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(Screenshot via abc.net.au)

Dr Martin Hirst examines the Trump/Clinton debate and likens the U.S. presidential race to a prize fight where only one can be left standing — the other carried out on a stretcher.

I HAVE AMERICAN FRIENDS who look forward to presidential debates.

One New York-based union organiser I know had a bottle of red and her laptop ready.

Presumably to drown her sorrows (she supported Bernie Sanders) and also to tweet out her responses. Sherry has a stake in the system, so I can understand her interest.

Tens of millions of Americans tuned in making the 2016 presidential debate one of the most-watched events in recent television history.

I watched it too, because I knew I would be writing this column but for me, the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was pretty awful. Yes, I’m interested in American politics, who isn’t?

When one of the candidates to be the next “leader of the free world” is speaking about nuclear control codes, scrapping free trade agreements, deporting Muslims and walling off Mexico, it pays to listen.

But the potentially explosive tension of the unscripted debate format and my expectation of a Trump meltdown were not realised.

Clinton spent hours practicing and it showed. She gave an almost machine-like performance and looked mechanical — even in her “warm” moments. Trump got a bit hissy, but never launched himself to the great heights of destructive invective we know he is capable of.

Clinton was a smooth-running engine that barely got above idle — Trump seemed like a misfiring rag-top jalopy with dirt in the fuel tank and prone to cranky backfires.

Trump’s crazy – I have no doubt – but during the debate his constant sniffing led some Twitter wags to think he had been snorting cocaine. That’s unlikely but maybe the Ritalin is kicking in and calming him down a bit.

By his own account, Trump went soft on Clinton, particularly over her husband’s infidelities. After the debate, Trump said he could have hit her “harder” but chose not to because daughter Chelsea was in the audience.

Next time, say his backers, the gloves will be off.

Next time?

You mean these two are going to do it again?

Why, when online polls show that well over 70 per cent of Americans have made up their minds who they’ll vote for, do Clinton and Trump have to have two more of these set-piece debates?

The only answer I can come up with is that U.S. presidential races are like title fights in boxing.

Two heavy-hitters, toe-to-toe in the ring, only one can leave standing. The other will be carried out of the stadium on a stretcher.

It’s winner-take-all, the prize money includes the keys to the White House, a private jet, invitations to all the best parties and the honour of having the key to Armageddon in your pocket at all times.

With the stakes so high you’d expect both contenders to be on top of their game but in the first of three debates, neither fighter looked capable of delivering the knockout blow.

Clinton can take a punch, there’s no doubt about that — Trump and his ringside attendants have been taking cheap shots at Clinton for months but she’s still standing.

She never looks unsteady in the ring, but outside on the training circuit she sometimes looks a bit unsure of her footing. That’s why Trump’s attacks were about stamina. Is Hillary strong enough and well enough to manage the White House for the next four years?

Well, she seemed okay during the bruising 90 minutes of the first debate. But – to continue the prize-fighting analogy – that’s four rounds of a potential 12. Clinton must hold on if she’s going to get over the line on 8 November.

At the moment, she has a small, but safe margin but if Trump manages to get her on the canvass in the subsequent debates, Clinton’s lead could evaporate.

Stamina? This is stamina

Clinton nominated herself as a presidential candidate back in April 2015 and Trump two months later, so by the time of the 8 November vote it will have been 19 months of campaigning. It’s no wonder that Hillary gets the “wobbles” from time to time and that occasionally, Trump says something really awful or truly frightening.

 

It takes nearly two years and billions of dollars to buy a U.S. presidency and the candidate debates are the public shop window into this expensive exercise in circus democracy. That is why they are prime time television and that is why there are three of them.

U.S. shoppers voters need time to peruse the goods, feel the quality and road-test the clunkers assess the candidates’ policies and style.

It’s the voters of America that need stamina — and also a strong stomach.

Now that a second Clinton White House seems to be the most likely outcome, what happens to voters on both sides who don’t like either candidate?

On the left, a movement to have Senator Bernie Sanders as the Democrats’ nominee failed before the party convention. And for the Republicans (GOPs), anyone who stood against Trump was viciously mown-down.

The Republican establishment seems to have reluctantly embraced Trump, while Bernie supporters are torn between what has become known as “lesser evil-ism” (voting for Hillary) or voting for one of the outlier candidates and risk splitting the Democrat vote.

The premise of lesser evilism —an electoral strategy frequently employed by progressives to the left of the Democratic Party — is quite simple: given the limited choices on offer in a two-party system, the Left should work to elect the least-damaging of the two options. The strategy is historically counterpoised to calls to break with the Democrats and use elections to build an independent third party. ~ James Roberston, Jacobin magazine

The most likely recipient of the left protest vote is Green Party candidate Jill Stein but she has no chance of winning the public vote and zero prospect of picking up any of the 538 electoral college votes, that ultimately decide the presidency.

On the other hand, Republicans who hate the idea of a Trumpocracy have little or no choice on their side of politics. That’s why some in the GOP have urged a vote for Clinton.

But what can you do if you really can’t stand either mainstream candidate and want to lodge a protest vote?

It’s easy.

Here’s a fun fact for you: did you know that there are actually hundreds, if not thousands of candidates for president and that you can “write in” a nominee of your choice on the ballot paper in some states?

Yes, anybody can nominate to be president — that’s the American dream. The reality is you need 10 billion dollars and membership of the U.S. elite in order to actually realise the dream.

The waking nightmare for hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans is a life on minimum wage, a seemingly endless cycle of war resulting in a continuing loss of blood and treasure and being “represented” by a member of the billionaire class. Not to mention the added burden of being black, Latino, Asian or Muslim in America today.

Why wouldn’t you just write your own name on the ballot? After all, at least one of the hundreds of millions of eligible U.S. citizens must be as competent as either Clinton or Trump.

Dr Martin Hirst is an academic, journalist and author. Read more from Martin on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini. You can also listen to Dr Hirst discuss the presidential debate – and more – in Independent Australia's latest exclusive members' only podcast HERE

 

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