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About Last Night

So, last night’s event. One of the profs on campus held a debate watch pizza party for the students in his class, with other profs assigning it or giving extra credit, and my Best Reader and I went, in part to watch the thing in company and in part to show support to the profs. I tweeted a few of my observations at the time, for whatever that’s worth.

About half an hour in, I glanced over at my Best Reader, whose facial expression was that of someone whose skull implant was playing the Kars4Kids jingle on repeat. Shall we slip out, I whispered. A few… more… minutes, she responded, through clenched teeth. Fifteen minutes later, her facial expression was that of someone whose skull implant was playing the Kars4Kids jingle on repeat, but slightly slowed down, and in fact slowing slightly and speeding up slightly at random intervals. Or perhaps the facial expression of a woman who was being compelled to listen to Donald Trump. We left.

I found the event an unpleasant combination of grating, boring and exasperating. I admit that I thought Mr. Trump would do better than he did—this is one of the biggest reality-tv stars of the last ten years, after all. I had hopes for at least entertaining. He was not. Nor was Hillary Clinton entertaining—she was boring, she was (I hope) aspiring to be boring, she achieved boringness. Three or four words into her responses, the students at the event had lost interest (you can tell these things so quickly) and focused again only when Mr. Trump sniffed.

About those sniffs—it was clear that the microphone was picking up those sniffs and oughtn’t to have, and further that his people had no way of alerting him to the problem. That’s too bad, but —what? Sorry, Mr. Gore, did you say something? No? Just exhaling? Never mind, then. Clearly no-one has ever before had to live with a microphone problem like Mr. Trump’s.

And, really, it does seem like the candidate’s refusal to prepare for the debate (which the campaign leaked to the New York Times last week, in what I thought was an effort to sandbag but might actually have been high-level and trusted campaign staff whining to reporters about the boss) was to blame for most of what happened, and eventually, after YHB stopped watching, Ms. Clinton explicitly drew the distinction between a President who is overprepared and one who wings it. So that’s all right. There are policy differences between them, and I would like it if there were a little more policy discussion, as sometimes the very public commitment the candidates make can translate into actual policy commitment by an administration, but given that the choice this year is between Hermione Granger and Gilderoy Lockhart, it’s probably fine to focus on that.

I will say, though, that it really gets up my nose when Mr. Trump says that the Chinese are devaluing their currency. He says it quite frequently, and it isn’t so. The Chinese are engaging in currency shenanigans, yes, but to increase their currency’s value. What is it that annoys me so much about this particular misstatement? Partly, I think, is that that it serves no purpose. The truth would prop up his argument as well as the falsehood. Try this:

You look at what China is doing for country in terms of making our product, they’re devaluing inflating their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight and we have a winning fight. Because they’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China and many other countries are doing the same thing. So we are losing our good jobs, so many of them.

What difference does it make? Why not use the right word? Either he doesn’t actually know what is going on with China and currency manipulation, which is plausible enough although it would mean that he doesn’t actually care about something he has chosen to make prominent in his speeches and debates, or he doesn’t know what the word devalue means, or he heard the fact in the 1990s (when I believe it was true) and nobody has been able to tell him that it has changed, or maybe he thinks that changing the line would indicate weakness despite it having once been accurate and now not, or maybe he thinks for some reason that devalue is more persuasive so he’ll use it whether it’s true or not, or I have no idea what the hell is going on.

And maybe it gets to me because there is, perhaps, there is an actual policy point lurking there—the Chinese do manipulate their currency, and that does have, on the margins, a deleterious effect on our economy, and we have, mostly, chosen to place a lower priority on that than on other parts of our relationship (f’r’ex, human rights, Taiwan, South China Sea, Korea, etc etc) and there is potentially an argument to be made that we should be making the currency stuff a higher priority. I mean, I disagree, I don’t think the currency matters more than the other stuff, but there’s potentially a policy argument there, and from the actual words the candidate says the solution is to have a President who consistently says devalue instead of inflate. It makes me so angry, I don’t know.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I was surprised at how bad Trump was at playing to the camera, and realized that when I've seen him on The Apprentice, I don't remember him looking into the camera. The effect was that the show was putting us in the role of privileged observer rather than putting us into a direct relationship with Trump. In the debate it meant that he did not look confident about trying to communicate directly to the television audience by gazing into the camera.

Trump also tends to slouch and then straighten up, whereas Clinton holds very still or moves side to side. Particularly with lines of words behind both of them and a split screen, it meant that the camera work to keep their heads level had Trump looking really wobbly or jittery with the words going up and down behind him while Clinton looked very steady and calm.

Once Trump started interrupting, I found the debate much more fun to watch. Then it became much more about trying to figure out when he would let Clinton talk, when he would let the moderator talk, when he would remember that he was supposed to show some sort of respect for other people, when the word salad would kick in and out, and eventually when he would return to a calm speaking voice at all. His claim that he has a great demeanor came immediately after he got himself particularly wound up and shouty, which made it truly funny.

I did notice that about the lines of words and the candidate's heads; I was wondering why the candidate's camps allowed that background. It's possible, just, that Hillary Clinton's people somehow figured out that it advantaged her posture and so forth and snuck it in, but I suspect it was just a very poor choice by Hofstra and the Commission.

I still have never watched a minute of the Apprentice, so I have no idea what his actual TV skills are or are supposed to be. Presumably speaking in to a mic while standing at a podium wasn't among them.


I didn't want to bother making a whole new note for this, but folk who are nervously or confidently looking at the polls should keep in mind that there is a difference between winning the debate (polls show that more people were willing to say that Clinton did) and gaining votes. Also, since individual new polls are fairly likely to be outliers, we won't really have any sense of whether there is even any temporary shift in people's voting intentions for another couple of weeks, I would guess. Most likely, we will not be able to properly claim that this debate (unlike most debates in most cycles for the last generation) persuaded any voters until well after the election, when we gather all the economic numbers and other data that will sway most swing-voters (without their knowing it) and can perhaps sift out what portion correlates to which events.


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