There will no doubt be a raft of fact-checking follow-ups on Monday night’s debate. Hillary partisans will claim she won. Trump partisans will insist he won. Not many people will have heard the debate with the same ears.
That’s where we are in America, 2016.
Just a few impressions.
1. Hillary skated big time. Lester Holt didn’t take her to task on anything embarrassing. That’s actually a key point, because it goes to the way many viewers “heard” and processed the debate.
If they had had a sense that Hillary received her fair share of “put-‘em-on-the-spot” questions from the moderator, they might go harder on Trump for his, um, unconventional performance.
But Holt gave her a pass, while bringing up red herrings designed to keep Trump talking about stupid stuff (e.g., the “birther” business, the “for or against the Iraq invasion” theme).
I don’t know if the media will ever get this, but that lack of even-handedness just makes Hillary look more cynical, complacent, and supercilious, when she’s being cynical, complacent, and supercilious. It drives people to Trump. He comes off looking like he’s a reactive but relatively straightforward guy, being poked for effect unfairly. (And if you don’t recognize the average American guy in that profile, there’s not much I can do for you.)
2. Speaking of the “was Trump for or against the Iraq invasion” theme: the truth about that matter appears to me to be more nuanced than either side of the debate acknowledges. Trump is too reductionist about it, but so are the MSM.
There’s a reason that matters. Again, the media, and too many of the right-wing pundits, still don’t get this, but 2016 is about taking down the rhetorical framework we have all been stuck with for the last 30 years. It’s a framework in which the mainstream media get to take complex or tenuous premises and elide them into gotcha premises, and demand answers from the politicians they don’t like, framed in their terms.