All the presidential mendacity

Updated on: Oct 07, 2016
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As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ready for another face-off on October 9, Americans reeling from round one of the US presidential debate describe the tight contest as ‘sleepwalking in an impossible dream sequence triggered by insomnia’

On a chilly Monday morning, September 26, as early as 5.30, the century-old landmark New York underground metro was full of working people, alone and detached, mostly young, focused on their destination. Earlier in the night, I could hear a musician playing Tarantino’s theme in Kill Bill , even as New York never sleeps. One day earlier, in the crowded ferry across the bay to the Staten Island with the Statue of Liberty, at the bustling Times Square, or around the brilliant memorials at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks, it was like any other busy day in the life of pulsating and plural New York: an infinite, relentless, 24x7 symphony of music, sounds, images, footsteps, colours, skins, silences and nationalities. There was not even a whiff in the air about the television showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, the following day. “New Yorkers have seen through Trump,” said an academic. “He represents everything that New Yorkers hate from the deepest realms of their heart.”

Indeed, he did represent himself in the debate. Trump interrupted Hillary 51 times. Apparently, at the 26-minute mark, he had already interrupted her 25 times. Manterrupting: The Huffington Post has coined a new term: “This is what manterrupting looks like.”

So, here’s Donald Trump the man and the tycoon for you.

He attacked, branding her a politician, like “all politicians”, using the term repeatedly like an accusation. He called her “Secretary Clinton”, blamed her for all the ills of the nation over the last 30 years, including the tenure of her husband, Bill, in the White House. He sniffled, twisted and contorted his face, interrupted her the umpteenth time, fudged and lied and blustered, showcased his wealth and property, and drank from his glass of water as if he’s no dried-up stick-in-the-mud. He’s the guy who’s got the money, and he’ll teach Americans how to make more. However, he had no argument.

That’s inevitable Trump. As brash and bad as he gets. And he is unstoppable. People on the streets and journalists actually speak about it as if sleepwalking in an impossible dream sequence triggered by insomnia: So what will happen if he becomes the president in a tight contest?

Insomnia. This election is proving to be that for many Americans. And the reason is that Trump is out there, blowing his trumpet, surrounded by all his five-star Trump Towers, as aggressive, uncanny and unapologetic as ever. Often, more fiction than fact. No wonder some editors are calling for a new copydesk of fact-checkers after every news report of his rallies or utterances. “Hello, fact-checkers,” Hillary called out more than once during the debate.

Between brazen lies and half-truths, Trump’s twilight zone borders on megalomania. He lies so often and so casually, and does it so brazenly that even fact-checkers might lose patience. He did it on Barack Obama’s origin of birth issue, deliberately and repeatedly, which bordered on racism, and indecency, but he was relentless, even after a disgusted Obama showed his certificate for the entire world to see. Then he raised it again this September, and tried to put a lid on it the next morning at his fancy hotel in Washington, even as there was a howl of rage from Americans, especially the Afro-Americans.

He lied on the Iraq war, and fudged his U-turns on immigration and racism, yet again. He even said that Vladimir Putin has called him “brilliant”, though no one knows anything about that. Black leaders have openly called him a “conman” and a “disgusting fraud”; others branded him a racist. Hillary rubbed it in during the debate. Trump made a face. And even though the entire African-American community might be pitched against him — as are Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos and immigrants — he would effortlessly carry on his utter balderdash. “You see what’s happening with my poll numbers with African-Americans,” he said in a speech in North Carolina, September 20. “They’re going, like, high.” He made the same claim in Ohio, next day.

Moments before the September 26 debate, Tony Schwartz, co-author (some call him ghostwriter) of Trump’s book Art of the Deal , told CNN that he is advising Hillary without taking money as penance for “creating a monster”. “He’s a liar then. He’s a liar now,” he said.

The New York Times on September 25 published a front-page capsule: ‘A Week of Whoppers from Trump’. It said, “All politicians bend the truth to fit their purposes, but Donald J Trump has gone further in the general election. The reporters Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns compiled his 31 biggest whoppers from Sept 15-21. Page 26.” That is a one-pager of mind-boggling lies and double-speak. And in just about one week!

Check out these random ones. Whopper No 11: Mr Trump said that after The Times published an article scrutinising his relationships with women, “All the women came out and said they think Donald Trump is terrific.” (Fox News interview, Sept 18). Only one woman who was quoted in the article came to his defence after its publication. Whopper No 14: Lester Holt, the NBC anchor and debate moderator, “is a Democrat”. (Fox News interview, Sept 19). Holt is a registered Republican, New York City records show. Whopper No 15: The presidential debate moderators “are all Democrats”. “It’s a very unfair system,” Trump claimed. (Fox News interview, Sept 19). Only one, Chris Wallace of Fox News, is a registered Democrat.

On the night of the debate, anchored by Lestor Holt, Trump started with a blistering attack on Hillary over how thousands of jobs are being lost due to outsourcing, companies are going out of the US and so are jobs and so on, and how for 30 years she and other politicians have botched it up so badly. In between he even condemned America as a “third world” country, “Our airports are like from a third world country,” he said, pointing out New York City’s international airports: LaGuardia, John F Kennedy and Newark. Airports in China, Qatar and Dubai are far superior, he said. However, cynics were suddenly reminded that Trump is not so terribly indulgent with his lack of knowledge and foreign policy. He does know about “third world countries”, even if nothing more than airports.

In the debate, watched by 84 million people, Hillary called him Donald, up front, closer in a split-screen on television. She rarely chose to interrupt or attack directly in a street-smart fashion, she never made faces or felt challenged or angered or irritated; instead, she smirked, smiled, laughed, and got under his skin. She never sniffled or sipped from a glass of water. Once when he went after her, as usual, without an iota of content in true Trump style, she simply shrugged her shoulders and exclaimed: “Whew!” The audience, yes, applauded.

The split-screen saw them up close, and, in her red suit, clearly she was the immaculate claimant to the throne, radiant and cheeky, stateswoman and stoic, baiting him with personal and political attacks, and he falling for the bait, again and again. No wonder she came out tops, with 62 per cent polling. She has pulled the carpet from under the heavy feet of the thundering tycoon, and she scored both on temperament and judgement, which, she says, he so transparently lacks. Many in America seem to agree with Hillary, as real-estate tycoon Trump promises to drastically change the rules of the game, in America and abroad, including against the NATO allies, plus Japan, China and Iran, clearly pushing all concerned in a corner. Hillary assured the allies that the US will stick with them. She said that “stop and frisk” to stop street crimes is unconstitutional, even while Trump pushed it hard, and that too in a liberal space like New York. Stop and frisk on the streets of America? With cops under pressure after mass protests by Black Lives Matter? Too bad for Trump.

The final, ugly straw was Trump saying Hillary doesn’t have the look or stamina for being a president. That was the game-changer. She replied, in a tone meaning ‘so what’s so new about this sexist comment?’: “This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs… Someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, and has said women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.”

She then directly referred to the dark fact that Trump called former Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. Indeed, Machado, now 39, is all over town on how Trump humiliated, oppressed and degraded her for being fat, and turned her into a “lab rat”. “He was overwhelming,” the Venezuelan had said earlier. “I was very scared of him. He’d yell at me all the time. He’d tell me, ‘You look ugly,’ or ‘You look fat’.” She was just 19 then.

Appearing on CNN prime time, she declared herself against Trump and said she stands for the pride of Latinos and women. This time, she says, holding her American passport, she is voting for Hillary.

The fact that Trump is not declaring his tax returns is being seen as a sign that he has much to hide. In the debate with Hillary, he had insisted that he was smarter for it. The New York Times, in an exposé, has pointed out that he suffered losses in millions in the ’90s — $916 million in 1995. However, his camp, led by the likes of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, are of the opinion that since he had regained millions after his losses, it only proves that he is not only smart, but also a genius.

On being asked by an outraged news anchor on CNN that while most Americans pay taxes — mostly at the source of their monthly salaries — why should Trump hide his, Giuliani asserted that most smart people, including businessmen, tend to use loopholes ‘within the law’ to save money from taxes, and as long as it is legal, there is nothing wrong about it. Giuliani, instead, charges that the Clinton Foundation takes money from dubious regimes which “stones women”, although Hillary supporters are adamant that the organisation is clean in terms of legal declarations.

However, the US has recently been also rocked by threats from the Trump camp that he will rake up Bill’s ‘dangerous liaisons’ with some women, including Monica Lewinsky. Trump’s rather outrageous tweet against Machado , and that too at 3 am, too, has not gone down well with “decent folks”, especially women, thereby reinforcing the impression that Trump will not change his aggressive and often crass ways. His critics argue that this proves that he is not “temperamentally” suited for being president — a point that has been publicly made by journalists, academics and Hillary spokespersons. Indeed, there is a strong view among the educated sections and especially among women, that raking up Bill Clinton’s ‘affairs’ and charging Hillary for protecting her husband will go to her advantage. While Trump’s tax issues are bound to be raised in the ‘Townhall Debate’ on Sunday at Washington University, St Louis, anchored by Anderson Cooper of the CNN, there is much speculation if Trump will rake up Bill’s affairs. This debate will be more ‘Townhallish’ in the sense that there will be intelligent participation from the audience, and rabble-rousing or multiple interruptions might not work.

Indeed, even the Trump camp has accepted the upward swing for Hillary after the last debate, though the Republican candidate kept claiming that he was the gainer — which he was not. Observers agree that neither the media, nor the debate, can be a big game-changer but it does consolidate support and mobilise fence-sitters. A big howler can shift public opinion either way, as happened in the case of Mitt Romney, who was defeated by Obama. Hillary’s ratings have improved even in swing states like Ohio, but she is just about three to four per cent ahead of Trump in most polls. While Trump’s supporters, especially the white working class, is hardcore loyalist, she is having difficulty in mobilising the Bernie Sanders supporters, especially the students, who have stood for a progressive and liberal agenda — on education, racism, immigrants’ issues, women’s rights, refugees, and war, among other issues. The young voters have been staunchly anti-Trump, but they have had no love lost for Hillary, who is widely perceived to be a ‘liar’ and one-dimensional in her ambitions.

Sanders has categorically stated that a vote for any other candidate — such as Jill Stein of the Green Party or Libertarian Gary Johnson — will be a vote for Trump, thereby cajoling the millennials to vote for Hillary. Indeed, Stein is still cornering around six per cent of the vote, while Johnson has a steady share of 11 per cent. Ironically, Johnson, who had no clue about Aleppo in an earlier interview and became a national embarrassment, repeated his ‘Aleppo moment’ yet again on a TV show when he failed to name even one foreign leader he liked. Confessing it was another ‘Aleppo moment’, all he could summon up was the “former president of Mexico”, completely unable to say the name. However, this has not shaken the vote base of the Libertarians, which, along with the Green Party, is bound to damage Hillary’s final vote count. This is a catch-22 scenario for Hillary, and there are rumours that they might withdraw in support of Hillary.

As the second round of debate enters a decisive round, it is becoming a tight contest between the two. Howsoever there might be an opinion that Trump will be a disaster for America and the world, either one of them is going to become the next president of the US. With just weeks to go, indeed, for the US, it is fingers tightly crossed.

Amit Sengupta is a journalist and academic, currently a fellow at the Newhouse Centre for the Humanities, Wellesley College, Boston, Massachusetts

Published on January 16, 2018

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