Most people I know agree that the Presidential Debates this time around have seemed a bit different from in years past. There has been an extremely stark contrast in tone between the Democrats vs. the Republicans. There has been a sort of train wreck, Jerry Springer Show vibe emanating from the Republicans, with the attacks on each other, vitriolic and dramatic statements, and all-around off-the-wall extremeness creating a spectacle that is admittedly sort of entertaining. I say, “sort of,” because in reality it’s quite alarming to consider that any of these GOP hopefuls would attain the highest office in the land.
If we manage to put aside the carnival of the absurd feelings we get aside, and look more analytically at the one-liners and the topics that have created a stir in the debates thus far, we might actually look at the whole mess as a sort of sociological experiment. We might determine what strategies the two party system rely on- their game plan. What makes your average Republican get off their Lazy Boy and head for the polls? What makes a liberal decide they should sit down their mocha frappuccino and fight inertia for a few minutes on election day?
Since our culture is all about sound bytes and one liners -delivered to us in easily digested form by the media, I’m going to examine some of these comments from the latest Republican debate to see what they really reveal. Then I’ll talk about what the Democrats covered briefly, because I’m sure most of you tuned in to watch Hillary, Bernie, and Martin O’Malley.
From the recent Republican Presidential Debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 14th:
1. Birther theories -Ted Cruz and Donald debate (most ironically) who is ineligible to hold the office. This is pure Ultimate Karma™ since Cruz and Trump have attacked Obama his whole Presidency on wild speculations about his place of birth.
2. Gun control -or the lack thereof – Trump and Chris Christie make statements to appeal to the gun-slinging NRA crowd. Here, Trump says that “gun free zones are a feeding frenzy for sick people.” and “The guns don’t pull the trigger. People pull the trigger, and we have to find out what’s going on.” As if we need to know what’s going on any further before we decide that selling guns willy nilly is probably not the best choice…
Christie referring to Obama’s recent executive actions on guns: “The American people have rejected your agenda and now you’re trying to go around it. That’s not right. It’s not constitutional, and we are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.”
Christie throws in a little extra bravado just to appeal to the base who love the tough-guy routine. (Even if it’s obviously just an appeal to rabble-rousing morons.)
3. Being angry – Trump: “I’m very angry, because our country is being run horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. Yes I am angry.”
This statement received cheers, even though there was absolutely no evidence given for the assertion of the country being run horribly other than to throw in the hate-mongering part about immigrants.
Trump: “We can’t be the stupid country anymore. We’re laughed at all over the world.”
Trump ramps it up a notch from Bobby Jindal’s 2013 statement that the Republicans “Stop being the stupid party.” Now the whole country has been rendered stupid. Another example of projection? Pointing the finger at others who are doing everything wrong in order to take away the focus on the solutions to problems and the example that you yourself make? Can there be any doubt that the world is laughing at Donald Trump?
4. Muslims/ terrorists / Isis (These groups are sadly interchangeable to the GOP.)
Jeb Bush responds to Donald Trump’s assertion that the US ban all muslims. (Which is of course, totally absurd, but considered just fine with many in the GOP base.)
Jeb! asserts that Trump is “unhinged,” but yet Trump’s poll numbers went up 11 points in South Carolina. Jeb reveals that he understands why voters would be “angry and scared.” The hate-mongering of Donald Trump works because it appeals to the GOP voter’s fears and allows them to hate others out of a need for security. They are evidently VERY insecure people.
Trump: Finishes his talk about how his anti-muslim statements are ok: “We need security.”
5. Being strong/ not perceived as weak
Trump to Jeb!: “We don’t need a weak person being President of the United States, ok? That’s what we’d get if it were Jeb. I’ll tell you what. We don’t need that. We don’t need that.”
The easiest way to attack Jeb is to accuse him of being perceived as “low energy” or “weak,” but it’s never said why he is perceived that way. Because the GOP base will not follow somebody who uses logic rather than shows of machismo and aggressiveness. They are the party of appealing to bullies and bullying behavior is considered a sign of strength. Trump knows this and bullies Jeb! for all to see on National TV, and they love it.
Now if we contrast the latest Democratic debate: January 17 at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, we can see incredible differences. Not only in tone, but in content. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did clash a bit more than in past debates, but the tone was respectful. Sanders and Clinton openly remarked on their respect for each other. This is something we have scarcely seen from candidates of the GOP, aside from a brief moment in September of last year when Trump and Cruz appeared to get along. That bromance is now long gone, with Trump now stating: “Look, the truth is, he’s a nasty guy. He was so nice to me. I mean, I knew it. I was watching. I kept saying, ‘Come on, Ted. Let’s go, OK.’ But he’s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him.”
The topics veered away completely from those of the GOP debaters, who focused almost exclusively on guns and war with Islamic countries or with each other. The topic most ignored by the GOP:
1. Climate change – This topic is at the top of the list for Clinton and Sanders, but not even really touched on by the GOP, because admitting to climate change would be admitting that something affecting the oil industry would have to be done.
2. Actually doing something about gun violence – While Hillary and Sanders do differ on their approach to gun violence, they both want to do something to stop the chokehold that the NRA currently has on the country. They both know that steps must be taken to reduce gun violence, and that doing nothing is not an option anymore, unlike any of the GOP, who are clearly going to do whatever the NRA would agree with.
3. Health care – Clinton and Sanders disagree on the path to improving health care. But all the GOP want to do is to destroy what we have in place with Obamacare, even though they have never proposed anything of merit themselves -ever!
4. Raising minimum wage – All of the Democratic candidates know that raising the minimum wage is essential. Bernie and Hillary differ a touch in that Sanders wants $15 bucks an hour specifically, but they know workers need a living wage. This is something that GOP candidates actively fight.
5. Cooperating and helping immigrants, including muslims – The Democrats know that alienating whole groups of Americans does not make our country stronger, but weakens it. They know that we must get help from our muslim citizens in the fight on terrorism. Alienating them as Trump has done creates more hostility and opens the door for more violence on our soil. Immigration reform is also seen as something essential -not building grand walls that do nothing but make us look like idiotic fascists.
6. Break up Wall Street, fighting against the corrupting influences of big money on our government – The Democrats are the only party who are identifying the actual enemy in our country, and that is Citizens United and the effects of a wealthy few taking control of our government. While nobody is more outspoken than Bernie Sanders on this issue, Hillary is also clearly aware that steps need to be taken to stop the oligarchy. It’s out of control, which is why so many Americans are responding to Bernie Sander’s messages. Martin O’Malley seems the most out of step on this issue, stating that he doesn’t think we should pinpoint the wealthy as being a problem, but rather work will all groups of people.
At no time do we wonder if Hillary, Sanders, or O’Malley are going to make personal attacks on each other. In fact, Sanders refuses to be pulled in to make personal attacks on Clinton. There is a sense of decorum and respect that gives us more confidence in these candidates ability to hold office as President. There is no fear or hate-mongering. There is inclusion. It’s acknowledged that the issues facing minorities, such as #Blacklivesmatter, is important for all of us as a Nation. We are all in this together, and we are stronger when we don’t try to divide people according to their National origins, religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
There is a sense that we can confront the big issues, like climate change, with a commitment to finding the best solutions. There is no feeling that this issue will be swept under the table, out of reluctance to change, or because the oil industry is holding us hostage for profit. Science matters to these candidates. Finding solutions to real problems, instead of making us fear others, is the approach that Democrats respond to.
While the approach of the two parties is diametrically opposite, I leave you with one problematic question. Why do the tactics of the GOP: fear, hate and war-mongering, ignoring anything other than what is derisive, and what makes a funny sound byte – Why does these things work so well to energize the GOP base to get out and vote against their own self-interests? Why do so many Democrats fail to show up and vote? Is it because the drama of the GOP media, rather than the objective factual approach of the Democrats stirs more people into taking action? It the media, who the GOP usually derides, actually working in favor of the GOP, where quick one liners from Trump result in rising poll numbers and the death of Jeb’s candidacy?
One thing is clear: Trump knows what the GOP wants, and delivers it in high ratings, and rising poll numbers. He knows how to play the game. It is also clear that Bernie Sander’s enormous success with small campaign contributions from average citizens is showing that despite all odds, a base of thinking Democratic liberals, especially millenials, is becoming energized. Will they take action in 2016, or will most of the country allow the tactics of the GOP to deliver us a President that has gone to complete extremes? If that happens, then game over and checkmate. We have lost to sensationalism, one liners, sound bytes, and the divide and conquer tactics of extremists. It’s our move, and our game to lose. Let’s show them that intelligence, factual information, and tolerance and support for each other is the real winner.