The hulking presence of Donald Trump, the speaking-overs, the childish phrasing, the parade of scowls, grimaces and frowns were all too much. It was a tour de force of ‘bigly’ bullying, grotesque mannerisms and just plain nastiness.
After awhile even Hillary Clinton was being pushed into blunt rejoinders and mean-spirited reposts. You had to stop and think every so often that this was a debate to determine who gets to be the chief executive of the free world, and the commander-in-chief of the most powerful armed forces ever assembled on Earth.
For boomers who can still manage a look back to the likes of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, and the full reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it is shocking how low the level of acceptable public performance has fallen.
A presidential hopeful can now apparently muster nearly 40 percent of the U.S. voting public by harshly demeaning public service, speaking in circles, off the cuff, without evidence of intellectual preparation, notes or teleprompter queues. Meandering dog-bite prose, physical trolling on the town hall debate stage, avoidance of every question, and serial repetition of Grade 7 level playground insults carried Trump through 90 minutes of debate.
Imagine what this is doing to the millennial and post-millennial mind set – especially as it relates to participation in the highest levels of democracy. The free rage of loony internet threads, the Breitbart/alt-right spite of talk radio and Fox News, and amused tolerance of computer porn is all rolled together in Trumpworld. You are free to say whatever pops into your head, and you can lie repeatedly to hammer home a ‘truth’ that started as a lie. Better still, tax avoidance is proof of superior intelligence, beautiful women are magically available to the boss, and the pursuit of personal gratification and greed are the hallmarks of success.
It would appear that Trumpworld is a male haven, where women may be invited in as sort-of equals if they pass the Miss Universe test, but only until age 35, when they are replaced. Males apparently can rumble about into their 70s (at least), and put themselves forward for extremely stressful 24/7 work, without much evident effort to stay in shape. Junk food is de rigueur, you go everywhere by personal jet, there is plenty of time for hanging out with your old locker room buddies, and perhaps you can even find time to take married women furniture shopping.
At some level, this adolescent, narcissistic fantasy can become bizarrely humorous. Especially when it is championed as the meaning of life. But there is a dark side. It is still not beyond the realm of rational belief that Donald Trump could be elected president. And, with his new powers, he would instruct his Attorney General to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s 33,000 missing e-mails. He followed up with the rejoinder, “You’d be in jail,” if he became president. The next day his campaign manager dismissed this comment as a “quip.” Some quip.
I wonder how the thousands of senior public servants who serve the executive functions of the White House, the Armed Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the judiciary will react to such orders. It is conceivable that highly placed career officers in the public service would refuse to follow what they thought to be illegal orders, especially so if they came from a chief executive exhibiting off-balance behaviour. What happens next in this scenario? Are non-compliant public servants fired on the spot? Arrested? Worse?
This is the stuff revolutions are made of – not maintenance of the public order.
We have to hope that the common sense of the electorate will rise to the occasion, and that sanity will prevail. Even if it does, this presidential election season we have seen unsettling evidence of what might be.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.