US Election 2016: Riding the Roller Coaster

The roller coaster metaphor so often applied to US presidential campaigns has never been as apt as it is this season—the jerking motions, the nausea, the anxiety, the precarious swings from left to right, the tunnel-vision as one dives into a screaming chasm before lurching back up into the shrill carnival. It is more than just the ups and downs of the polls: it’s a complete sensual experience and, depending on your inclinations, you’re either wide-eyed and giddy for the next round or puking up your snow-cone (red or blue) and longing for the ride to be over.

Hillary Clinton, Philadelphia rally

Hillary Clinton, Philadelphia rally (Photo by Zachary Moskow CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

After rocketing upward on her post-convention bump (and Donald Trump’s post-convention slump) Secretary Clinton found herself on a slow, painful ride back toward the middle, watching critical states like Florida and Ohio flush red, before, with a shimmy and a shake, heading upward once again.


A Teleprompter and A Stumble

His original campaign staff choices having ranged from “unconventional” to “head-scratching,” Trump changed things up going into the convention, reaching out to a more traditional set of advisers. But after flopping in the post-convention polls (the first candidate in GOP history to do so), Trump appears to have fully eschewed tradition in favor of embracing his “base,” hiring Breitbart’s Steve Bannon to help him appeal to that un-shamed tribe of mostly older, pallidly white, trending male folk who simply do not give a bucket of donkey-shit whether or not Donald Trump lies to them—which he unceasingly does—or if he actually cares about them—which he clearly does not—because he has freed them from the “chains” of “political-correctness.” They decry “safe-spaces” and “trigger words” even as they revel in the safe space Donald Trump has created for their bigotry.

And as he appealed to his base, Hillary Clinton had the audacity to do exactly what so many talking heads had sagaciously prescribed: show that she is indeed human. Unfortunately, she did this by developing pneumonia, stumbling as she was ushered to a car from a sweltering Sept. 11th memorial event. For the far right, this was a clear sign that Clinton had only months to live. Sadly, her actual stumble was reflected in a further fall in the polls.


Shimmy Shimmy, Shake Shake

On the eve of the first debate, pollsters showed a very narrow lead for Clinton, who trailed in key purple states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, with a thin-blue-line holding at Colorado.

There was much ado about of how Clinton’s debate experience would do against Trump’s capacity to control debates through bombast and by derailing questions. It seemed that Clinton had everything to lose whereas, measured on a “sliding scale” by the media (President Obama’s words), a mediocre Trump performance would be seen as spectacular.

Moderated by Lester Holt, the debate found the candidates standing at podiums with a split-screen showing both most of the time. This format played to Clinton’s strengths: a steady camera juxtaposing her stoicism with Trump’s restless fidgeting and incessant sniffing which led Howard Dean (head of the Democratic National Committee) to accuse him of being high on cocaine (a diagnosis later confirmed by cocaine expert, Carrie Fischer.)

Donald Trump, Las Vegas, Feb 2016

Donald Trump, Las Vegas, Feb. 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

While Trump opened with some decent, effective attacks against Clinton’s economic and foreign policy past, he was unable to navigate the minefield into which Clinton masterfully led him. Holt had little to no control throughout, as Trump interrupted Clinton over 70 times and repeatedly exceeded his own allotted time. His outbursts became increasingly incoherent and vapid, as Clinton hit nerves, like his inheriting his fortune and not being as rich as he claims to be. More importantly, Clinton articulated actual policy on everything from tax code reform and women’s rights to defeating ISIL. Trump offered a fresh harvest of word salad.

And so Clinton, the candidate with everything to lose, was the clear victor, a fact the polls quickly began to reflect.

Donald hit the campaign trail again and spent the next week explaining to the world that his abysmal debate performance was the result of a broken microphone while insisting, nonetheless, that “all the internet polls” showed he had won. He seemed to dump the teleprompter in favor of late-night, impulse tweeting, revealing either what keeps him up at night or that Howard Dean and Carrie Fischer know what they’re talking about.


Rock Bottom! Abandon Ship!

And as the Trump campaign bobbed in the silt it had stirred around itself, the waters became even darker. As the second debate loomed, an 11-year-old “hot mic” tape was leaked, showing Trump speaking with a talk show dreg in a way that can only be described as “casually rapist,” bragging of his ability to do whatever he wants to women because he is “a star” who “can’t help himself.”

Trump quickly dismissed the abhorrent tape as old and “locker room men’s talk,” which his supporters gleefully accepted. But those not in the Trump Safe Space were able to recognize the difference between lewd talk and assault talk and several high-ranking Republican figures either denounced or renounced him, including his running mate, Mike Pence, who stopped campaigning for two days, and former GOP standard-bearer, John McCain, who withdrew his endorsement.

This was the climate in which the second debate, a town-hall style encounter, took place. Moderated by Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, candidates took questions from undecided voters in the audience and via social media. Trump and Clinton, with hand-held microphones, were free to walk around. This ability to interact with an audience worked to Trump’s advantage in debate, although the being up against two women and a gay man did not.


Live-Action Dali

The visceral discomfort of the second debate was surreal, like a live-action Dali painting. In hindsight, the clear loser was robust American political discourse while the clear winners were two audience members and a red sweater.

While Clinton generally remained poised, she was drawn into the muck, responding to accusations, interrupting Trump and repeatedly going overtime herself; however, all said, she actually responded to questions posed by the audience and and the moderators, providing thorough answers on green energy/climate change and nominating a Supreme Court Justice who will continue to defend women’s rights and marriage equality.

Trump petulantly complained he was unfairly penalized each time he was notified his time or turn was up. He refused to sit. He stalked the stage like some wounded beast, occasionally wandering across the screen as Clinton was speaking, lurking, looming over and near her.

When asked about his statements regarding not allowing any Muslims in the country, he responded that Muslims “should report stuff.” This generated a swift response on Twitter:


Catastrophic Canadians

Trump’s penultimate harangue on health care included a rare Canadian appearance in a US presidential debate: “You’ve noticed the Canadians, when they need a big operation, well, they come into the United States, in many cases because their system is so slow.” Trump also characterized the Canadian single-payer system as “catastrophic.”

As with most things in the Trump-a-verse, this claim was readily debunked:

While the magic Electoral College number of 270 has had Democrats generally feeling confident over the chaotic past weeks, polls of the popular vote show only a few percentage points separating their candidate from Trump. But since hopping on his downward-racing toboggan, Trump has done nothing but accelerate. Republicans are jumping off that toboggan left and right. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is desperate to hold onto the GOP majorities in the House and Senate (and as these were achieved through gerrymandering, their loss would be strongly indicative of the state of the Republican Party).

After losing to President Obama in 2012, Republicans performed a campaign “post-mortem” and decided they needed to reach out to more women and people of color—and then they chose Trump in 2016. Republicans now seem to be performing a “pre-mortem” and to be in a deep existential battle among themselves, survivors clinging to the flotsam and jetsam of a sinking (or already sunk?) ship.

Meanwhile, the roller coaster may carry Clinton (by a landslide) to her old 1600 Pennsylvania address in a brand new role.


Shay V. Carlstrom


Born in Walden, North Park, Colorado, Shay V. Carlstrom is an educator and writer living in Denver.




Featured photo of Trump by Michael Vadon CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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