As everyone expected, the first of the 275 scheduled debates between Republican presidential candidates was a bit of a shitshow. Eager to come out swinging, to make an impression, and to out-conservative each other, several hopefuls staked out alarmingly extreme positions: Marco Rubio said he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Jeb Bush promised 4% growth (actually, Sustained Positive Economic Growth, a phrase he repeated several times) for every year of his presidency. Mike Huckabee proposed a consumption tax so we can finally make poor people pay their fair share. Most extreme of all, John Kasich suggested that we accept gay people for who they are.
But predictably, it’s sentient Internet comment Donald Trump who walked away with all the headlines, because Fox News anchorbot Megyn Kelly challenged him on his history of sexist statements:
Trump got snippy with Kelly during the debate, and then spent the rest of the night tweeting shit at her; then, in a phone interview with CNN, Trump suggested that she had pressed him on his ungallant statements not because they suggest an alarmingly retrograde if not outright misogynist disposition, but because she was on her period.
Because American news media is apparently unable to focus on more than one aspect of anything at a time, this became the one and only story coming out of the debate. That is unfortunate, because in addition to burnishing his reputation as a world-class shithead, Trump made the truest, most revealing statement I’ve ever heard in a political debate. (Close second: when Huckabee declared that the U.S. military’s mission is to “kill people and break things.”)
Asked to respond to his history of donating money to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, Trump mentioned that he donates cash to most any politician who asks, including most of the other candidates on stage:
I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this. Two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me. And that’s a broken system. With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.
This, in a nutshell, is why American politics is fucked, why it will never be unfucked, and why I am moving to the Australian outback to live in a yurt and subsist on bugs and rainwater. We’ve often lamented the idea that the system is tilted to favor people of means — and by means I don’t mean people who can afford a summer home or a boat, I mean people who can afford an island — but we’ve never had such a person come right out and confirm it.
Trump is already in charge. Not just Trump, but anyone with the resources to donate money to politicians. If he needs something, like a law or a tax exemption or an easement so he can build another of his garish gold-plated towers, the people he donates to — which is everyone, on both sides of the aisle — is there for him. He steps out of the lobby and snaps his fingers, waving his valet ticket, and one of these clowns comes running.
Everyone seems to agree that electing Trump president would be an unmitigated disaster, but it seems to me that it would amount to little more than cutting out that middle man — no need for Congress to do his bidding if he’s in a position to just go ahead and do it himself. He called it a “broken system,” but he gave no indication what he would do to change it. It does nothing to excuse all the other awful things he’s said, but just acknowledging the existence of this corrupt, unspoken arrangement would have been a major gift to the electorate, if the media had not forgotten all about it the moment Trump said “Rosie O’Donnell.”
This gets at the very reason so many left-leaning people, myself included, are so leery of Hillary Clinton. Because WHAT WAS SHE DOING AT DONALD TRUMP’S (THIRD) WEDDING? Sure, she hits all the right notes about looking out for the middle class (whoever that is) and protecting Social Security and blah blah blah, but she was AT TRUMP’S WEDDING. God knows how else she has “been there for him,” and for all the other people who donate to her campaigns and foundations and 501(c)-3s.
Trump suggests that he can’t be bought because he’s worth ten billion dollars and doesn’t need the money, and his supporters seem to feel that that alone qualifies him to be president. That, and his unmatched belligerence and refusal to admit any mistake or apologize for anything. But if there were a candidate who couldn’t be bought, not because he has ten billion dollars, but because he just doesn’t want to be bought? That’s somebody who I’d want to take a closer look at.