in both parties.

Right now, I really don’t know who’s going to win. I once thought (like most people I think) that if Trump won the Republican nomination, it would be a shoe-in for Clinton. But Trump has done a remarkable job of moderating himself since the primaries. He’s no longer hurting himself every time he opens his mouth. Media headlines have been scrambling to find Trump blunders to report on. They are so blatantly riding the anti-Trump bandwagon that I think, hilariously, it’s actually helping Trump. Joe Average American surely must be feeling bad for Trump over how much the media tries to parse his every word in a bad light.

(I don’t usually get on the “liberal media bias” bandwagon but it’s very obvious the media is no longer amused by Trump’s candidacy, and now fears it.)

Polling is surprisingly close. It might come down to the debates, which is sad because I’m sure they will be completely vapid affairs where each candidate jockeys to be the best at avoiding a last-minute viral blunder. Smirking at the wrong time might cost someone the presidency.

I don’t know about nationwide but I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think Trump will win Virginia, despite Tim Kaine being on Clinton’s ticket. This is based mainly on the fact that I have personally seen two Trump yard signs and zero Clinton yard signs. (The science is undeniable.)

Monday night’s debate will be the first time that I sit down to watch the candidates for any length of time. (It will not affect my vote, however, as I decided how I was going to vote months ago.)

Conclusion

Honestly, nobody should be deciding how to vote based on these circus debates, however they turn out. Don’t be a dumb American. Turn off your confirmation bias, go to the candidates’ web sites, and read their platforms.

And this is the most important thing you should take away from this post, if you’ve read this far: Make sure you read up on what else will be on the ballot besides the presidential election. There are congressional elections, too, and probably some local issues. Local issues are usually what affect us the most anyway.

P.S. I’m disabling comments to censor you. Yes, you in particular.