Monday, October 24, 2016

Trump-Clinton debates: A most substantive takeaway

        The 2016 debates lacked Quemoy and Matsu.

In 1960, a gentlemanly quarrel about these two tiny islands was the most significant policy difference in the Kennedy-Nixon debate, though historians call the proceedings a watershed event in televised politics.

Nixon said the islands off China's coast merited Cold War saber-rattling. Kennedy said they didn't.

The Clinton-Trump presidential debates? Nothing of that sort. Really, nothing at all. However, I'm here to convince you that they were the most important, and yes, substantive, ever.

They were important because we saw the substance in both candidates. More accurately: In one candidate we saw substance; in the other we saw a charred crater.

As many have observed, any real policy distinctions in these debates were obscured by layers of tar and slime. Personal distinctions, however, became crystal-clear, like – you know, the first time the optometrist fits you for corrective lenses.

The polls say hundreds of thousands of Americans watched these debates and exclaimed, "Oh, my goodness; I see."

In Donald Trump, they saw someone with a history of indefensible acts who, well, won't defend them.

He says he'll sue those who say he did what he did. (In much the same way, no doubt, that O.J. Simpson devoted himself to "finding the real killer").

Those undecideds saw, by word and deed, a candidate less devoted to winning the election than discrediting the result to come.

This is understandable, with, as Donald Jr. said after Debate 3, the role of being CEO of our nation being a step down from Trump Tower.

Those undecideds saw Trump claim that the election is rigged. This, though the only known attempt at rigging comes from Russian hackers.        Interestingly, Trump has been meticulous in giving the Russians a pass on that.

Oh, and you did hear that the Russians want to send election monitors? I'm curious: Over which candidate's fate are they fretting?

Clinton said Trump would be Putin's puppet. Trump's rejoinder was that he was rubber and she was glue. Touché.

These things considered, this was still the most substantive set of presidential debates ever. Why? Because, before it was too late, the nation saw the stuff of which the candidates were made.

This wasn't a matter of sweat on an upper lip. This was a matter of poise (or the lack thereof), of dignity (or its absence), of command, of experience -- of one, and only one on the stage, being up to the task of leading this nation and the free world.

Clinton's political foes have tried for three decades to cast her as untrustworthy, even criminal. At this point, I'm reminded of David Brock, the former Republican operative who, writing for the American Spectator, set in motion much of what became the Whitewater narrative. 

Over time, Brock, author of "Blinded by the Right," would come to understand that it wasn't Clinton who was corrupt. It was the right-wing ideologues consumed with bloodlust for her.

After years of studying Hillary Clinton's every move at the behest of Republican financiers, Brock came to praise her "prodigious talents, strong character, and bedrock American values." Though she was only first lady as the time, Brock wrote that Hillary could end up being "an even more historically significant figure than her husband." 

Donald Trump, in three debates, has done much to advance that narrative.

I know that many voters are disgusted at the paucity of policy substance in those debates. But what clearly was best for the country was to see personal substance.

John Kennedy won the '60 debate, but not so decisively that Richard Nixon would not return to the arena to do bad things to the presidency.

Maybe instead of Quemoy and Matsu, Americans should have been allowed, in moments of sheer unsightliness, to really see each candidate's true substance, like we just did in Clinton vs. Trump.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Enough about the beast; let’s talk about some beauty

It comes with the ticking parcel that Republican voters left on our doorstep, but we've focused way too much lately on what a Twitter hashtag fest -- #TrumpDrSeuss -- has christened The Deplorax.

He of the orange hair and a thousand calculated insults, many aimed at women. He of horrible boasts backed by deplorable acts.

As many observed after the second presidential debate, it is a sad time for our nation. That is, unless we hear about something spectacularly uplifting, like what Michelle Obama said the other night.

I'm not talking about her emotional denunciation of that well-parsed "boys on the bus" tape. That was magnificent.

(As with her show-stopper at the Democratic National Convention, it seems that every time she has the microphone anymore she stops a nation in its tracks.)

But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about what she said to two beautiful groups of African school girls.

Her comments are the highlight of a stirring CNN documentary, "We Will Rise," focused on the drive to provide education for girls being denied it by cultural impediments and poverty.

The film is tied to the White House's Let Girls Learn initiative, in which Peace Corps volunteers have been dispatched to help change village attitudes about these matters and mentor young girls.

Because of religious restrictions and the lack of public schools – with crippling school fees that families reserve for males over females -- 62 million girls are held out of school.

This is no trifling matter, ; the fact that 40 percent of Earth's women are illiterate means high infant mortality, poor health care and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

In "We Will Rise" we meet, along with the first lady, a Liberian girl who is attending school despite community pressure. Indeed, during filming, town fathers come to lecture her, hustling her away from the microphones.

We meet a Moroccan girl whose request to attend school was denied by her parents until she refused to eat. She ended up class valedictorian, though she was advised not to take science classes with the boys.

We hear a Liberian 10th-grader use "sexual exploitation" with perfect elocution as she talks of how girls there must navigate a culture of objectification.

"People need and want to value you because of who you are," Michelle Obama tells the girls, who can barely control their glee, particularly when told that hugs with America's first lady are not only allowed but invited.

Sorry to those who believe that the Obamas are the antithesis of everything they believe America to be -- but, my goodness, does that lady deliver the goods, and the good.

She has said she won't run for an office. That shouldn't rule out, say, U.N. secretary general, or secretary of Health and Human Services. Surely a President Clinton wouldn't rule it out.

Speaking of Clinton, whom The Deplorax wants jailed: One of the multitudes of sterling initiatives of the Clinton Foundation is No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project. Its aim is the same as Let Girls Learn: to curb the appalling disparities facing girls and women around the world.

       No ceilings: It is sick and sad that in our own country raw sexism, embodied by a certain serial misogynist, continues to see women as less than vital partners in our communal quest.

It was revealing, in the CNN documentary, that among those at Michelle Obama's talk to the stunning and hopeful girls of Liberia was the country's president: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Yes, nearly 100 years since women got the right to vote in America, we're behind Liberia in placing the nation's stewardship in a woman's hands.

That can change in a few short weeks.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, October 10, 2016

A ratings problem for GOP’s freak show

         The NFL's ratings are down. Fox Sports commentator Colin Cowherd says he knows why. It's not about quality of play or sidelined quarterbacks.

"It's Donald Trump." People are tuning out football for that guy.

True. The nation is transfixed. It can't take its eyes off the Trump Dumpster fire.

The thing it, such TV ratings are not what his party wants. No, siree.

Right now the GOP wants voters to flip to just about any other programming: tribal mating rituals in New Guinea, migratory fruit flies, the soufflé in French history.

No such luck. All Americans want to talk about is this man's terrible behavior. Trump's nomination has been exquisite for cable news, horrific for the Republican Party.

As's Nate Silver observed, the day after Trump's "boys on the bus" audio clip went viral, Google searches for "Trump" were four times as high as "Trump" searches that were already at "insanely high" levels.

Again: not the kind of attention the GOP craves.

At this point, the higher Trump's TV ratings are, the lower the party's chances are in general. General, as in election.

Let's face it. At this moment of ignominy, the last thing GOP leaders want people talking about is Donald Trump. And yet Americans can't stop talking about him. For one, they can't stop listening to loops of His Lewdness in action.

Talk about a mighty wind: Trump succeeded in blowing the most powerful tropical storm since Katrina right off our TV screens.

"He said what on 'Access Hollywood'? Check out what he told Howard Stern."

Trump started out as a novelty act. He has become a freak show – or if you will, a gore-filled wreck on the roadside. We cannot take our eyes off it, or him.

Again: very bad for the GOP.

A key point, though, is that this GOP ratings problem is not confined to Trump.

Republican leaders also would have been happy for Americans not to have gotten to know Ted Cruz so well. By and large, we are told, they hate him.

Thanks to the hardened sods of the tea party, however, in the nomination process, Cruz became Miss Runner-Up in the GOP's Miss Absurdity Pageant in August.

What's so wrong with that, you ask? Well, consider what has happened in Colorado. The GOP thought it had a chance against Sen. Michael Bennet. A well-financed, decidedly moderate (pro-choice) Republican, Jack Graham, stepped up to take him on. However, Cruz's endorsement of a fellow tea party hard-liner served to deliver the nomination to barely known, lightly financed Darryl Glenn. Recent polls say Glenn is about to get stomped.

This dynamic has played out across the country. The face of the GOP is becoming increasingly unlike the rest of us, particularly as we become more diverse and more tolerant. The GOP puts forward freak-show acts like Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Allen West and Christine O'Donnell. They stir a core of frothy supporters, but they turn off a whole lot of voters.

Cruz? As one whose singular contribution to our government has been to shut it down, he has high TV ratings, with exactly the very kind of freak-show attention his party doesn't desire. When he runs for re-election in 2018, he will give Texas Democrats the best opportunity in years to gain a Senate seat.

As for Trump, a ratings champion cruising to be an electoral loser: After being caught on tape being himself, he pledged to press on: "I will not let my followers down."

To which my wife said, "It's a little bit late for that." 

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: