Sunday’s presidential candidates debate was anything but presidential. But, sadly it wasn’t exceptional.
Just another brightly lit stage, at another political event, in another city, along the long and slow train wreck that is the 2016 campaign.
For more than 90 grueling minutes, with literally the fate of the entire world held in the balance of this election, viewers listened to a continuous string of uncomfortable and deplorable comments, actions, and reckless distortions, all played out on our highest political stage with the lowest measure of truth and decency.
But it was the post-debate debacle that was even more depressing.
Among a sea of political operatives, reporters and Trump children, was a group of women, each with a salacious Bill Clinton allegation to be shared in support of Donald Trump, the most sexist, misogynistic candidate to have ever run for the presidency.
With cameras flashing, and boom microphones flying, this group of women, all with tales about how Bill Clinton allegedly exploited them in various manners going back decades, were exploited by Trump as human campaign props, weirdly intersecting Trump’s own scandal involving the mistreatment of women.
Sad and bizarre.
How did we get to this place in our democracy where anything and everything ends up in the Spin Room of our political system?
Beyond the political realm, what happens when this beastly “spin” phenomena is applied to our business dealings? In our schools? Our day-to-day social contracts? Can all behavior be excused with big smiles and loud voices?
If our political leaders at the highest levels can bold-face spin, “no I didn’t say that” or “no I didn’t do that” in the face of clear and compelling video evidence, what message does that send to our society in general?
No matter what actually happened or happens is now secondary to how we process our own adoption of truth based upon the filters of personal bias and self-interest.
If you are an avid Hillary Clinton supporter, it’s easy to overlook her lack of judgment with regard to the handling of emails. She was clearly wrong.
If you’re a Donald Trump supporter it’s easy to overlook, um, huh, well, nothing. I can’t go there with Trump. I tried to apply some equivalency between Clinton and Trump – but I can’t. It’s just not there. Not even close.
We have one candidate (Clinton) who is a political machine with robotic tendencies, and who has committed herself to public service for more than three decades. And we have another candidate (Trump) who is a selfish, narcissistic fool.
How many of us have said privately or publicly, “how did we get to a place where Donald Trump is the presidential nominee of the Republican party?” How?
For me, this rhetorical question was answered clearly by Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former senior campaign adviser to U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Schmidt made his comments on “Meet the Press,” when discussing Trump.
“What this exposes though is much deeper, and goes to the Republican Party as an institution. This candidacy. The magnitude of its disgrace to the country is almost impossible, I think, to articulate. But it has exposed the intellectual rot in the Republican Party.”
Schmidt went on, “the danger for all of these candidates … is over the course of the last year, these candidates (supporting Trump) have repeatedly put their party ahead of their country, denying what is so obviously clear to anybody who’s watching about (Trump’s) complete and total, manifest unfitness for this office.”
No spin. Just truth.
Just imagine going back five years, when Trump was frothing at the mouth about President Obama and the crazy and destructive birther issue. Remember how his investigators “found some interesting things” in Hawaii, according to The Donald?
What if, at that time, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, second in line of succession for the presidency, and highest-ranking Republican, didn’t passively perpetuate the birther myth by staying silent on the issue? What if instead he said in 2011, “Our country has serious issues to tackle and our president’s place of birth isn’t one of them. Of course, President Obama was born in the U.S., please stop this birther nonsense.”
Instead Boehner took the low road in 2011 by saying, “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” when asked on “Meet The Press” about a focus group of Iowa voters who believed Obama was a Muslim.
What if here in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage was held accountable by party supporters and allies for his harmful words and reckless deeds over the last six years? What if LePage supporters objectively weighed the damage and chaos caused by LePage and put the good of Maine before the good of their party long ago?
Somehow all this “spinning” in Maine and throughout our country has created a dizzying effect, where hard facts and simple truths are discounted broadly against the self-serving currency of blind party loyalty.
I have no doubt the powerful forces and long lens of recorded history will spin politicians like Trump and LePage accurately over time.
In the same way, I believe that President Obama will go down in U.S. and world history as one the best presidents of all time during one of the most difficult periods.
But today – and most importantly on Nov. 8 – we must recognize that Trump is neither a good man nor good candidate to become our next president. The fact that he is one election away from potentially becoming the next leader of the free world is already a confusing, painful and damaging stain in the pages of U.S. history.
In Maine and beyond, we can and must do better. No spin. Just truth.
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on WLOB 1310 AM and 100.5 FM.