Sunday’s presidential “debate” was the final nail in the coffin containing the corpse of American democracy, the reduction of discourse to carefully crafted sound bites designed not to inform and provoke serious thought but to inflame and trigger knee-jerk reactions.
On on side we saw the looming narcissist, grabbing attention by the power of his sneers and on the other the stiff, robotic technocrat.
If anything, Trump dominated the debate, in part by keeping his eye firmly on the cameras’ red lights and lumbering into its relentless gaze, hovering behind his opponent whenever it was her turn to speak.
Trump, the cartoonish, hulking media star best known for declaring “You’re fired!,” knows the medium well. But like all sociopaths, he is dazzled by the kleig and so self-assured that he overplays his hand to anyone with a skeptical eye.
Clinton, the epitome of the backroom dealer, is awkward in the public gaze, coming off as stiff when she relentlessly keeps to her script.
Part of the problem with the modern presidential debate is the format, shaped by medium in which they are conducted as candidates are forced to confine their answers to brief sound bites.
Consider, by contrast, the gold standard of American political debates, the seven 1856 confrontations between the consummate insider, between the diminutive [5’4″] Democratic incumbent Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, and his challenger, the looming [6’5″] Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln [and the matter of stature is about the only resemblance between today’s opponents and those of 158 years ago].
While Douglas would go on to retain his senate seat, it was Lincoln who two years later defeated Douglas to win the White House.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates set the stage for the presidential race two years later, and election that sparked a civil war.
Those debates bore no resemblance to Sunday’s debacle.
Consider, first of all, the format:
Lincoln and Douglas agreed to debate in seven of the nine Illinois Congressional Districts; the seven where Douglas had not already spoken. In each debate either Douglas or Lincoln would open with an hour address. The other would then speak for an hour and a half. The first then had 30 minutes of rebuttal. In the seven debates, Douglas, as the incumbent, was allowed to go first four times.
On seven separate occasions voters got to hear each candidate speak for 90 minutes!
Candidates could develop their ideas in detail, giving the voters a deeper understanding of the issues, developing their platforms and revealing what they actually stood for and intended to implement during their terms of office.
Not so today, when each candidate speaks for about as long as a reasonably skilled person can hold her breath, a time limit about as long as a campaign television commercial.
How can democracy thrive under such conditions? A climate in which impressions carry more weight than ideas?
Now on with today’s Graphic Representations
And rarely, if ever, have we seen such unanimity in the world of editorial cartooning.
First, from the editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post, the first of two offerings employing a similar metaphor:
Tom Toles: Donald Trump is breaking some barriers, too
And the second falling image, via the Charlotte Observer:
Kevin Siers: Trump in free fall
UPDATE: One more image we just discovered from across the pond via the Independent:
Dave Brown: Hair-raising experience
From the Los Angeles Times:
David Horsey: Trump steers the presidential debate into the lurid side of politics
From the Lexington Herald Leader:
Joel Pett: The GOP and women
And from the Columbus Dispatch:
Nate Beeler: Defending Liberty
Similarly, from the Arizona Republic:
Steve Benson: Trump targets women in new campaign slogan
And from the Tulsa World:
Bruce Plante: Trump in the locker room
Back to the locker room again, this time from the Baton Rouge Advocate:
Walt Handelsman: “Locker Room Talk”
Next up, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the first of three offerings on a parallel theme:
Mike Luckovich: Presidential grab
From the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the second:
Clay Bennett: Respect
For our penultimate cartoon, the Philadelphia Daily News weighs in:
Signe Wilkinson: A GOP power grab
Finally, from the Washington Post again:
Ann Telnaes: The Donald nose whereof he speaks
We close with another image, this one painted by Caravaggio, and telling the story from Greek mythology of Narcissus, a man so enamored of self love that when he gazed into his own reflection in a lake he pined away and died from unrequited love.
Remind you of anyone?: