Twitter And The 2016 Presidential Debate: A Match Made In Hell

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

There are a few instances in my life where I was keenly aware that I was making the wrong decision; when I bought a ticket to see Batman vs Superman, when I decided to drink two cups of a mysterious alcoholic beverage named ‘Blue Muthafuckas’, when I said “I do”…..


Every time I can recall swallowing a lump in my throat, ignoring the knots developing in the pit of my stomach, and drowning out the voices crying “you don’t have to do this” echoing in my brain.

I experienced these same feelings when I decided to watch the last painful installment of the 2016 presidential debate with Twitter. Maybe I’m a masochist, maybe I just decided to throw caution to the wind because I was avoiding finishing my laundry by any means necessary. Maybe both. Nonetheless I willingly subjected myself to what I can only assume is the last segment of one of the least substantive presidential debates of modern times. Now I can admit, I might be a little short sighted here. This is only the third presidential election I’ve been able to partake in and I don’t remember any of the Gore vs Bush debates, and even the Obama vs McCain/Obama vs Romney debates are kind of a blur at this point.


However, I don’t recall being this amazed at the sheer lack of substantive talking points, sound bytes, and commentary surrounding a presidential debate as I’ve been this year.

Obviously there might be a bigly tangerine reason for that. Donald Trump is a uniquely inept, ignorant, inarticulate and unqualified presidential candidate. Not that he’s alone in regards to his ignorance, Reagan is said to have been the most unprepared presidential candidate to ever enter the White House. Peggy Noonan (God forgive me for quoting Peggy Noonan) once called his mind a “barren terrain.” When recalling conversations he’d have with Reagan about the MX missile, Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton reported “Reagan’s only contribution throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he’d watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from War Games.” The president “cut ribbons and made speeches. He did these things beautifully.” So while Trump’s wanton ignorance about all the issues you’d think a president should have a good grasp on is appalling, it is by no means a political anomaly. Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric you might be bombarded with by folks hell bent on convincing everyone to participate in this election, Trump is not alone in his dangerous stupidity touching the hem of the position that is commander-in-chief.

The largest difference between Trump and his other criminally unknowledgable predecessors is that unlike them, he is not a politician. There is no polish, no focus, no political performance acumen to be seen. He is a reality TV star, and thus the presidential debates are no more than a Real Housewives reunion special without the expert antagonism of Andy Cohen, or a third of the entertainment value. The tangerine menace is largely worried about lobbing zingers reminiscent of his famed days in The Apprentice boardroom. Hillary is …doing this bizarre animatron like routine of attempting to be personable, run defense, and returning fire. What we’re left with is an awful off-Broadway rendition of political theater. A joke, one of the worst offerings of presidential platform discussions I’ve ever witnessed.

Just when you think things couldn’t get more nauseating, enter Twitter. Twitter enthusiastically liquefies and filters these bile filled stews called debates through a colander of melanated millennial jargon, and tired pop culture references. Every abysmal Trump quip is met with reaction gifs, and 140 characters of scorn. If you listen closely enough you can hear the sonic boom that is the collective percussion of keyboard pounding from professional and self appointed ‘fact checkers’ committed to rebuffing every untruth that spills from the slit in Donald’s face that forms two arguable lips. Hilary’s reactions are memefied, gif-ed, personalized and looped immediately. Twitter’s most ardent protectors of Black popular culture and AAVE offer her its most popular contributions. By the end of the debate Hillary was ‘slaying, and reading’, her edges were laid, and she was getting in Formation with the Negro populace for a glass of Lemonade while pulling up A Seat At The Table. Her face expertly photoshopped in seminal Black pop culture visuals, all in a bizarre attempt to synthesize her otherwise unrelatable qualities.


Hashtags (usually created as reactions to the new stupid thing Trump said) are hatched and the #ImWithHer acolytes beam over their analytics and soon to be subsequent Buzzfeed and Huffington Post ‘what twitter said’ writeups. Trumpbot accounts assuming the identity of random minorities or armed with obligatory dog, egg, and eagle avis litter the timeline with screeches about Benghazi, Obama, and deleted emails. Pundits unconvincingly try to offer a pragmatic evaluation of the candidate’s performance, humoring the delusion that Donald offered intelligible sentences of which to dissect, or that Hilary offered anything but an arguably competent showing. The sideshow that is Trump is such a orange obfuscation that these debates are failing to confront Hilary with substantive and valid questions, which is unfortunate because it’s extremely likely she will be the next POTUS. Significant subjects are either merely grazed, or wholly ignored, and the conversations surrounding these spectacles have the depth of a thimble. Perhaps I am being naive when I assert that it seems like the quality of political commentary and discussion has dramatically declined. I might sound like a fist waving disgruntled baby boomer when I say I think the compulsion to deliver rapid response witticisms during debates is a huge disservice that is encouraged by Twitter. And its very likely that I’m being extremely cynical when I say that much like he has served the ratings and interests of traditional media, The Donald is just as essential to feeding the non-stop response engine that is and all those who wish to monetize off it’s assembly line of reactions.

If not for the tangerine menace, ‘Nasty Woman, tshirts, and ‘Grab Her By The Brain’ merch would not have materialized. He is the cash cow, not Hillary. It is fascinating to watch the very people that lament about abhorring what they deem the unacceptable behavior of the political anti-christ somehow profiting off his despicableness. But that irony might be emblematic of what this race is, isn’t it? A sadistic joke, a circus of sideshows and neither the performers or the audience display much of any self awareness. A sad, disgraceful spectacle, whose contributions to the annals of political history can only be found in gifs, tweets, meme’s, t-shirts, a shameless exploitative parade of alleged rape and sexual assault victims, and the rise and fall of Ken Bone.


I really thought hell would be more lit. :-(

Danielle Butler is a 30ish yr old LA/Chicago hybrid whose mutant powers include shit talking, and relating any topic to food. She's currently lying about working on her book of short stories

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Sarah Ohara

Probably the realest article I've read about the coverage of this election. I've been stanning for Hillary for a while now, but I love the nuance you bring to the discussion. Because Hillary is hard to relate to and she does have baggage. She's been in politics for 30+ years as a high-level player in serious political business. That kind of life is alien to most of us; of course she's hard to relate to. But it's like we can't deal with that, so we do the work (of being relatable) for her by framing her in pop culture. It makes you wonder why do we need that? Why do we need our leaders to reflect us in that way? Why can't we root for her (or have a frank discussion of her record) as she is—-a very dry, very disciplined, very hardworking career politician with some political baggage and the personality of a sensible pair of loafers.