I watch the American presidential debates with some envy, although, also with disbelief, where Donald Trump inserts himself.
Envy comes from observing how the two main political parties are able to come up every election season with a fresh and varied crop of potential presidents, each one with a strong track record to stand on, “all successful people, or we wouldn’t be on this stage,” as one of them himself has remarked.
Thus measured, the financially successful Mr. Trump has earned his right to take his place among them. Indeed, no matter how un-presidential he may appear, he’s topping the polls, beating not only his Republican fellows but, last I heard, also the leading Democrat, Hillary Clinton.
Described as “a loose cannon,” but immensely popular, Trump only has the American network CNN, the handlers of the debate, to thank, according to Frank Bruni of the New York Times, who sounds concerned.
I think I understand. Trump may well represent the breed of Americans I no longer know, the Americans disillusioned over their nation’s politics, wary of its institutions, and tired of being the global nice guy.
Unlike the great communicator, President Obama—who held me in awe again only recently as he spoke at the United Nations General Assembly—a President Trump, with his bellicose generalized pronouncements, could stir anxiety across the world. Asked by CNN if he would be more effective than Obama in dealing with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump replied, ending his sentence with his signature pout, “I would get along with him.”
“How? Why?” Bruni himself asks in his Times piece, then adds, as if after some lapse of memory, “Trump doesn’t do details.”
Democrat at heart
I lived with my family in the United States in the Kennedy years on a dependent’s visa; even if it wasn’t my business, I rooted for Jack, and, along with his Jackie, I mourned his loss.
A Democrat at heart—and hooked on Butterfingers—I went for Bill Clinton, and the last time around for Barack Obama. I felt great vicarious satisfaction seeing how elections in those parts could be won, cleanly—all right, fairly cleanly, with losers conceding almost immediately, something I thought couldn’t happen here.
Obviously we’re a long way from such American traditions. Still, I’m looking forward to our own presidential debates—I see them as a reliable firsthand test (under the toughest questioning, of course) of what a candidate brings to the presidency in terms of both principles and ability. I want to see the candidates think on their feet; I want to see them open their mouths on their own, uncoached and revealed for what they are. I don’t want to hear more complaints from them; I want to hear solutions to their own complaints.
Of course, I’m not predisposed to ignore other sources of information and challenges raised from elsewhere, from all forms of media and forums. But, for my own decision-making, I value highly what I get from watching and listening to the candidates themselves, not their partisan mouthpieces.
I do understand that, for my own enlightenment, I would be relying on the quality of the questions thrown to the candidates and the commentaries on the occasion. In the American case itself, Bruni was left “queasy” by the excitement of CNN’s Anderson Cooper over Trump’s “electric” personality.
I did have my own queasy moment, at a question put to Jojo Binay daughter Abigail, the congresswoman, on a TV talk show: Was she willing to forgive the senators investigating her father, a presidential pretender himself, and her brother, the Makati mayor? How could it be presumed at all, by, of all people, a journalist, a supposedly informed and nonpartisan professional, that there was anything to forgive, that father and son had been wronged in the first place?
In fact, the questioner is known to preface questions with a line that seems to have become unctuously standard: “I’m really sorry to have to ask this, pasensya na po…” If there was anyone deserving of any apology and forgiveness, it’s me the viewer whose time and energy had been not only wasted but violated. I didn’t bother to wait for the answer.
But things being what they are, I still put my slim hopes on presidential debates. It’s the most useful reality show in town.