The second presidential debate was nothing short of a fusillade of acrimony, spitefulness and low blows which saw a crossfire (and repeated shelling) of personal attacks take center stage over political substance. With Hilary Clinton’s recently leaked Wall Street speeches and Donald Trump’s recorded boasting on how easy it is to have his way with any beautiful woman he sets his sights on, it’s hard to genuinely like either candidate. While Trump is obviously by far the worst choice for his repeated disrespect of women, lies and racism, there’s something telling about how both candidates have some of the poorest approval ratings in American history. But their clashes, conflicts and contradictions (the Trump and Clinton family used to be close friends) do bring out several conclusions that are grimly incompatible with the ‘positive teamwork’, ‘be a good person’ or ‘various moral rectitude’ that our schools, parents and social norms repeatedly drill into us.
[Genuine politics is bitter, ugly and unhappy] A huge, jutting and ugly contrast from the promoted ‘good’ leadership behaviour that schools and workshops try to instill, let it be said that it is impossible to win if you are consistently on your best behaviour. Even when setting Trump and Clinton aside, many other previous presidential elections in America and beyond, have always ran attack ads and vicious news articles with the full intent of capitalising on an opponent’s flaw of character. It isn’t enough to show you are better; you need to completely waste your opponent even if it means exaggerating, using half-truths or acting on purported rumours. And these tactics of bringing your opponent to his knees, or going as far as to completely terminate him with no opportunity for comeback, is aptly referred to as Machiavellianism – named after Niccolò Machiavelli who wrote in The Prince that ‘the employment of cunning and duplicity’ is required for general conduct. In the realm of anything political, philosophizing is a waste of time – only the swift and certain destruction of those opposed to you matter. History will remember the victors because they get to rewrite it. And psychology tells us that these very people will see themselves as doing the right thing, or believe they are the necessary saviours the world needs. Good behaviour only works if everyone believes and acts on it. The reality? One bad apple is enough to spoil the entire continent’s worth of apples.
[Public VS Private] Nowhere is it made more clear in this debate than the stark contrast between a person’s private and public life. Of course, there are plenty of stories awash with contradictions between the public and private. There’s the Buddhist monks who seek out prostitutes on the sly; celebrities who have sleazy affairs while riding the cause for anti-drug and pro-family campaigns; and of course, Bill Clinton the ex-president who lied under oath about his indecencies with Monica Lewinsky. When men misbehave, it’s often infidelity; women usually occupy other vices such as corruption or manipulation (though statistically, both genders cheat equally). But regardless of gender, who we appear to be in public is one splendid act. To successfully fit into the expected template of what is socially accepted is to meticulously mold your public image – a skill and artful lie we quickly learn without being taught. We circle around euphemisms and silently condemn others just so that we can maintain that so important squeaky clean image. Worse, what we do in private is something that’s absolutely terrifying to reveal in public. Our sly fantasies, sexual fetishes, and morbid habits are the true stuff of nightmares that authors conveniently leave out of the heroes they try to fashion in movies and perfect romance novels. Would you feel the same sense of inspiration and admiration if you knew Wonder Woman read erotica magazines and binged watched Korean love fantasies at night while fighting for justice in the day? I think not. But hey, reality (and therefore human nature) is really, really hard to accept right?
[Religion & how it affects your beliefs and policies] Also taking the spotlight, albeit briefly, was the discussion of the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ which Hilary Clinton and Obama refused to use. They instead explained that the problem was not with the religion since a majority of Muslims are peaceful. It does unfortunately miss the point that Islam, like Christianity, contains considerable number of verses that diminish women and call for specific horrific punishments for various offenses, particularly when skepticism is shown towards Islam.
Look at this verse (among, many, many lines): ‘Quran 5:33 – the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger…is that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land.”
It’s the exact line ISIS uses to justify their gory killings. And it’s from the same holy book used by Muslims all over the world. To be clear, it’s not just Islam. The Bible is full of nonsensical violence too.
Here’s one: ’15:18 And he [the Lord] sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out’.
And of course, we know that the consequence of having fundamentalist religious beliefs is that they always, always tend to always spill over into policies. For example, Christian evangelicals completely dismiss evolution and pretend climate change isn’t happening. Do you think such a president would even consider supporting research into evolutionary process or try his hardest to collaborate with other nations on tackling global warming? As uncomfortable as it sounds, if you are deeply religious, you should be automatically disqualified from any position of power. Policies should not be determined by religious rights but what’s scientifically and statistically understood. But because a majority of people in the world are religious, they are more likely to favour a candidate who understands and supports their belief – a completely absurd way of rational and democratic voting.
In the end, maybe the idea of democracy is somewhat of a failure. No one needs extensive knowledge of politics nor a boot camp in logic but there should at least be an urgency to try to identify arguments and read up a bit more. Are the majority of voters good critical thinkers with a decent grasp of political and world issues? Sadly no. And with the way this election is headed, there’s probably going to be more dirt uncovered, more lies exposed and more general ugliness. Even if Trump lost the election, remember that he had significant support from the masses who didn’t mind his bigotry, racism and sexism. The problem isn’t Trump. It’s the people who support him.