About halfway through Monday’s presidential debate, I expected to see Hillary dancing off rooftop tiles and vaulting from the tops of trees. That didn’t happen, though she did get Donald to say: “I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”
I call it James Taylor syndrome.
Every time a man gets up and holds forth, there is a woman who must stand by his side and endure it over and over and over again, with a smile. Same stories. Same jokes. Same stupid pauses for effect. Same outcome.
But what’s behind that grin? The one that attempts to vaguely hide a strange cocktail of measured disdain, admiration that familiarity brings and a dash of, “Oh here we go again — he’s going to tell the same joke and play Fire and Rain and all 3,500 women out there with the house lights down are going to swoon while I sit here backstage and have to pretend-sway through it one more time and if this 70-year-old bugger isn’t letting go of this Suzanne girl by now then, well, it’s never gonna fuckin’ happen….”
More than 80 million people witnessed several notable versions of that smile surface during Monday’s first presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island. Jezebel even stitched together one of the most memorable clips of the evening calling Hillary’s coquettish Mona Lisa slight upturn of the lips her “Woman Listening Face.” It was that serene look, calmer than an Alpine lake, that took over while a naval lint hurricane expelled all the awful ten feet to her right.
That face, right now, is a national treasure.
It is impossible to talk about Hillary’s qualifications without putting them in the context of her career, not as a politician herself, but as the wife of a career politician. Her husband of 41 years, Bill, was the 42nd president of the United States and the third-youngest elected — so they’ve been at this, together, for quite some time. Bill is known for not just being long-winded, but being able to out blow the wind itself. Clinton White House staffers used to have a saying that went something like, if Bill says he wants to give you the abbreviated version, you better be willing to give him your afternoon.
So it wasn’t Hillary’s three decades in and around politics — including the majority of the last 25 years spent in Washington DC — that prepared her. It was the man she stood beside and smiled at or in spite of, for all those eons.
During the 90-minute debate, Hillary, in letting the line run on her opponent Donald Trump, patiently, precisely and almost seemingly to her own determent, waited till the dingy vacuum bag of hair was down to the dust mites and then let it shake itself a couple more times, billowing out a very condensed version of much of the bile, spittle and excrement that has stirred this nation into a quixotic mix of trusting misinformation, hair-tearing frustration and unprecedented hope for hate groups so marginalized for the last 75-plus years.
For his part, Donald, the living embodiment of an aging Bret Easton Ellis protagonist, proved Monday that he is the only man on this rare earth — maybe ever — who appears to be about to fall asleep at the very time he’s peaking on coke. His reactions were most emblematic when Hillary finally did what no other (male) candidate had done during this election season and pressed him about not paying his fair share of taxes, even speculating he does not pay taxes at all.
Donald dismissed the relevance of his being under constant audit as a way of life; as if being screened by the IRS for offenses that can very easily land one behind bars is simply an inconvenience — like leaving the hotel room for the lobby bar without his bag special pills is to Bill Cosby. Remember when Al Gore pretty much lost all momentum in 2000 because he sighed a lot (albeit justifiably so) during George Bush’s debate answers? Only 15 years ago, THAT was the bar for disqualification.
Donald did a lot more than sigh. He snorted and wheezed and burped and coughed and blubbered out answers, looking a captain’s hat shy of Judge Smails up there. (And granted, had Donald been wearing a captain’s hat I think that might have skewered the debate results a bit in his favor.)
He said things like a hacker trying to get into US computer systems might be “somebody on a bed who weighs 400 pounds” which gave me a strange flashback to that sloth scene in Se7en with all the car fresheners hanging from the ceiling.
He doubled down about never paying his fair share of federal taxes justifying the move by saying it “would have been squandered.” And, as Betty F*ckin’ White pointed out on Twitter, he all but invited everyone to stay at one of his resorts or hotels for free if they’re not satisfied with the service because that’s the way Donald treats his vendors.
If you stay in a Trump hotel, refuse to pay. Say that you weren't satisfied. He said that's cool. #debatenight
— Betty F*ckin' White (@BettyFckinWhite) September 27, 2016
Even Donald’s attempts to create a diminutive picture of Hillary to white men of a certain age (most of whom I’m assuming were cranky-watching the debates anyway — it sucks to be on dialysis) by referring to her as Secretary…were countered with her calling him Donald, which drew snickers… and was actually funny. She said it with an air of a principal speaking to a grade school troublemaker. And in a sense, that’s exactly who she has to be.
Hillary’s finishing move came near the debate’s end as she capped off the night of mostly sticking to the playbook of using the man’s own damning words against him. After he tried to slither out of defending the time he said she didn’t have the “look” of a president, Hillary reminded Donald that he’s also referred to women as “pigs, slobs and dogs.”
Donald had seemingly no retort for this, but in the process he did win a secret million-dollar bet with Mark Cuban by mentioning Rosie O’Donnell. Cuban, I think, was banking that Donald wouldn’t find a window to say the comedian’s name. Being gambling men by nature, I’m sure both will double-or-nothing for the next debate to see if Donald can squeeze in a Carrot Top shout out.
Tuesday morning, in the wake of an evening that had gone the way of so many of his marriages, Donald cited the “unfair questions” posed by the moderator, Lester Holt (a Republican) of NBC News, and inferred that someone might have tampered with his microphone.
In hearing about this, the same smile crossed Hillary’s face. “Anybody,” she said, “who complains about the microphone is not having a good night.”