Henry Rollins: The Presidential Debates Are About Ratings, Not Politics
Was anyone's mind changed by last week's debate? Probably not.
I watched as much of the presidential debate as I could before remembering life is short and there are a lot of options. I know that for some, it was one of those "get your popcorn and settle in" opportunities. But for me, it was just more of what I already know and an absolute waste of time.
I blame it all on how the O.J. Simpson case was turned into a soap opera.
The success of the recent dramatized version of the Simpson trial was one of the many byproducts of an unbelievably gruesome double homicide, which was adroitly transformed into a mega-lucrative worldwide reality thriller and one of the most talked-about events in USA history. The actors in the aforementioned docudrama probably are more popular than the actual people involved. Both get yet another star turn. The image of prosecutor Marcia Clark, smiling as she stood with actress Sarah Paulson at the Emmys, brings the whole thing together to its medialogical conclusion.
I wonder how the Simpson, Brown and Goldman families felt if they were watching it. If Simpson had been allowed to make an appearance, he would have brought the house down. His 15 minutes haven't even started yet.
If Simpson is ever released from prison, he will have a great career in entertainment. He provided and continues to supply top-shelf entertainment to millions of people all over the world. That is worth something. Simpson has been transformed from an actual person to a media cash generator, up-armored and supersized. His biggest payday is perhaps yet to come. It's not good for reality, but it's great for ratings.
That's what has happened in the 2016 presidential election. The primary contenders on the Republican side were all comic book characters, foes with flaws. Only one of them, despite his lack of political experience, possessed TV chops, awareness of the audience and the ability to find the right moment to sink a memorable one-liner like a dagger into the chest of his target. The others were not camera-ready, and it cost them plenty.
Trump became the nominee and might become president. If that happens, it won't be the first time USA has had a corny actor in the executive office. History can take the next few years off and stop writing new material and bide its time watching reruns.
The ratings and the ad buys have been at the forefront. The issues, not so much.
But back to the debate show. From the contenders to the consumers, I bet that no one's mind was changed after the dust settled. Trump and Clinton probably both thought they did great, as did their respective bases. Was there anything surprising about this made-for-television event?
Moderator Lester Holt didn't see it as his responsibility to keep either candidate on the truthy straight and narrow. At this point, it's not policy or the future of a nation that's at stake — it's political NASCAR and he'd best not get in the way of the trading of paint. Not only were the candidates left to flail in the great intellectual wide open, like untethered astronauts outside the module, but so were the citizens. That's not irresponsible. That's freedom.
Meanwhile, very real issues are waving emphatically, hoping to be addressed, as one more unarmed person is brought to the ground by a police officer's bullets.
One hundred million watched a non-debate. At least the Romans cut the crap and used lions. We just make up drinking games and eviscerate each other. It seems that, for the most part, the electorate is looking every possible way but at the grim challenges that face its country. The distraction is so well-produced, how could it do otherwise?
It absolutely matters who the next president is. But the road to the election is now just an advertiser's display, a multimonth walk through the duty-free shops in the international terminal on the way to our final destination. It's everything but what it should be.
In their own way, both Clinton and Trump are dead serious. I get the idea that Trump thinks the job of president is dramatic and exciting, that he'll be closing big deals and slamming down the phone after telling another world leader to go fuck himself, as his staff roars with laughter and high-fives go around the room. I don't think he's ready for the unbelievable boredom and crushing drudgery that being president entails. The endless meetings, hours of reading and one photo op after another. There will be no jamming back to NYC on Friday afternoon for martini weekends and private golf course tee offs in Florida. Putting Trump in Camp David with world leaders on a policy summit retreat would be tantamount to torturing the guy.
On the other hand, Clinton is built for the long sit. I can see her now, keeping her staff all weekend as they read a 1,200-page bill one more time. All good presidents have a massive nerd streak, which I don't see with Trump.
Look at what eight years of wrestling Congress did to President Obama. Look at that face! The man is exhausted. Whenever I see a photo of him smiling, it makes me wonder if he is thinking that in a few weeks this will all be over and it will be someone else's turn to bore through stacks of paper, make one agonizing decision after another and get raked over the ratings-generated coals as he or she tries to govern a country whose electorate is, for the most part, so easily distracted.
Is there any point to having another debate? What would be achieved? If Trump didn't show up, would it affect his popularity? I bet it would make his fans dig him even more.
The USA Democracy bus is on the side of the road, engine seized. No one wants to fix it, only blame the other side for the breakdown.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier
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