Yes, I watched it. Painful as it was -- and, especially, came to be.
My normal morning routine is to have a cup of coffee and then get busy absorbing the world news; searching for cogent and meaningful discussion thereof. This morning, though, I wanted to put these few words into pixels before anyone else's thought, cogent or otherwise, blended in with my own.
The "classic" American political debate was something quite different from what we call a "debate" today. The greatest of these, but not by far the only "great" ones, were those between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas during their run for the Illinois senate. That was back in 1858.
What made those debates "great" was two fold: One, they were true debates -- that is they were formal arguments about ideas. Ideas important to those who they hoped to represent. And, two, they were the expressions of focused minds with strong and clearly distinct opposing points of view.
If their intent was to win public office -- and it was -- their method of doing so was to inform and win people over to possibly for them new ideas.
Last night's affair never reached anywhere near that level. Nor, frankly, was it intended too. It was at best to be good theater - a performance put on for show. For entertainment. And in fact it in the end proved to be far less than that.
Interestingly -- and maybe informatively -- it started out on a plain, if not quite up to that of Lincoln/Douglas, at least elevated enough to provide a vista worth viewing. Both Clinton and Trump had what we could call "lines." Clearly memorized sentences that they hoped would become news sound bites, or, failing that, at least something that would stick in a listener/viewer's mind giving them something to 'take home.'
In Trump's case the most obvious was his supposed graciousness toward Hillary. How 'important this was to him.' Something that any viewer of his performances in the Republican primary debates knows is simply not the case. What is important to him is to win. At everything. (And, indeed, it is the later quality that so caught some of the public's imagination. What might America be like if it were to actually have a President devoted to this country's citizenry, who felt just that way - and had the proven means to succeed in it?)
Hillary, too, had memorized lines. So many in fact that it is hard for me to single out any one. She, even more than Trump, was (and is) a performer. Not meaning a good one. Her "lines" are too easily seen to be what they are: Words written in advance -- a script -- at best read out in her own, odd, artificial, sing-song way. (Unless she is having an off day -- then her underlying nastiness quickly shows through.)
Still, despite all of the above, the opening half hour or so of the "debate" actually was that, without the quotation marks. Differing ideas were put forth. Ideas worth considering. Ideas important to voters, to help them -- us! -- make up their/our minds. Maybe even change a few? (Wouldn't that have been wonderful!)
Then the "debate" became a non-debate. That was when moderator Holt got involved.
I shan't here go into a list of his obvious (yes, and expected) one-sidedness. Too bad that, but it goes with the territory. Something true every year as the "owned media" is just that, owned -- and not equally by both parties. They are coastal entities and thus they lean left.
But this year all the established media -- yes, even Fox News -- is on one side: The side of the establishment. They may well loath Hillary Clinton -- so many, including her supposed "supporters" do -- but Trump is to them far, far more a threat. He is not one of them. And he says and does things according to his own goals and vision. Scary stuff to those who have found a protected and comfortable perch in these windy days.
The bad thing about Holt's involvement was thus not that. Its favoring Hillary was a given. No, what made it bad was that he changed the subject from things that we care about to things that in fact we don't. -"Birtherism," released tax forms, and the like. And even the subjects he raised that are of some (if not primary) interest to us, the way he asked the questions and the things he didn't say, showed that answering our questions and helping us make an important informed decision was by no means his primary goal. Indeed, not his goal at all.
Just to site a clear example... Holt raised the concern about internet security. Important? Yes. But how can Hillary talk about that without the fact of her intentionally putting classified information on an unsecured server even in this context being raised?
No, I do not mean that Holt should have attacked her -- that was not his job, he was the moderator. But to obviously steer the discussion away from that towards a focus on the Russians -- well that made even this possibly worthy point of "debate" superfluous. And in doing so made his real goal rather evident.
The live audience understood this. For they, at that point, started cheering and applauding. And he, who earlier had reminded them of the agreed to "rules" forbidding such, suddenly (and, again, quite obviously) went mute.
I watched the show till its painful end. Saddened more than surprised. Left with the question not "who won," but who lost. Us. We. The American people.
'Tis a shame that. But then again, so is so much else in recent years. Not things that will so much effect me (well they could, if the proverbial "shit hits the fan"), but what all this will mean for what some day will be quaintly called "history." And for those who between now and then have to live it.